Monday, August 15, 2005

Hyeon Gak sunim et le bouddhisme coréen

Interesting French article from 2001 found here that talks about Paul Munsen, a.k.a. Hyeon Gak sunim, arguably the most famous foreign Zen Buddhist monk in South Korea. Watch this space; I'll provide a translation later.

[NB: I believe the surname is actually spelled Muenzen; perhaps the article is using a French version of the name (e.g., switching Steven to Etienne). Odd, but possible.]

UPDATE: Here's the translated article:

SOUTH KOREA (16 May 2001)

For the first time, a foreigner is placed at the head of a South Korean monastery.

This past April 22, taking over as head of Hyeonjeong Temple, a Buddhist temple located 150km south of Seoul, an American, 37 and a Harvard graduate, became the first foreigner to be named the superior of a Buddhist monastery in Korea, where Buddhism has existed for seventeen centuries.

Paul Muenzen, whose dharma name is Hyon Gak, received his new responsibilities in Yeongju as part of a ceremony where thousands of the faithful had gathered. "This is a significant event for our Buddhism," declared Park Hee-sung, spokesman for Chogye, the largest branch of Korean Buddhism. His [Muenzen's] ordination must still be approved by the association, but as Park noted, "It's only a question of time because this man is respected by many Buddhists. This nomination signifies that Korean Buddhism is open to foreigners."

Paul Muenzen-Hyeon Gak was educated in Roman Catholicism in New Jersey, in the United States, and he studied at Yale University and Harvard Divinity school. His life was transformed in an unexpected way after meeting a Korean Zen master in 1989 after a conference at Harvard. The following year, he left to discover Korea and became a monk in 1992. "I want to show that a foreign monk who knows little about Korea can still function well in a Buddhist temple," declared Hyeon Gak to the daily Chosun Ilbo. Lamenting the fact that Korean youth care little about their traditional culture and identity, he also noted that he wanted to "set up a program to help young people become more aware of the grandeur of Korean Buddhism." Hyeon Gak's autobiography, From Harvard to Hwagye-sa, is a best-seller in Korea, with 500,000 copies sold in 1999.

According to government statistics, South Korea has 10 million Buddhists and 10,000 monks (of whom 50 are foreign).


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