Sept. 4, 2022

Meetings with Indian and Korean Staff of JTS India and Sunday Meditation

Hello! Daybreak has come at Sujata Academy in India. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim started today by participating in the morning Yebul ceremony (paying homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas) with the staff of JTS India.

After the Yebul ceremony, Sunim had balugongyang (Korean monastic temple meal). After finishing the meal, Sunim checked the things that Sujata Academy needs to prepare for the Jungto pilgrimage to India scheduled for this winter.

After balugongyang, Sunim changed into his work clothes right away and started the morning work.

“All the trees in the schoolyard need pruning. Ten thousand people will watch the students’ performances in the schoolyard during our pilgrimage to India, so nothing should block the view when people sit on the ground.”

Carrying a pair of pruning shears, a saw, and a sickle, Sunim walked around the school and cut all the branches that might obstruct the pilgrims’ view. He was soaked in sweat.

“It looks better now. I’ve pruned almost all of the trees in school over the past three days.”

When the morning work was almost over, the staff of JTS India arrived at school, one after the other. Upon discovering that Sunim was working, Satendraji ran to him to help. He removed the pruned branches to one side.

“Please ask the construction team to clean up all the pruned branches later.”

The morning work ended at 8:40 am. JTS staff were waiting for Sunim in the construction team office. 

“Please tell them that I’ll be about five minutes late because I have to shave my head.”

When Sunim arrived, the staff greeted him with three bows.

“Namaste! I’m sorry I didn’t introduce Babralji and the construction team during the school festival the day before yesterday. So I proposed a meeting with you in the construction team office today.”

It has been five days since Sunim arrived at Sujata Academy. A lot of things happened during those days, and the staff had time to share their thoughts and feelings about these first. 

“I was happy that the children ate comfortably at the school festival and that the festival went well and in an orderly manner.”

“It was too bad that the zoo was closed. Although it was hard to walk around Jethian, it was wonderful to see the changes that have happened there.”

“It was too bad that the village festival was canceled. But I was glad that the school festival was like a JTS family festival as a result and, more importantly, we could focus on the children.”

“It was nice that the children practiced happily for the dance performances. I was worried that the festival might end too early because the village festival was canceled, but Sunim asked the children to repeat their performances one more time, so I was very glad that it ended right in time for lunch.

“When Sunim gave biscuits to the children, they were so happy that they smiled from ear to ear. Sunim comes once a year now, but I hope he comes twice a year from now on. And I hope he buys a new amp for us because our amp kept squealing during the performances.”

Each of them shared their thoughts and feelings. Denesji, who lives in Durgapur, talked about why the villagers opposed the village festival. 

“I want to talk about why the villagers opposed the village festival. When Sunim first came to our village, he hauled bricks, mixed cement, sweated, and worked with the villagers. As a result, Sunim and the villagers could build the school together. They still wish to do things with Sunim as they did before. But Sunim is too busy and can’t spend time with them these days. And so they think, ‘Maybe Sunim has forgotten us.’ After hearing that people from other villages were to come to the village festival, they were upset. Some of them said, ‘We would like to spend time with Sunim, even if just for 30 minutes.’ I think we should investigate more to resolve their dissatisfaction.”

After listening to their thoughts and feelings, Sunim asked them for a favor.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t visit the village this time. I couldn’t visit because the date to hand over the gas stoves for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was set unexpectedly. I hope you can explain to the villagers so that they don’t mistakenly think that I’m not visiting them because of the canceled village festival. And I couldn’t make time for them in the evening because I had to do live-streaming for people in Korea.”

Next January will be 30 years since Sunim’s first visit to Dungeshwari, and Jungto Society will complete its 30-year practice. Sunim explained in detail to the Indian staff about the plan to serve meals to 10,000 villagers of Dungeshwari while 1,250 pilgrims from Korea visit here to commemorate the completion of Jungto Society’s 30-year practice.

Sunim checked the preparations needed to feed 10,000 people inside the school, where to set up the stage, where to park the buses, and other matters with the staff, and solicited their opinions.

“Thank you for your many wonderful ideas. Please develop details of the plan with Bokwang Beopsanim. Do you have other suggestions or ideas?”

First, Indrajit, the vice principal of Sujata Academy, made a suggestion.

“A large cultural center has opened in Bodh Gaya. I think if Sujata Academy students perform there, they will be very proud.”

Sunim agreed with him and replied,

“I passed by the cultural center yesterday. It is the first time such a large building has been constructed here and I also thought that Sujata Academy students should have the experience of performing there. Then they will develop self-confidence.

“When you teach them, the most important things are: First, teach them so that they don’t have a complex about living in Dungeshwari. Second, teach them so that they don’t have a complex about being of low caste. And third, teach them so that they don’t have a complex about being female. We need to show the whole of India that anybody can do well if they learn and receive training. Maybe it’s not possible for your generation, but I think it will be possible for your children’s generation. When I first came to this village, I told the villagers,

‘This village will become a world-class pilgrimage site in a few decades, so don’t sell the land to city people.’

“I told them this many times. Kamiswarji, you remember, right?”

“I told them that roads will be constructed here and Pragbodhi Mountain will become a park. I named it ‘Siddhartha Park’ a long time ago. I am against the construction of a gondola lift system, but the Indian government is planning to construct one to reach the top of the mountain. It’s because the government wants to make money through its construction.

“I also told the villagers,

‘You will be out of poverty in the next three generations. It’s difficult for you to become rich now, even if you work hard; the quickest way to become rich is to give your children an excellent education.’

“I tried to persuade them several times, but they didn’t understand me. Thirty years ago, they wanted me to give them food and clothes, and they were not interested in the education of their children. It costs more money to educate children, but they said they didn’t need it.

“It will take three generations for Dungeshwari to be better off. Your children’s generation will be able to live like ordinary people in India, so take a long-term view of life.

Want to go to a city to make more money?

“Some of you might want to go to a large city like Delhi and work there. You can make more money there. But after paying for rent and utilities, you won’t have much left. The jobs you can get there are running errands for others. If your children go to school there, they will develop an inferiority complex because there will be many rich kids in class. However, everyone at Sujata Academy is treated equally so they don’t feel that they are discriminated against. Imagine that you send your children to a prestigious private school in Bodh Gaya. The teachers will ask your children, “What does your father do?” And the children will also ask each other about their fathers’ occupations. Your children will grow up in an environment where other children say, ‘My father is a doctor,’ or ‘My father is a lawyer,’ so they will develop an inferiority complex. You will get a slightly higher salary, but actually it won’t be good to live there.

“You need to be clear about this to be more dedicated to the improvement of Dungeshwari. I hope that you prepare for the future of Dungeshwari even if your life is hard now. I can’t make the dream come true by myself. You need to work with me to make the dream come true. If you are the young people of the village who graduated from Sujata Academy, should you fight over a village festival when you should cooperate for the development of Dungeshwari? (Laughter)

“Older people may not know this because they are not educated, but graduates of Sujata Academy should cooperate with other villagers, shouldn’t you? Only then can Dungeshwari make progress. Picking sides won’t help.

“In the past, even if JTS badly wanted to work on village development, no one in the village could do it. Among the elderly, there were no educated people, so we couldn’t start village development. Now each village has many young people who are Sujata Academy graduates. Therefore, I think it is time to start village development in earnest by persuading these young people. So you should do three things from now on.

Things to be done for village development

“First, consumer cooperatives should be established. The products we buy are very expensive because middlemen take profit. So we need to establish consumer cooperatives. If we buy daily necessities at ex-factory prices and distribute them among ourselves, we can purchase them at a 30% or more discount. It is the same with cement, bricks, and other construction materials. If we purchase a large quantity at a time, we can buy them at a much lower price.

“Second, producer cooperatives should be established. Whether we produce milk or agricultural produce, if each of us sells our produce individually, we can’t sell them at full price. But if we establish a producer cooperative and sell them together, we can get a bigger profit. Then we can buy products at lower prices and sell produce at higher prices.

“Third, village banks should be established. If you receive a loan from a private lender, the interest rate is high. When you create a village bank together, deposit money there, and lend money at a lower interest rate, it will be more profitable for all of you.

“To achieve these, people wanting to do these things should get together. The village elderly didn’t understand what I was saying; we tried these 20 years ago but it didn’t work out.

“It has been 30 years since the school opened. Some of the graduates of Sujata Academy are now in their 30s, and each village has many educated young people. Therefore, it is time to start village development properly.

“The hospital and schools can be run by staff, but village development should be carried out by the villagers. Something that I wanted to start 30 years ago but haven’t been able to yet is village development. Make plans and carry them out. Until now, the installation of hand pumps is the only thing that has been successful as a village development project, and we haven’t done any village development to speak of. Of course, we’ve eradicated tuberculosis and reduced the infant mortality rate to near zero through maternal and child healthcare. But you need to investigate and work together on projects like housing improvement and ways to increase income.”

After saying this, Sunim listened to their suggestions. Babralji, who is in charge of the construction team, made a suggestion.

“A refrigerator and a tractor, we must have these. I certainly hope that we buy these.”

“Why do you need a refrigerator?”

“We want to include more vegetables in the school meals, rather than just potatoes, but vegetables go bad in two days, so we don’t buy them anymore. As a result, we can’t include vegetables that spoil easily in the school meals.

“Vegetables should be purchased and eaten every day. (Laughter) Purchasing and eating vegetables every day is better for your health. Koreans who keep their food in the refrigerator may look good but food that is kept in a refrigerator for 10 days isn’t really good for your health.”

“In particular, vegetables such as peppers and coriander spoil quickly. And the market is too far for us to purchase vegetables every day.”

“To have a refrigerator, the power supply should be stable, but it isn’t. If the power supply is cut, all the food in the refrigerator will rot at once. And it costs too much to use a generator to maintain the refrigerator.”

“To store vaccines, the hospital should have at least one small refrigerator.”

“I do agree that a refrigerator is needed. But I’ve engaged in the environmental movement and I’m not too keen on having one because saving energy is part of our environmental movement. When we bring in a refrigerator, it won’t stop there. Next, we will have to have a washing machine, and then a dryer. There is a sequence to follow; demands will continue. That’s why the current climate crisis has arrived.

“When all Indians live like Koreans in the future, it will be a disaster. If all the toilets in India are changed to flush toilets, water shortages and toilet paper use will become huge problems. At Mungyeong Jungto Retreat Center in Korea, we still have traditional dry toilets. And at Seoul Jungto Center, we have facilities to wash instead of using toilet paper as you do in India. Some Koreans don’t want to join Jungto Society because of the toilet.” (Laughter)

Then the conversation moved on to tractors.

“What do you need a tractor for?”

“First, we need it for farm work. Second, we need it for construction. To build walls around the kindergarten or to do some construction work, we need a tractor. At present, a small truck is used to transport heavy construction materials, and it breaks down frequently.”

“I think that Babralji has a point. But I’m not giving you the okay yet. I also agree that a refrigerator is needed to keep vegetables for school meals. For now, try to buy vegetables every day. If it is too difficult, I will think about it again. As for the tractor, let’s check if we can buy it this year.”

“Dhanyawad (Thank you.)”

There were many other good suggestions. The Indian staff used to talk about their difficulties a lot, but it seemed that they are becoming masters of the school now.

All of them went out to the schoolyard, checked the area to set up the stage during the pilgrimage next January, and listened to Sunim’s explanations about how to spruce up the school. Lastly, Sunim took a photo with them before completing the meeting.

After taking a short break, Sunim had a meeting with the Korean staff members of JTS India. It was an occasion to evaluate the things done during the last five days, to reflect on the past 30 years, and to envision the next 30 years.

First, two staff members who had been sent to India for the construction of a Dharma center in Sankissa (also known as Sankasya and Sankassa) asked Sunim questions.

What should we do in Sankissa for the next 10 years?

“When we go to Sankissa, it seems we will work on spreading Buddhism in India, including the construction of a Dharma center. For the next 10 years, what are the main things we should do in Sankissa?”

JTS is engaged in aid work for the needy, so, in principle, our work shouldn’t be related to religion. The reason why we chant Tisarana and Pancasila(Chanting the three refuges and five precepts in the Theravada Buddhist tradition) when we have a school assembly is that the Shakya clan started the school, not because I told them to. The Shakyas are all Buddhists, so they built a temple on the rooftop of the kindergarten. I never proposed building a temple here. The temple was built, and so a Buddha statue was brought in, and the temple was named Pragbodhi Temple. But JTS projects don’t have any religious purpose. If we expand our aid work for the needy in India, ultimately people will have a good impression of Buddhism. It would be nice if people become Buddhists, but we shouldn’t discriminate against people based on religion while doing aid work. Aid work shouldn’t be done for religious purposes. 

“The purpose of the Buddhadharma is to pacify people’s minds. So spreading the Buddha’s teachings is more far-reaching than aid work. At present, China and India each have 1.4 billion people and some say that the population of India will exceed that of China next year. The population of all European nations combined is a mere 400 million. The fact that India has a population of 1.4 billion indicates that India is a significant target for our efforts to spread the Buddha’s teachings around the world. China is a socialist country and there is a language barrier. But India allows free religious activities and Indians do not reject Buddhism. In terms of language, people in the middle and higher classes are English-literate, so spreading authentic Buddhism rather than blessing-seeking Buddhism is possible. If we spread Buddhism to only 10% of the Indian population, it will be 140 million people, which is three times the population of Korea. And 10% of the Indian population have a per-capita income of over 10,000 USD and they are educated enough to accept Buddhism.

“I think one indication of this prospect is Goenka vipassana meditation retreat centers. Many Goenka Dhamma centers teach Vipassana meditation, the true teaching of the Buddha, without emphasizing religious aspects. As a result, these centers have been considerably Indianized and globalized by Indian expats. Their main center, Dhamma Giri, is located in Igatpuri, Maharashtra, and they have built the Global Vipassana Pagoda (completed in 2008) in Mumbai, which has 10,000 cells where individuals can meditate alone. As can be seen from Goenka meditation centers, there is a huge demand, so India is an important target for our efforts to spread the Buddha’s teachings around the world. The three main targets for our efforts to spread the Buddha’s teachings are: first, the U.S., second, Europe, and third, India. I think that India will become a much more significant base for our efforts than China.

“However, during the first 10,000-Day Practice, Jungto Society has focused on tending sacred sites. Tending sacred sites consists of two parts: first, protecting the sites, and second, helping the Shakyas to understand the Buddhadharma correctly. For these purposes, we are trying to build a Dharma center in Sankissa. I think the Shakyas are not yet ready to accept Buddhism as it is accepted by the members of Jungto Society. They want Buddhism as a religion. Our long-term goal for the restoration of the grand stupa in Sankissa is to teach the Buddhadharma, but our immediate goal is to boost their faith. In other words, we are doing this with two goals: helping them to study the Buddhadharma and helping them take pride in their faith.

“The construction of Sankissa Dharma Center has stalled, but it was one of our goals for the first 10,000-Day Practice. Now this project has become one of the tasks to be done in the early part of the second 10,000-Day Practice. The main goal of our second 10,000-Day Practice is to spread the Buddha’s teachings around the world, and publishing Wisdom Notes in Hindi is one such activity. Spreading the Buddha’s teachings to English-literate foreigners regardless of their nationality is the first stage. I think we can spread the Buddha’s teachings to English-literate Indians as part of our efforts to spread the teachings around the world. The second stage of spreading the Buddha’s teachings could be spreading them in Hindi to middle-class Indians.

“However, what you need to do for the next 10 years is to complete the unfinished tasks of the first 10,000-Day Practice. The construction of a Dharma center in Sankissa is the most important. We need to construct buildings for lodging, training, and worship, and an auditorium for assembly. Second, we need to operate a school here to produce Buddhist leaders. Ven. Damapal, who has a Ph.D., lives in Sankissa, so I think Sankissa is better than Dungeshwari. I think we can establish and operate a branch of Sujata Academy in Sankissa. The Shakyas want us to establish an intermediate college (public school for 6th–12th grades).

“The construction of a Dharma center and the construction and operation of a school in Sankissa are two tasks needed to be done within 10 years. As the construction of the temple is being delayed, the Shakyas are saying that building the school will be easier. However, the Shakyas’ faith is not deep enough for them to unite and carry out the project themselves when we provide financial support. This project has been delayed for 20 years as the leaders of the clan have been divided and fighting for their interests.

“Instilling pride in their religion and preparing a base for the study of the authentic Buddhadharma are the things that need to be done for the Shakyas in the next 10 years. This will become a foundation for our efforts to spread the Buddha’s teachings around the world. Dungeshwari consists of poverty-stricken villages, while Sankissa consists of typical farming villages, but there is not much difference between them. However, Sankissa has better prospects for village development projects similar to the New Community Movement, such as collective buying and selling, and village improvement, because its villages are inhabited by the same ethnic people and there isn’t a lot of conflict between villages.”

Sunim ended the meeting with this and prepared for the live-streaming of Sunday meditation. At 4:00 pm, live-streaming began. It was 8:30 pm in Korea.

“Last Sunday, I did Sunday meditation with you from Seoul, but today I am in Bodh Gaya, India. Many people in Korea are worried because a super-typhoon is forecast to pass through Korea, but let’s drop all our worries and meditate calmly. Now let’s go to Mahabodhi Stupa, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. “

After showing a video of Sunim meditating under the Bodhi tree, the meditation started.

Clap! Clap! Clap!

Before wrapping up the Sunday meditation, Sunim read comments from participants about the meditation uploaded in real-time from Sujata Academy in India.

“I felt like I was meditating under the Bodhi tree. I felt comfortable.”

“I was seized by a desire to go on a pilgrimage to India.”

“I was more focused today, maybe because I saw the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodh Gaya.”

At 6:00 pm local time, 9:30 pm Korea time, the live-streaming ended.

“It is so hot here that I sweated profusely while meditating. I’ll see you next week.”

After living-streaming the Sunday meditation, Sunim participated in the evening Yebul ceremony and continued the discussion on the projects of JTS India.

In the evening, there was extensive talk about the future vision for JTS India projects, and Sunim finished the meeting with concluding remarks.

India, a country that will become the center of civilization in 100 years

“It seems that before the end of the second 10,000-Day Practice, U.S. hegemony will continue. But I expect that by the completion of the second 10,000-Day Practice, the center of the world will shift to East Asia. And I expect that during the third 10,000-Day Practice, the age of East Asia will arrive, and that India will emerge like present-day China and become the center of civilization for the next 100 years. Although the cost of living has risen a lot in India, especially in New Delhi, I think it is necessary to acquire a physical base in New Delhi now. When we look back later, today’s prices may turn out to be nothing. Even if we are living in the Internet age, acquiring a physical base in India now will be very useful for us in the future.

“India has a lot of English-literate people, so it will be very useful for us in terms of spreading the Buddha’s teachings around the world. Before long, middle-class Indians may become the center of our efforts to spread the Buddha’s teachings. There is one caveat though: Hinduism is a religion that is not receptive to philosophies and thoughts other than its own. On the other hand, more and more Europeans are becoming non-religious, so it might be easier for them to accept Buddhism. But Indians accept Buddhism within the framework of Hinduism, so the authentic teachings of the Buddha might seem strange to them and they might reject the teachings. Only 30 years ago, accepting the authentic teachings of the Buddha was difficult for Korean Buddhists; it might be even more difficult for Indians.”

While talking about the future of Jungto Society India and JTS India on various topics, two hours flew by. With this, Sunim’s five-day visit to Sujata Academy was concluded.

At 5:30 am tomorrow, Sunim will leave Sujata Academy for Gaya railway station and take a day-long train journey to Sankissa, where many Shakyas live.