By Senior Editorial Writer Song Na-ra (vice chairman)
Chief Abbot Hongpa of the Myogak-sa Buddhist Temple on the Naksan Mountain in Jongno in Seoul said, “I am glad that I have completed the Korean-language translation and published this book, Myobeop Yeonhwagyeong (Saddharma Pundarika Sutra), also known in English as the Sutra on the Lotus of the Wonderful Law, the Lotus Sutra.
Hongpa said it took him two full years of hard work.
Speaking at a meeting with this writer at his temple on January 15 this year, Chief Abbot Hongpa, who had now turned 77 in Korean age, said: “I think I paid for my meal as I became a Buddhist disciple through the translation and publication of this book. I am in that stage of age where people would say there is nothing strange if I should leave the world putting an end to my life. Twenty to 30 years may pass after the end of my life, but I would still think that it was a truly good thing that I finished the work and published this book.” Chief Abbot Hongpa recalled the words of Abbot Unheo who said, “How nice it would be if Chunwon’s Saddhama Pundarika Sutra (Sutra on the Lotus of the Wonderful Law) would appear in this world. It was an episode in which no one would know unless it was Venerable Hongpa.”
Time has passed since the publication of the book of Venerable Unheo and the habit of the use of language has changed and this is the reason why the new book was published. The Buddhist book of Venerable Hongpa, Saddhama Pundarika Sutra, is of a vast volume consisting of over 1,200 pages.
Reference details were used from the published works of the noted scholars of the Silla Dynasty, including Great Abbot Wonhyo and Kim Si-seup of the Joseon Dynasty as well as publications of Japan and China.
There were writer’s notes at the end of his work. He wrote: “Venerable Wonhyo used to teach: “One can become a Buddhist only when and after one has passed through the door of the Buddhist session.”
Chief Abbot Hongpa also has brisk ties of exchanges with the Buddhist circles of Japan and has sent 100 copies of his book with a preface written in the Japanese language.
Asked if he had any message to the masses, Chief Abbot Hongpa said, “Buddhism can impart in the people a message of encouragement when they feel it difficult to live in the world and this is written on the main beam of the temple and also on the ceiling of the sedan chair of the emperor.”
On the day of celebration of the publication of the book of Venerable Hongpa, it was observed at the Myogak-sa Buddhist Temple in Jongno, Seoul in a simple fashion due to the on-going COVID woes without person-to-person meeting. Congratulatory messages came from the government and various civic leaders of Korea and also those of Japan. Encouraging messages and greetings came also from the believers in Buddhism and non-believers. Congratulators include Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun of the Republic of Korea, Minister of Culture and Sports Park Yang-woo, Chief Abbot Jeonghaeng of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order, and many leaders of the Buddhist circles in Japan.
Myogak-sa is a Korean Buddhist temple located in the heart of downtown Seoul, Korea, snuggly nestled on the east side of the Naksan Mountain as was briefly introduced at the beginning of this report.
Myogak-sa houses the administrative headquarters of the Gwaneum Order of Korean Buddhism.
Myogak-sa was established in May 1942 by Ven. Taeheo Hongseon in accordance with a geomantic prediction that Seoul residents would be at peace if a temple was constructed here. Based on a geomantic principle, Mt. Naksan, on which Myogak-sa is located, corresponds to a land formation known as Blue Dragon on the left in regards to Seoul, and Myogak-sa stands on the edge of the mountain.
Although Myogak-sa is situated on a rather small piece of land in a residential district, its structural integrity is evident in the layout of such structures as Daebulbojeon, Wontongbojeon, Nakga Seon Center, Seokguram, Mountain God Shrine and an Avalokitesvara image carved into the mountain cliff.
Designated a temple specializing in Temple Stay programs since the 2002 World Cup, it preserves the oldest tradition of Temple Stay programs. The program provides participants with the opportunity to experience the life of Buddhist practitioners and learn the various aspects of the Korean Buddhist culture and history through stories told by monks. The temple stay program has been operating since 2002.
Myogak-sa offers two kinds of Temple Stay programs.
The first option is an overnight program, where participants spend 2 days and 1-night experience life as a Buddhist practitioner. The second program is a daylong cultural program called "Laying Down My Mind."
Depending on age, personal preference, and the time participants would like to spend at the temple, there are a variety of program activities available for everyone, such as:
108 Yeomju (Prayer Beads) Making:
Participants experience an opportunity to make a rosary, during which they will thread 108 beads one by one followed by one prostration for each threading.
Experience of Bell-striking:
Participants join the temple bell striking ceremony in the quiet and still hours of dawn and evening.
Dawn Trekking at Naksan Park:
To promote reflection on oneself, participants are given the opportunity to take a short hike behind the Mountain Spirit Shrine to turn their attention within.
Dado (Tea Ceremony):
Participants are able to feel the gratitude and preciousness of having tea and a little fruit after finishing the group work and breakfast.
The tea ceremony has a difficult and complex decorum and helps enable participants to experience the non-duality of tea and Seon (Zen), namely one of the supreme stages of Buddhist practice.
Gongyang (Temple's Mealing)
Predawn Buddhist Service.
Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra (AKA “Lotus Sutra” in short), which was recently translated into the Korean language by Ven. Hongpa (chief abbot of the Myogak-sa Buddhist Temple), is one of the most popular and influential Mahayana sutras, and the basis on which the Tiantai, Tendai, Cheontae, and Nichiren schools of Buddhism are said to have been established. Wikipdia Enclopedia has British Professor Paul Williams saying, "For many East Asian Buddhists since early times, the Lotus Sutra contains the final teaching of the Buddha, complete and sufficient for salvation." The earliest known Sanskrit title for the sūtra is Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, meaning 'Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma'.
In English, the shortened form Lotus Sūtra is common. The Lotus Sūtra has also been highly regarded in a number of Asian countries where Mahāyāna Buddhism has been traditionally practiced.
The Lotus Sūtra was originally translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa´s team in 286 CE in Chang'an during the Western Jin Period However, the view that there is a high degree of probability that the base text for that translation was actually written in a Prakrit language has gained widespread acceptance. It may have originally been composed in a Prakrit dialect and then later translated into Sanskrit to lend it greater respectability.
In the post World War II years, scholarly attention to the Lotus Sutra was inspired by renewed interest in Japanese Buddhism as well as archeological research in Dunhuang.
This led to the 1976 Leon Hurvitz publication of the Lotus Sutra based on Kumarajiva's translation. Whereas the Hurvitz work was independent scholarship, other modern translations were sponsored by Buddhist groups.
This Lotus Sūtra is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means mostly in the form of parables. The many 'skillful' or 'expedient' means and the "three vehicles" are revealed to all be part of the One Vehicle (Ekayāna), which is also the Bodhisattva path.
This is also one of the first sutras to use the term Mahāyāna, or "Great Vehicle". In the Lotus Sūtra, the One Vehicle encompasses so many different teachings because the Buddha's compassion and wish to save all beings led him to adapt the teaching to suit many different kinds of people.
Another key concept introduced by the Lotus Sūtra is the idea of the eternal Buddha, who achieved enlightenment innumerable eons ago, but remains in the world to help teach beings the Dharma time and again. The life span of this primordial Buddha is beyond imagination, his biography and his apparent death are portrayed as skillful means to teach sentient beings.
According to Gene Reeves, the Lotus Sūtra also teaches that the Buddha has many embodiments and these are the countless bodhisattva disciples. These bodhisattvas choose to remain in the world to save all beings and to keep the teaching alive. Reeves writes, "because the Buddha and his Dharma are alive in such bodhisattvas, he himself continues to be alive. The fantastically long life of the Buddha, in other words, is at least partly a function of and dependent on his being embodied in others."
The Lotus Sūtra also teaches various dhāraṇīs or the prayers of different celestial bodhisattvas who out of compassion protect and teach all beings. The lotus flower imagery points to this quality of the bodhisattvas.
The lotus symbolizes the bodhisattva who is rooted in the earthly mud and yet flowers above the water in the open air of enlightenment.
According to Donald Lopez, the Lotus Sutra is "arguably the most famous of all Buddhist texts," presenting "a radical re-vision of both the Buddhist path and of the person of the Buddha."
The Lotus Sutra was frequently cited in Indian works by Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Candrakirti, Shantideva and several authors of the Madhyamaka and the Yogacara school. The only extant Indian commentary on the Lotus Sutra is attributed to Vasubandhu. According to Jonathan Silk, the influence of the Lotus Sūtra in India may have been limited, but "it is a prominent scripture in East Asian Buddhism." The sutra has most prominence in Tiantai (sometimes called "The Lotus School" and Nichiren Buddhism. It is also influential in Zen Buddhism.
In Japan, the Lotus Sūtra is a very important sutra in Tiantai and correspondingly, in Japanese Tendai (founded by Saicho, 767–822). Tendai Buddhism was the dominant form of mainstream Buddhism in Japan for many years and the influential founders of popular Japanese Buddhist sects including Nichiren, Honen, Shinran and Dogen were trained as Tendai monks.
Calligraphic mandala (Gohonzon) inscribed by Nichiren in 1280. The central characters are the title of the Lotus Sūtra.
Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist monk, founded an entire school of Buddhism based on his belief that the Lotus Sūtra is "the Buddha´s ultimate teaching", and that the title is the essence of the sutra, "the seed of Buddhahood."
Nichiren held that chanting the title of the Lotus Sūtra (Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō) was the only way to practice Buddhism in the degenerate age of Dharma decline and was the highest practice of Buddhism.
Nichiren described chapters 10-22 as the "third realm" of the Lotus Sutra (Daisan hōmon) which emphasizes the need to endure the trials of life and bodhisattva practice of the true law in the real sahā world.