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Won Kwang Sa International Zen Temple

A Korean Temple in the Scenic Valleys of Hungary

About an hour and a half drive from Budapest sits the Won Kwang Sa International Zen, a Korean temple in the heart of Hungary.

Won Kwang Sa International Zen Temple (Temple of Original Light) has been under construction since 2006 across approximately 7 hectares in the wonderfully scenic Pilis Mountains of Hungary.

Its roof and materials are all from Korea, while the labor is merited to talented Hungarian builders and artisans. The result is a Korean gem in the middle of Fárikút, near Búbánatvölgy, a valley about an hour and a half ride from Budapest that is open to the public for retreats. Though the First Meditation Hall has been completed, the Great Buddha Hall is under construction and is estimated to take several years to complete.

I recently had the chance to talk with the Temple’s Abbot, Hungarian-born Chong An Sunim, whom I met about 3 years ago while he was giving a Dharma talk here in Busan. I had the honor of interviewing him later in 2012 and, because I have found many answers in Buddhism, I always come back to him for matters of the heart and spirit.

This conversation with Chong An Sunim about Won Kwang Sa was conducted during another of his visits to Busan.

Chong An Sunim, can you talk about a retreat and what people can expect when visiting the Temple of Original Light in Hungary? Could you explain what to expect from a spiritual point of view first?

Chong An SunimIt depends on what kind of karma you bring into the retreat, how much you are ready to see it and let it go. If people are attached to their own opinions and ideas, they suffer, no matter what kind of teaching they get, how good the food is (very good!) how kind the residents are (very kind!). So, you can expect the unseen part of your ‘self’ to appear, and the teacher and students help you become clear and free from it. The results appear both inside and outside of the temple: better assessment of any situation, more intelligent sense of establishing any relationship, and more precise and elaborate function. In short: less mistakes, more appropriate actions, speech, thoughts and feelings.

What does a day at the retreat look like? Are visitors expected to help with chores?

The day begins around 4:30 with about 40 minutes of chanting, then 50 minutes of meditation. There is one hour of work period after breakfast, everyone takes some simple job. Participation is mandatory, but you can always ask for another job assignment if the one you are about to get is unsuitable for some reason. Then two hours of sitting interspersed with walking meditation. Lunch at 12, then break and afternoon walk. Every now and then we have a long walk up in the mountain for up to 2 hours. Otherwise, there is a 2 1/2 hour sitting-walking combo till 16:30. Dinner at 17:00, and just like all meals, it is optional, but needs a notification to the practice leader if someone misses meals.

It has to be regular, not intermittent, like someone decides not to take dinner for the whole retreat, or just one meal per day. Both have tradition in Korea, and we can add a third one, when someone skips breakfast only. The most important factor here is the balance of body and mind: How much food is enough to keep your practice clear and energetic. Too much food–and people sleep all the time, too little–then there may be clarity, but no energy.

Korean temple Hungary

At 18:30 we have chanting, then about two hours of sitting-walking. After dedicating our practice to all beings, the formal part ends around 21:30. Then people have the option to practice more, but believe me, everyone is happy just to rest and brace for the next day. Physically, it is a very even exposure, mentally it takes a lot of getting used to.

The results are convincing, if people follow the teaching and apply themselves sincerely, they can cast off all unnecessary and burdensome karma soon or later, and develop those qualities that are missing. The key to that is one moment of awakening, realizing our true nature so that this innate experience would guide us when nothing and no one can. The name for this is spiritual independence. Training for this takes many years, fortitude and stamina, lots of determination and unwavering will. No one has these qualities fully at the beginning, but we can all develop them. This effort makes us better human beings.

I was hoping, through this interview, to reach out to other artists, like myself, who might need to get in touch with their true self, to find inspiration and balance or to boost their creativity. Would it be possible for such a person to partially work on their art while visiting the temple or is there little room for that?

It is possible, though we always need to harmonize what the artist wants and what the temple can offer and may need. With most people this is possible. One extreme is complete isolation which we cannot provide. Practice and meals are all group activities, residents and guest all take part. The morning work period (non-retreat times as well) is mandatory, and the afternoon is optional. That’s when artists can have a new attempt to resume their artisanship, and make one more step on their creative path.

What other experiences can we get in the surrounding area and while visiting or staying at the Temple of Light?

The surrounding mountains offer a good chance of many hours of walking, the city of Esztergom is home to the largest cathedral in the Carpathian Basin, and the adjacent Catholic University and Museum are also places of veneration as well as tourism. The Danube-bend is one of the most spectacular vistas, where the river carved itself among the mountains for tens of thousands of years, making a full 180 degree hairpin, then a 90 degree sharp turn from E-W axis to N-S. Just half an hour of car ride would take us halfway between the temple and Budapest to Szentendre, a multi-ethnic artisan city with small galleries, beautiful folk art shops and many kinds of restaurants. Plenty of fun!

Won Kwang Sa International Zen

How long do people usually stay in the temple?

Most come for a one-day visit first, get to know us a little, as well as we get to know them. If the connection is good, they come back for retreats, some become residents. There is no preset rule but one: you make your own commitment–and you keep it. You can come for one day, one week, one month, one year, one lifetime–the length does not matter. Your commitment matters. You say it, you do it. Integrity comes this way.

How would one go about finding more information about visiting the temple?

First, get online! Check out our home page, Youtube channel, Facebook profile, all you need to know in the first round is there. If you like what you see and hear, you can connect to us via email Then we can assess how we can help and serve your quest on your spiritual path. The temple is completely donation based, which means that it is neither free, nor commercially priced. Some people have spare money, some don’t.  But everyone offers something in return for practicing, room and board, whether work, material donation or financial contribution. It has been working in our tradition for over 2500 years, and if WKS Temple is operating well, it can be attributed to the well-established principles and matching practical application of our Seon tradition.

For someone considering a visit to the Temple of Original Light in Hungary, could you recommend some basic reading/online videos, if they want to prepare and learn about Zen Buddhism?

Our youtube channel is probably the best way to start, it has documentaries on the temple besides English, Korean and Hungarian Dharma-videos. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s books are readily available in many formats, they are primary and indispensable resources to understand and appreciate our lineage. Most importantly, we have a Beam Raising Ceremony for the Main Buddha Hall with the participation of many distinguished Korean monks, lay Buddhists, and lots of westerners. This year the event was slated for March 29th. Everybody is welcome!

For more information on Won Kwang Sa International Zen Temple, visit them on the web or on Facebook.

Gaby Berglund Cardenas, has been studying Zen Buddhism for over two years in Busan, where she has her art studio. She earned an M.F.A. in Oil Painting from Kyungsung University and her work has been shown in major galleries in Busan, New York, Birmingham, Osaka and at the Koehnline Museum of Art in Illinois.

Photos courtesy of Won Kwang Sa International Zen Temple

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