Oct. 1, 2022

Opening Ceremony for Seoul Jungto Center,
Festival of Jungto Practitioners,
Meeting with Bodhi Tree Practice Program Participants

Hello! Today is the day that Seoul Jungto Center is to be officially inaugurated. Sunim had a busy day greeting guests and presiding over the opening ceremony.

At 4:30 am, Sunim began the day with the live-streaming of the 1,000-Day Practice. After the Yebul ceremony, Vows to the Threefold Refuge, Words for Practice, Repentance, 108 Bows, Meditation, and today’s Sutra Reading, the live-stream ended.

At 9:00 am, Sunim greeted guests as they arrived at Seoul Jungto Center. Sunim exchanged greetings with many guests, including social elders, religious leaders, statesmen, political leaders, NGO leaders, and people associated with Peace Foundation activities.

At 10:00 am, ceremonies were held to unveil the Seoul Jungto Center plaque and to cut the ribbon. Staff guided the social elders and religious leaders to line up along the cords tied to the veil, and statesmen, political leaders, and NGO leaders to line up after them.

“One, two, three, unveil!”

All of them pulled together enthusiastically. When the plaque was revealed, everyone cheered and clapped.

Everyone celebrated the opening of Seoul Jungto Center, a hall for individual happiness and social contribution, with one heart.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony followed. To capture the spirit of every guest being the owner of Seoul Jungto Center, the guests were divided into several groups for the ribbon cutting. First, social elders cut the ribbon.

Then, the group of religious leaders, the group of statesmen and political leaders, and the group of NGO leaders and people associated with Peace Foundation activities took turns to cut the ribbon.

“Please cut the ribbon on the count of three: one, two, three!”

After the ribbon-cutting, everyone moved into the auditorium on the third basement level to participate in the opening ceremony.

The Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, and a silent tribute to fallen heroes preceded the opening ceremony. The opening ceremony for Seoul Jungto Center isn’t just the inauguration of the building but an important occasion to signify Jungto Society’s new leap forward as it celebrates its 30th anniversary. A video of the 30-year history of Jungto Society and an introductory video of Seoul Jungto Center were shown.

After the videos, Sunim stepped onto the stage to thank the guests for joining us today.

“This building was completed two years ago, but due to COVID-19, the opening ceremony was put on hold. Finally we held the ceremony today. Thank you, everyone, for coming.” (Everyone applauds )

Next, Sunim introduced each guest. Despite their busy schedules, many leaders of Korea honored us with their presence. The attendance  of these distinguished guests showed the breadth and depth of the relationships that Sunim and Jungto Society have forged while carrying out social engagement activities.

Next, congratulatory speeches were made. First, Ven. Dobeop Sunim, the Representative of the Indramang Life Community and Head Monk of Silsangsa Temple, gave a congratulatory speech on behalf of the Buddhist community.

“The life of the Buddha is expressed as ‘radiating light according to causes and conditions.’ It means living a life of using the causes and conditions given at each moment to make me and you, us and the world, shine. I’ve watched at some distance the activities that Pomnyun Sunim and Jungto Society have carried out, and I think that your every step and every day have been the practice of ‘radiating light according to causes and conditions.’ I would like to express my deepest respect, gratitude, and admiration for the path you’ve taken until now. And I am sure that you will continue to follow this path of ‘radiating light according to causes and conditions.’ I wish you good health and happiness on this path.”

Next, Reverend Park Jong-hwa, former pastor of Kyungdong Church, gave a congratulatory speech on behalf of the religious leaders. He has worked with Pomnyun Sunim for the last 23 years as a member of the Association of Religious Leaders for National Reconciliation and Peace.

“When I was the pastor of Kyungdong Church, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim never failed to attend our Christmas service. And I always attended Jungto Society’s celebration of the Buddha’s birthday with the professor who is to sing for us later. This is one of the reasons why I am giving this speech today. Our goals are the same. Jungto Society’s goal is to create the Buddha’s world, in other words, Jungto, on this Earth. And my goal as a Christian is to create God’s world on this Earth. We use different terms, but I think that the Jungto that the Buddha talks about and the Christian heaven are the same thing, which we need to create together. Let’s turn this world into a beautiful, peaceful, and valuable land. Let’s work together as long as we are alive. We believe in different religions but we are one.”

A performance to celebrate the event followed. Prof. Kim Hong-tae, a deacon of Kyungdong Church and a faculty member of Konkuk University, who sings for us at our Buddha’s birthday celebration every year, sang “Magnolia Flowers” and “Geumgangsan” (Mt. Geumgang) beautifully and received enthusiastic applause.

On behalf of the NGO leaders, Representative of Forest Education Korea and former Minister of Environment Yoon Yeo-joon gave a congratulatory speech. He has played an important role as the director of the Peace Education Center of Peace Foundation for 10 years.

“I heard that the famous historian Arnold Toynbee asked the following question: What is the greatest thing that happened in the 20th century? Many people said that it was landing humans on the Moon. However, Toynbee said that it was the arrival of Buddhism in the Western world. I think that as a person who took a long-term perspective on history, he probably expected the influence of Buddhism on Western culture. What, then, is the greatest thing to happen in Korean Buddhism in the  20th century? I think it was the birth of Jungto Society. (Everyone applauds) I think that if you keep doing what you have done until now, before long people will say, ‘The birth of Jungto Society is the greatest thing that happened in Korean Buddhism in the  20th century.’ I hope you make the birth of Jungto Society the greatest thing that happened in Korean Buddhism in the  20th century by giving new life to the Buddha’s renunciation of the world. Thank you.”

And on behalf of political leaders, a speech was made by Director of Kim Young Sam for Democracy Kim Deok-ryong, a five-term lawmaker who served as the 17th and 22nd Minister of Political Affairs.

“In one of his poems, Jeong Ho-seung said: ‘There is a new road at the end of the old road.’ He talks about one who takes a road of new spring at the end of the old road. When I see Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, I think he is the one who is taking this road of spring. When we despair and go through hard times, he shows us a new road and follows the road himself.

“All of us are feeling frustrated and having a hard time these days. Internationally, it seems that a new cold war era has begun and that Korea is facing challenging situations amid this. Income inequality is rapidly widening and conflicts between political ideologies are worsening. I am here today in the hope that Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is showing us a new direction.”

Next, on behalf of elder statesmen, former Prime Minister and Speaker of the 20th National Assembly and Chairperson of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation Chung Se-kyun gave a congratulatory speech.

“Participating in this event, I feel hopeful that your aspiration to make the world happy can be achieved. (Everyone applauds) There are conflicts between employees and employers, between the ruling party and the opposition party, and between the Seoul Metropolitan Area and the rest of the country, but I think we can all be happy when we have peace by mitigating and resolving these conflicts. Let’s provide support so that a new history can be made here at Seoul Jungto Center, and let’s contribute to making Korea a nation where our future generations are happy and prosperous.”

There were also congratulatory messages from abroad,  sent by Dr. Sulak Sivaraksa, co-founder of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB); Dr. Hiroshi Niwano, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Niwano Peace Foundation; Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, who worked as the primary negotiator for the Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks on Sept. 19, 2005 as the U.S. Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks with North Korea; and Mr. Harsha Navaratne, Chairperson of INEB’s Executive Committee .

After the congratulatory speeches and messages, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, the Guiding Dharma Teacher of Jungto Society and Chairperson of the Peace Foundation, thanked the participants.

“Jungto Society will complete its ten thousand days of morning practice and volunteer work for the world on December 4th this year. Jungto Society has never said that you will go to the Land of Perfect Bliss or receive blessings if you believe in Buddhism. The core teaching of the Buddha is that we can live happily, without suffering, if we realize our ignorance—because our suffering comes from ignorance. And we can contribute our talents and skills to make the world more beautiful so that our neighbors, too, can be happy. We don’t have to give everything we have, small donations of our talents accumulate and make the world beautiful.

Seoul Jungto Center, a fruit of Jungto practitioners’ practice, donations, and volunteer work

“Members of Jungto Society have practiced every morning and donated 1,000 Korean won (About 1.25 USD 30 years ago and about .70 USD now) every day. These donations have accumulated over the last 30 years and made Seoul Jungto Center today. Looking at Jungto Society’s activities, people might think, ‘Does Jungto Society receive a lot of donations?’ It doesn’t. But we have almost no expenses. (Everyone laughs)

“There are no paid employees in Jungto Society. We are practitioners, so we shouldn’t employ anyone or be employed by others. Practitioners are free people. But, we should donate a small portion of what we have rather than all we have. Small donations and volunteer work by many people have accumulated and led Jungto Society for the last 30 years.

“Buildings are not the focal point of Jungto Society. As Jungto Society grew and the number of members increased, we needed work spaces and some of us suggested that we should have a building. I opposed it at first. I thought, ‘Why should we have a building when the Buddha lived under a tree?’ But in reality, we rented five offices for the Peace Foundation, JTS, Jungto Publishing, and other activities, and our monthly rents were huge. Although we—as practitioners—don’t care much about money, we have to pay when we rent office space. Some suggested that concentrating all these offices into one building would allow for more efficient operations, so we concentrated all these offices into one building. From now on, we don’t have to pay rent, so we will spend even less.

“Small amounts of money have added up and maintained Jungto Society until now. Some people might say that with its size now, Jungto Society should spend money more generously. But we are quite stingy in our spending! On the other hand, we won’t hesitate to spend millions of dollars to help starving people. We spent a lot of money to support starving North Koreans and to provide gas stoves for Rohingya refugees, but we spend almost nothing on ourselves. Jungto Society has never received any large donations from corporations, nor any government grants. The revenue of Jungto Society is made up entirely of fees and donations from members. (Everyone applauds)

People who use their money, time, and talents for the world

“As we celebrate the opening of Seoul Jungto Center today, I would like to thank all members of Jungto Society. Our volunteers willingly work by making time while still leading their own work and family lives. I think that some of their family members complain why they do things that don’t make them any money. Then I ask them in return:

‘Why should people do only the things that pay money, and why should people always be paid for their work? Isn’t it wonderful to use your talents for the world instead of selling them for money?’

“Because of the people who donated their money, time, and talents, we are here today. The work that Jungto Society is doing has nothing to do with religion. If you make small donations and join us in our volunteer work, we will continue our work for the next 30 years, as we have done until now.

We will continue our work for the next 30 years as we have done until now

“I live in an abandoned school in a rural area, doing farmwork. Whatever the world turns out to be, we have to live and we have to do whatever we can to make the world better. Even when we do a good thing, doing it with greed will make it difficult. As we rely on volunteer work in this day and age, we lack expertise and continuity in our work. In this respect, we are inefficient. Companies should value efficiency, but practitioners don’t have to regard efficiency as the most important factor. We just do whatever our skills and competencies allow us to do. Therefore, there are things we can’t do. How can we do everything in the world? We just do what we can.

“Although Jungto Society can’t do great things, we do things consistently. We make plans for what we can do and implement them consistently, so please keep an eye on us and support us. I sincerely thank you for joining us today despite your busy schedules.”

Lastly, a photo was taken of all participants in their seats.

The opening ceremony was an opportunity to sincerely wish for Jungto Society to take the lead in the advancement of human civilization in the future, starting today.

Jungto Society volunteers have prepared lunch for the quests with great care. All the guests retired to the cafeteria on the first basement level. Sunim visited each table, making eye contact with the guests and thanking them for coming.

After lunch, Sunim showed the guests around every corner of Seoul Jungto Center.

At 2 pm, a festival of Jungto practitioners started, while the members of Jungto Society around the world were connected to the live-stream. To celebrate the construction of Seoul Jungto Center, a center for spreading the Buddha’s teachings around the world and social engagement, and to show gratitude to all the donors who contributed to its construction, performances were prepared by the domestic and international divisions, and also by those in the Philippines and Sujata Academy.

First, videos to commemorate the opening ceremony and to thank all the donors were shown. Everybody clapped and cheered as the names of the donors scrolled by on the screen. The footprints left by Jungto practitioners over the last 30 years are beautiful.

Then the festival of Jungto practitioners, performances prepared by Jungto practitioners all around the world, took place in full swing.

Daegu Gyeongbuk Division started its performance by showing the faces of senior Jungto practitioners who have devoted their lives to Jungto Society over the last 30 years. After reading words to commemorate the completion of the building, they gave a performance to celebrate the inauguration.

Busan and Ulsan Division gave an enthusiastic choir performance dressed in white.

The Overseas Division showed a video of congratulatory messages from all around the world.

Songko, a small village in Mindanao, in the Philippines, sent a video of a performance by the Talaandig tribe to congratulate the opening of Seoul Jungto Center.

Gwangwon and East Gyeonggi Division received loud applause for their hot cheerleading performance. Seoul and Jeju Division danced to a song with adapted lyrics and gave a beautiful choir performance.

The Main Auditorium of Seoul Jungto Center was warmed by the performances of Jungto practitioners from around the world. A video of a performance by students of Sujata Academy sent by the sangha in India was also shown.

Gwangju and Jeolla Division gave a humorous show that enacted an arduous ten-day journey to Seoul, crossing over mountain passes and fording streams in a wagon decorated with flowers.

“Get out of our way, we are the real thing. The least of us is a match for a hundred, if you don’t request an encore, I will eat my hat.”

Daejeon and Chungcheong Division performed a wonderful dance to Psy’s song “It’s Art.”  Afterward, a video of the performance by the International Division was shown.

Incheon and Gyeonggi Division received warm applause for the performance of its male choir.

Gyeongnam Division performed a dance, moving back and forth between the stage and the audience, while showing a video of 100 people doing a traditional Korean circle dance at Jungnimjeongsa Temple in Jangsu, which had the audience dancing with their shoulders and wrapped up the festival in a  grand finale.

Three hours whizzed by as we celebrated while laughing and clapping.

Lastly, Sunim, the Leader of the Dharma Teachers Group, the Chairperson of the 10,000-Day Practice Committee, and the Chairperson of the Special Committee for Korean Unification, stepped onto the stage and thanked everyone before concluding the festival.

Sunim took photos with the performers of each division and then went to the first basement level. At 5:30 pm, he had a conversation with graduates of the Bodhi Tree Practice program for the volunteers who are to operate and maintain Seoul Jungto Center.

The participants of the program were assigned to 25 jobs under 11 departments, and received a range of training and education for the operation and maintenance of  the center. With the opening ceremony, Seoul Jungto Center has put into operation its building operation system run by 140 volunteers.

After introducing the department leaders, Sunim gave the volunteers a pep talk.

“As Seoul Jungto Center is large, we need people to operate and maintain it. To maintain a building of this size, four or five full-time paid employees are usually required, and if we also take into account the night shift, then five or six people are needed. However, as we try to adhere to Jungto Society’s principle of not employing people, we need many volunteers to maintain this building. How many people are doing the work of five or six full-time employees?

“120 people.” (Everyone laughs)

“Even if the roles are shared, aren’t 120 people too many? (Everyone laughs) Now, many people are sharing roles to maintain this building well, but I think we shouldn’t build a building that is difficult to maintain from now on. If a building is constructed because we absolutely need it, I think you should maintain it even if you have to quit your job.

“We need a building of this size because we’ve wished to concentrate all our activities in one place for a long time, and Jungto Society has grown. With the spread of COVID-19 two years ago, many of our activities went online. As a result, the current building is the right size for us, but if we had not gone online, it would have been insufficient.

The reason why we want to stick to the principle of not employing people

“We also thought about not constructing this building at all because building maintenance is difficult and many of our activities are online. However, if we look ahead to the next 30 years, we agreed that we need a building of this size, even if we stay online, so we ended up constructing this center. But we still need to operate and maintain this building while observing our principle of not employing people.

“Our usual activities are based on voluntary choice, but there is an element of coercion in this volunteer work because this building needs to be operated and maintained somehow, so I feel sorry. However, if we aspire to spread the Buddha’s teachings to 10 million people, we definitely need a building of this size, so I hope you maintain it well since it has already been built.

“When we look at the lives of Buddhist monks in history, some of the monks during the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392) were perhaps scholars but not practitioners. This is because they read books, chanted, and meditated, while living on land and in temples provided by the state, and while eating food prepared by the slaves belonging to the land. Although their heads were shaved and they wore kasayas(robes of fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns), their lives didn’t correspond to the spirit of the Buddha’s renunciation. If the Buddha had had many slaves, how could we say that he lived the life of a practitioner? Ananda wasn’t a slave, he was chosen among the practitioners to perform the role of the Buddha’s attendant. This was because the Buddha needed an attendant as he grew older.

“Just as employing people is common sense in a capitalist society, having slaves was common sense in a feudal society. While living in a class society, however, the Buddha didn’t have servants. Rather, he took care of himself all his life after leaving the life of a prince who had many slaves. When he needed help because of his old age, Anada, a fellow practitioner, attended to him.

“Although we can’t live like the Buddha,  at least we shouldn’t go with the tide and employ people for the sake of efficiency. If we go with the tide, we may become religious leaders or a religious group, but not a community of practitioners.

“Of course, it is difficult to stick to this principle. Going against the tide is accompanied by difficulties and discordances. Only when we observe our principles, even in the face of contradictions and difficulties, can we be less secular. If Jungto Society succumbs to difficulties and values efficiency like the ordinary people of the world, we will become like regular corporations or religious organizations that hire people. If we are going to be like that, we don’t need to strive to be a new type of organization as we do now. We could just take over an existing temple or religious organization.

“You are putting so much effort into the maintenance of this building, so you are the owners. If this building was not to be maintained by volunteers, I would work from Dubuk Retreat Center and not set foot in here. I could do things like having tea with people here occasionally, but I wouldn’t have official Dharma meetings here. Thanks to the fact that you are going to maintain this building, we can hold a Dharma meeting here tomorrow for the first time.

To avoid living our daily lives on the sacrifices of others

“You might think that there is little difference between employing five or six people and having many volunteers for maintenance. In addition, to construct a building these days, we have to rely on a construction company, so we can’t be totally free from this contradiction. However, as one of the principles of Jungto Society is to avoid living our daily lives on the sacrifices of others, observing this principle is very important.

“It’s the same with the Buddha’s reason for renunciation. When he saw a cow plowing the fields, he wondered, ‘Why does a cow have to plow a field for the comfort of the farmer?’ He also realized that the luxurious life at court was possible because of the impoverished lives of farmers. He renounced the world because he was critical of all this.

“If we act contrary to the spirit of the Buddha’s renunciation while saying that the Buddha is our teacher, our identity will be shaken. For Jungto Society to carry out projects efficiently while adhering to its principles, you need to make time for volunteer work despite your busy work and home life. In this respect, I hope that you can refresh your mindset for the operation of Seoul Jungto Center. I sincerely thank you again.”

Sunim took a photo with each graduating class. He asked the volunteers to operate the building safely and thanked them again before leaving. 

At 7:00 pm, Pomnyun Sunim’s teacher Ven. Domun Sunim arrived. Domun Sunim arrived a day earlier for the following day’s Dhama meeting to commemorate the opening of Seoul Jungto Center. Sunim greeted him at the entrance. Domun Sunim paid homage to the rock-carved Buddha statue on the first floor and paid his respects in the Dharma Hall on the 15th floor and in the Preaching Hall on the third floor.

After dinner with Domun Sunim, Sunim concluded the day’s schedule. Tomorrow, Sunim will participate in the Dharma meeting to commemorate the opening of Seoul Jungto Center with Domun Sunim in the morning, followed by the Reunification Sports Festival online, and then give a Dharma talk at the closing ceremony of the Weekend Meditation Retreat in the afternoon, and live-stream the Sunday meditation in the evening.