Friday, July 11, 2003

Paid my usual visit to Chogye-sa. The main building and most of the compound is completely under construction but worship continues unabated. Mostly older (but not really old) women with a few younger women and even fewer men thrown in for good measure. Many brought sutras to read or chant, others used rosaries (some were very long), still others simply bowed and rose and bowed in an not immediately appreciable pattern. One guy clearly came only to keep his girlfriend happy. What are they all bowing and chanting to? A rather smallish golden statue of what I presume is the historical Buddha and some considerably larger paintings of big Buddhas, Maitreyas, guards to the underworld and thousands of smaller Buddha/bodhisattva figures. The main hall was plastered with names (of donors, presumably) and lanterns hung from the ceiling in such profusion that one could hardly tell that they were tearing out the roof and replacing it. The sounds of construction above and outside gave it away but the worship continued unabated. Something very casual about it all though. A cell phone rings and its owner matter-of-factly answers it and carries on a conversation. Another lady converses with a friend: "you're leaving already?" "yeah, I've got things to do." I'm sure Korean Buddhism has its hierarchies, strict rules and conflicts; I just didn't see any of that at Chogyesa today.

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