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The Jogye Order’s Buddhist Training Institute for Foreign Trainees is designed for foreign postulants (Buddhist Monastic Trainees) who wish to become a monk in Korea. These trainees learn Korean language, Buddhist doctrine, and Buddhist ceremonies at the institute. The foreign trainees (without Korean nationality) must enter this institute within a month of registering as a postulant.
The trainees would live approximately six months at the institute to learn how to chant and perform ceremonies, as well as to study Korean language well enough to communicate with other Koreans. The trainees spend a lot of time in learning the Korean language. However, the institute is not a place where the foreign trainees simply ‘stop by’ to learn the language. This institute is designed for the trainees to receive a consistent and unified Buddhist training, and also to become familiarized with the Jogye Order’s lineage and its formal practices.
After opening its door last March, 5 male and 2 female foreign trainees (total of 7 trainees) have entered the institute. Four of the seven trainees are from Sri Lanka, which makes up the majority: Amita already took Buddhist vow and trained in Sri Lanka for the last 16 years; while the other 3 trainees, Ohyeon, Uyeon, and Gwangyeon are still just a teenager.
The other trainees’ names are: Gwanseong from the United States, Jinseong from Taiwan, and Beopan from Poland. These 7 trainees are studying South Korea’s Buddhist culture systematically under the instruction of Hyegang Sunim.
The trainees’ daily routine is divided into three main categories: instruction on temple etiquette, Korean language, and Buddhist Studies. During the day, the trainees study Korean language at DonggukUniversity from Monday to Friday. In the evening, they study the following under the guidance of Wongam Sunim: life story of the Buddha, basic Buddhist doctrine, Buddhist services and ceremonies, novice precepts and other Buddhist trainings.
Moreover, the monks will learn how to present oneself as a monk, such as how to follow the Buddhist precepts, way to access the temple, how to prostrate, how to tie and wear the robe, along with other basic and advance information one should know about becoming a monk. The weekend schedule is also very busy as well. When the trainees have to review the information learned during the week, 24 hours doesn’t seem enough.
One of the most difficult training is chanting. Learning Korean language is difficult enough, but the monks have to memorize the Buddhist texts in Korean. Even when Wongam Sunim interprets the meaning repeatedly, it is not easy for the trainees to memorize the chants.
They try to memorize the chants by writing it down a few times, or draw a special symbol when it is time to tap the wooden fish or sound the hand bell. But, they are not used to chanting and tapping at the same time, so it is very difficult to synchronize them together. When they are concentrated on tapping, they are forgetting to chant; or when they are concentrated on chanting, they have forgotten to tap.
At dawn, the trainees take turn in chanting around the temple, but sometimes they forget how to chant ‘Cheonsugyeong (The Thousand Eyes and Hands Sutra)’ and would halt in the middle. So, Wongam Sunim made MP3 recoding of the chants to make it easier for the trainees. The Sunim knew better than anyone else that in order to improve they must hear and practice as much as they can.
Ohyeon, one of the trainees says, “I studied Buddhism since kindergarten, so it is relatively easy to learn the doctrine, but Korean Buddhist terminologies are too difficult to study” and adds, “I keep making mistakes when I recite the texts, but Wongam Sunim is teaching me patiently. I am trying my best to practice.”
Learning the Korean language is very difficult. In particular, Sri Lankan trainees are especially having a difficult time in learning the language because there is no Korean Sri Lankan dictionary. Therefore, they use Korean-Chinese- Sri Lankan dictionary made in China. Despite these difficulties, their Korean skills are improving greatly by the day. This is due to help from DonggukUniversity’s KoreanlanguageCenter and their special Korean Instructor. Last March, when the Institute first opened, Amita could not speak, although she was able to understand Korean. However, she can now speak the language quite well. Although she may say “ the three years” instead of “ the third year” or she may say “Come by” rather than “Good Bye”, she can now express herself in Korean.
All the Sri Lankan trainees, who arrived a year ago, are attending Korean language level 3. Even Jinseong is attending the level 2, as well as Bup-An who can barely greet people in Korean.
Hyegang Sunim, who guides the trainees states, “I think it is great that they came all the way to Korea to become a monk, and I am very thankful that they are trying their best.” and adds, “Although I feel exhausted at times, I am trying my best because the trainees are doing so well. We do not force the foreign trainees to do as much as the Korean monks.” and “We just focus on training how these trainees and monks should act and how to read the Sutras.”
Thanks to the Wongam Sunim’s training, these trainees are improving day by day. Amita says, “After studying as a trainee, I would like to receive novice precepts. My ultimate dream is to study Buddhism at the Monastic College.” and adds, “I would like to utilize my knowledge in Sanskrit and Pali and introduce what I learned from Sri Lanka, which is Theravada Buddhism.
On August 11th, all the 6 trainees (except for Bupan) will go back to their respective headquarters where they first decided to become a monk. Also, from August 18th to Setpember 2nd (for 16 days) the trainees will participate in Buddhist Initiation Ceremony at the HeadTemple for the 7th District of the Jogye Order (JikjisaTemple). They could polish up their skills as trainees and take the Level 5 Monastic Exam to receive a Novice Precepts and Vows.
On their first step to becoming a monk, we asked “Are you ready to face the challenge?” and they responded “We are not worried at all about the Exam”. These smiley trainees seem to brighten the promising future of Buddhism
[Buddhist Newspapers 2737 Lake / July 20, 2002.]