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<Toward the World of Buddhayana>

As Charles Prebish correctly pointed out, one important aspect of Buddhism in America is the fact that almost all of different Buddhist schools are simultaneously presented in North America (Prebish 1999,2-3). Never before in the history of Buddhism did such a melting pot-like gathering of different Buddhist traditions take place in one society. The synchronic and diachronic existence of different Buddhist schools in Buddhism in America enhances our understanding of Buddhist teachings and urges us to move beyond the sectarian, ethnic, and national boundaries in our understanding and practice of Buddhist teachers. More and more Buddhist schools in America make efforts to work together, learn from other schools, and create Buddhism which is not limited by sectarian vision.

In one of the most influential books on Buddhism in America, How the swans came to the lake : a Narrative History of Buddhism in America, the author, Rick Fields, concludes his section on Korean Buddhism in America with the following remarks : Koreans may be the most recent arrivals on the scene, but because of the continuing vigor and strength of their monastic sangha, as well as the devotion and support of the lay community, they promise to play an important part in the unfolding of American Buddhism(353). Several pages later, in a concluding remark of this section on Vietnamese Buddhism in America, the author states : No one can say what will happen in a hundred years. But at this moment it does indeed seem that Vietnamese Buddhism will have a great impact on American Buddhism (358). I hope Korean Buddhist will not be disappointed to learn that the author provides such a promising statement to many different Buddhist groups that he discusses in his book. As now people began to use the expression, Buddhaya, which transcends the boundaries of Mahayana, Hinayana, Theravada, Vajrayana and all the Buddhist paths, the fact that all the different ethnic, national Buddhism can make contributions for the creation of Buddhayana is the very hope, beauty, and strength of Buddhism in America. And here lies the responsibilities of Korean Buddhism, Korean-American Buddhist community, and Korean-American Buddhist scholarship. If there is Korean-ness that we can identify in our Buddhist tradition, the Korean-ness will function not as a demarcator to separate us from other Buddhist groups but to bind us with them by making Buddhism richer and more diverse with our participation. Rick Fields' book was first published in 1981, more than twenty years ago. During the past two decades many things have happened in Korean-American Buddhist community. In early 1980s, there were not many Korean ethnic Buddhist temples, whereas now there are more than a hundred Korean Buddhist temples all over the United States. Furthermore we have Buddhist magazines in both Korean and English languages.

In a panel on Korean American Christianity I participated in several years ago, one scholar revealed his research on why Korean Americans, especially young Korean Americans, want to be considered Christians. He says that most of young Korean Americans want to be categorized as Christians instead of Korean-or Asian-Americans, because whereas the latter reflects a minority position of Korean-American identity, the former, Christians, provides them an opportunity to be included in the category majority. The finding reflects the complicated situation between religion, ethnicity, and social spectrum of American society. However, if we overcome a negative aspects involved in this psychology of wanting to be a Christian instead of a Korean-American, it will help us to understand the function of our religion and religious community in the broader boundary of our society.

As a Korean and Korean-American Buddhist community, in this temple we continue our religious life which we inherited from our culture and history. Korean-Buddhism in this sense constitutes one element of our identity as Koreans. At the same, Buddhism, or any religion in that sense, also helps us expand our identity from a Korean Buddhist to a Buddhist. Buddhism in this case is like a hinge in our identity, it marks our Koreanness and at the same time, it marks our belonging-togetherness with the community which is bigger and larger than our ethnic boundary.

Emigrant Korean Buddhists re like bridges between Buddhism in Asia and Buddhism in America. Korean ethnic temples like Kwan Um temple provides a living proof that Buddhist tradition in Korea is still alive. Even though ethnic Buddhism is part of Asian Buddhism, its existence in the United States has a totally different meaning by the simple fact that ethnic Buddhism is Buddhism practiced in America. It shows the possibility pf the new religion to survive in American soil.

As we mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Kwan Um Temple, let's once again remind us of the importance pf being a bridge-maker between our tradition from Korea and the American society. And also let's appreciate that the newly emerging American Buddhism facilitates us the opportunity to expand our understanding of Buddhism beyond whatever limitations we had before.

Korean Buddhism in American Buddhism and American Buddhist Scholarship
by Jin Y. Park(American University)
(Kwan Um Temple Symposium on Korean Buddhism in America
March 23, 2003 Kwan Um Temple, Los Angeles, CA)
(*이 글은 관음사 30년사 총연감에 실린 글이다.)

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