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When Okwang Sunim (55) began his lecture on Zen Buddism in Belgrade, all of the seats were filled, and those who sat on the floor, with crossed legs, mostly barefoot, intently watched the unusual Buddhist monk. Okwang is Serb from Krusevac, who has been living for the past 20 year in South Korea. His name means The Light of the Enlightenment, as he says, hes teacher called him.
Before he became Buddhist monk his name was Vladan Velimirovic. This is his story you can read only on Telegraf portal:
He was interested in Buddhism when he was in his twenties, as a student of philosophy, he wondered from where is his suffering coming from. He was, as he said, great egoist.
- Buddhism is a way to approach life. That is practiced in its own way. I experience it as a sort of experiment over myself - he said and he mentions his teacher Sung San Sunjim, with whom he talked in English. He mastered the basics of Korean and he can manage to talk, but the advantage was that he was the part of the international community that spoke English language.
- To understand yourself, you have to forget yourself, spoke Dogen, a Japanese Zen teacher. Zen is introspection. Concept of ego is artificial, no one is liberated from ego completely. Ego burdens the man, and the release from ego is one of the main aims of Buddhism - said Okwang Sunim.
Buddhists, according to Okwang Sunim, are not particularly interested in promoting their teachings.
He told an interesting story about how one Korean artist sees Buddhism in relation with other religions.
- It is enough tho just stir your head in the Protestant church and you will immediately invited to enter, they will offer you coffee, tea, and when you start leaving, they will give you a bunch of brochures, even if you show no interest, and they will notify you on your address for at least a year.
- And when you enter a Buddhist temple, especially in the afternoon, everybody is in their room, there is no one around. Maybe there would be some bald head from some room asking: "What are you doing here?".
YOUNG MONKS MUST HAVE THEIR HEADS SHAVED, MUSLIMS TEMPTED ME WITH KORAN, BUT I STAYED STRONG
When it comes to bald heads, Okwang Sunim said that younger monks must shave their heads, and older can do whatever they want.
In ancient India there are castes, even Brahmins wore a pigtail, and when the monk shaves his head, this is like saying that he no longer belongs to his family or society. In Hinduism and Buddhism, monks are not related to the city, have little possession, a bag and a bowl, and that's all.
What is your relationship with Islam?
On one occasion when he begged for food in Sri Lanka, they lured him with the Muslim food. Immediately, as he says, they gave him Kuran, to take and read, he said. I just thanked them. But, he says, beyond that he did not come into contact with Islam.
He says, learning about the introspective nature of the mind is the only thing that matters, everything else is a lie.
And temples and monks.
KOREA HAS MANY PROTESTANT CHURCHES
He said that there are many protestant churches in Korea and Christians, extremists. It is interesting that Catholics and Buddhists in Korea are closer to each other than Catholics and Protestants. It's a strange conflict, says Okwang, one would expect for the Christians to get along better, but its different in this case.
During the time of his lecture in center of Belgrade, Okwang Sunin showed pictures and explained, and his words laughed the people gathered so many times. One photo showed few monks cheering. Almost like in a tavern, said Okwang, but it was not like that.
- It was on a funeral - he said, which caused bursts of laughter in the hall.
- Some significant monk died, few of us met, one monk from Lithuania, another from Poland, we haven't seen each other for a long time, so we talked, and we found time for a funeral.
He was in, said Okwang Sunim, smaller or greater temptations to return. And when he went in 1989, he barely managed to get the money to go to Paris. He stayed there in a Buddhist temple for a year, and then he headed to England.
After Europe he went to Asia, to northeast of Thailand, where more significant temples were located, he went to Sri Lanka, where he planed to stay for 15 days and he stayed there for three and a half years. On the question, how he came to the money to buy the tickets, he said that other better suited monks payed for him.
- In Sri Lanka no one payed the ticket for me to move on - he made a joke.
- They asked me what do i think about getting old, what if i get sick and that is when they offered to pay me the ticket for South Korea, where i stayed for almost 20 years.
- Okwang Sunim explains why is there a hospital for monks and sick from diabetes in Sri Lanka.
- There is a rule that you can't eat solid food in the afternoon, but you can drink as muck Coke as you can, to sweeten your tea or that kinds of perversions - he made the people laugh.
KOREAN MONKS ARE DRIVING JEEPS
Main income of Buddhist temples in Korea is from donors, explains Okwang. Second place goes to revenue from the ceremonies that take place after a person's death and that the rich pay for the monks. This is, he says, enough income for a monastery. Lately, the authorities are trying to make temples become a tourist attraction, a lot of advertising and a lot of money is circulating in the temples.
- And Korean monks, like ours, are driving Jeeps - the visitors were laughing again. - But, not all of course. Perhaps the income is one of the reasons why, unlike Japan, South Korea paints their temples into bright colors, red and green.
He said that he visits Orthodox monasteries in Ovcar-Kablar gorge on regular basis.
- I visit them, them visit me less. Sretenje is one of my favorite monasteries. When i go there i am mostly quiet about being a Buddhist - said Okwang to the people who are laughing. - They taught me how to make a cross with my fingers. I am trying to be fair. And to take my visitors to Orthodox temples.
BENEATH THE ROBES WE HAVE A BOWL WHERE WE PUT OUR FOOD OR MONEY
Buddhist monks wear robes called "cash", which looks like an apron. Okwang says that the canvas was rare and precious, so the clothes was stitched from leftovers people threw away. It is used, among other things, to hide a bowl underneath it, which is used to beg for food, or rarely for money.
- You take the bowl and you go to the nearby village. Monks would go there in silence. They don't have the right to ask for food, but people are used to give it to them on their own. Those are the early customs of begging. You don't take the money. Monks traditionally don't accept it. And Japanese monks rarely get food, so they have smaller bowls for money.
When some of the older monks passes away, he can be burned, but that is not done in all cases, said Okwang. The traditional method of burial, more Confucian, burials in mounds, according to Feng Sui. These are, he says, rounded mounds with covered earth with grass, which looks nice.
- At the beginning i didn't know that those were graves. I lied on top of one, i spread my hands, i relaxed and i see outraged Koreans. I was wondering what i did wrong - explains Okwang.
Okwang said that he is proud to be one of the rare Serb Buddhists. He heard about Nianamolia, Serb from Smederevo who has been living in Sri Lanka for 10 years as a monk.
The Ovcar-Kablar Gorge, where he decided to make the "start" of Buddhism, there won't be a monastery, he explains. He already managed to make something and to create one little house for meditation. Visitors, he explains, don't have to be Buddhists, they just have to love nature and not to throw garbage around. he will stay there gathering mushrooms and herbs, which is his favorite hobby.
And yes, Buddhism in North Korea doesn't exist, said Okwang Sunim briefly.
He has been often in Serbia lately because he opened Buddhist center in Ovcar-Kablar Gorge, said the monk with Serbian name.
Okwang held a lecture at the Festival of Korean Culture, the first in Serbia, in UK Steamboat.
(Telegraf.co.uk / Jasna Vucic – firstname.lastname@example.org)