Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Visit to Dae Yen Sa Temple

Welcome Sign

A welcoming sign.

This article was written awhile ago. Some things have changed a little over time and many other activities have remained the same. Yoga is sometimes an independent experience during open temple time. During certain times of the year Master Dae San offers Dharma talks on Saturdays complete with an interpreter. This writing was originally done to provide information to those wondering about visiting the temple.


Life is crazy, frantic, wonderful, and even darn hard at times. Saturday, however, is a wonderfully warm day in Connecticut. Pushing towards the middle of November, that is a treat where I live. Today is a day to go out and let all that warm sunshine in. Since I have nothing scheduled for a change, and am more free than usual, I do something special. All my usual work gets pushed aside. That is special for me in itself. I decide to visit Dae Yen Sa Temple in New Hartford, Connecticut. Friends have invited me there in the past always emphasizing how it is, "...a real Buddhist temple."

Learning and expanding ones experiences are often wonderful opportunities. At times, they are definitely character building "difficult," causing blushing and making a person feel three times too small. Today my visit keeps pace with the wonderfully, sunny day and I feel just a little taller for it. Prior to going, I do my homework for the people who are asking me about the Buddhist experience. My brother often attends Buddhist temples, so I ask how does one go about doing this? My brother is quite a talker and an even bigger writer and I figure he can make it easy. His only response is, "Be sure to take your shoes off." I read a chapter in a book that informs concerned people about how to go about respecting religions and their ceremonies, but it is more background rather than the actual process. I really don't think it even mentions shoes. I obtain the temple schedule from the internet. Sunday is the special day for Korean services. Korean services are actually performed every day in Korean language. Saturday and Wednesday is the "American Buddhist" schedule.

Armed with the schedule and other information from the site I set off on my journey in my car, "The Little White Bull." (For anyone who does not know me well, I name all my cars.) Despite my best intentions to be a perfect visitor, I do probably what a lot of people do when they are trying to be so precise... I goof up. I miss the turn because the sign near the main road falls down. I am half-an-hour late for the first class, driving in past the beautiful stone sign for the temple, and the classic Asian rock structures. I am not paying attention to my second error-- blasting the radio. "Oooops!" I say to myself as a turn off the thumping rock song whining about "no huggy, no kissy until I get a wedding band..." I jump out of my car and slam the door. Oops again, I sure hope that temple has some descent sound proofing. Quickly looking through the glass as I go along towards the main building, I see everyone is in the large temple and not the other smaller structures. After all this, I do at least remember to take off my shoes and quietly tiptoe in. I am still under the impression that shoes are important. Diamond mind is probably important for large gatherings, so you can find your shoes again too. Thankfully, there will be no problem here. It is a nice small gathering inside.



Perhaps I am not yet the greatest guest. The yoga teacher is the perfect hostess allowing me that gentle space to recover rather than start off with a wilt. She kindly invites me right into the class despite my lateness. This is truth in advertising. Their website states, "You can come in at any time; don’t ever think you’re late. You can only be on time at our temple." How wonderful is that!?

One of my burning questions about attending the Buddhist temple is, "What do I need to bring." This question starts to receive answers at the first class too. I go to where the mats are in the closet for the yoga class. Of course the best part is that the class itself is wonderful! I have some past exposure to yoga and this time, I realize that each teacher has a special energy that they add to their teaching. Some classes are very technical, others are fun, some are happy. Leonora, whose spiritual name is Ji Yen Sunim, has a class that "sings" with warmth. (The people serving at the temple receive a special name followed by Sunim which means monk.) It is not one of those "way too easy" classes either, since a person can perform to their own ability and flexibility. There is intoning of a syllable together, rubbing our hands and releasing energy in prayer. They refer to what we do as a "Cooking" or Karma yoga. It has been so long since I have held a syllable like that with others, I realize I miss that wonderful harmonizing experience and all the chi heat in my hands. Our voices together remind me of my new singing bowl.


The area where walking meditation is performed. The structure itself contains special relics.

This day is filled with many more wonderful people! I am introduced to Sue Yen Sunim who is enthusiastic, friendly, and ever busy when she is not meditating. I continue to see her throughout the day in the classes and busy with many other details of the temple. Sue Yen Sunim is one of the founders of the temple. I take many photos throughout the day. Originally when I look at my picture of Sue Yen Sunim folding temple cushion covers, I wish to have a better photo of her. Then I see the photo differently realizing that she is captured in her finest form of taking care of us.

Sue Yen Sunim

Sue Yen Sunim busy working away. I thought I would like a better photo, then I realize that she is captured in her finest form of taking care of us in this one. After getting to know her better, I realize she is a wonderful example of feminine power.

Dae San Sunim, the Master at the temple and founder, arrives. I also see Rev. Brian Vaugh, recognizing him from the internet photo gallery, in the circle too. The tea ceremony time begins and another item is provided for me. The meditation cushions are arranged for us and everyone takes their place in the circle. Rev. Brian Vaugh, a former Catholic monk and now a Buddhist Priest, teaches us about not breaking the circle and about drinking tea together. Someone immediately breaks the circle and all this produces are smiles and a kindly spoken, "We will just pretend she is not doing that." (I know what you are thinking, but it wasn't me.) The Master speaks about drinking tea and the experience of it. In the ceremony we open ourselves to all the sensations of the tea, smell, feel, warmth inside of us and even our neighbor drinking tea. That is a completely new experience for me. We pass the tray of tea around the circle bowing and accepting tea from our neighbor and passing on the gesture to someone else. A tea ceremony is a little wish for me. The Master's photo holds another little surprise for me too. In it, he is holding the meditation posture he teaches us. I did not realize at the time of taking the photo that he did that!


Dae San Sunim is the Master at Dae Yen Sa Temple. He is holding the meditation posture we use today.

The meditation instruction, chanting, meditation itself, and Dharma talk has so much information in it! I cannot possibly share it all here without being longer winded than even my usual self. The meditation position is set up for each attendee with any changes due to disability or comfort level as appropriate. One lady joins in sitting in a chair. The Master makes certain adjustments to positions for other people too. Master Dae San Sunim speaks very simply, sometimes adding that his English is not "so good." However, I understand him and his points too, or at least in my mind I believe I do. He speaks about mediation and seeing. If a person gets a clear message of someone's death for example, it is important to remain quiet. That is because you may be planting the seed of their illness in mentioning it to them. He also speaks about holding a mantra and applies the term differently than I have heard before. Holding a fear thought, for instance, is a form of mantra. His example of oneness is wonderful. He speaks of a mother saving her children in a fire. She goes into the house each time without concern for herself but only thinking of her children. Over and over she goes into the house with courage and love because if she cannot save her children, it is as though she does not try to save her very own life. Although I am not a mother, I understand that concept very well within that story context. He stops to occasionally ask a student questions. We meditate and later the Master asks if anyone has anything come into their mind. No one says anything and I wonder if I might misunderstand him meaning a "seeing." Otherwise, someone must have something! I have this writing come in, last weeks event made a visit, what I might do tomorrow, some people popped by... bells... dragonflies... Well... We meditate for awhile. Each time I think things, I simply return to meditation. With the question on the table, I remain quiet like everyone too. After all, I am new and so far, no blushing .

The temple group is a small, intimate one. People are relaxed, showing this in their easy stances and casual gatherings. The classes seem very personal and I am always receive encouragement to join in even when it is informal talk between sessions. The people are very active too. They have retreats and special guests as well as cultural events. Wendell Deer With Horns is visiting next week for Traditional Native American Thanksgiving. (I really hope I can attend. I am very curious about the "Wendell" part of the name and I have some exposure Lakota traditions.) The grounds are also quite lovely lots of nature surroundings. Rev. Brian Vaugh, whose spiritual name is Ban Ya Sunim, is very informative. Since he has a Catholic background too, has a interesting experiences to share in that regard. He points out that there are three Buddhas at the front of the temple, their meaningful hand positions and the special hand position of the Doctor Buddha as well. He unfolds some of the mysteries of the temple site. The special structure where walking meditation is performed contains special relics, for instance.

Following the days events, everything ends with a nice vegetarian meal shared together. People bring dishes and much of it is prepared by Sue Yen Sunim, the ever thoughtful receiver of guests. A special plate is put out for the hungry ghosts too. We sit together and discuss the days events and introduce ourselves more thoroughly. I get a chance to speak to the soldier who joins us for the day. He is here from Iraq and going back there soon. He is working in intelligence. One of the reasons he drives up to Connecticut, besides having lived here before, is for this day at the temple. Today is Veteran's Day and he is specifically invited to join us.

I get the idea of how to contribute to the temple too, just with friends talking or asking what the temple needs right now. There are donation boxes in the temple that are quite obvious. A small donation box also resides in the lunch room. Also the people bring their "pot luck" contributions for events and unprepared food to be cooked there for future Saturday gatherings.

Another nice surprise is after the dinner I get a chance to learn a little about Korean cooking. We make "egg rolls" but I would call them dumplings. I always appreciate learning how to make ethnic dishes from people of those cultures. It is my experience that they never quite taste the same when you just try to do it out of a book. The few of us who stayed just a little longer to cook, get a little more discussion in of the mornings experiences. Like painting together, point of view of shared events is always fascinating. Everyone's scene has a little of their own personal style and reflection.


The classic rock structures.

At one point in the day, I am asked what "I am." That is always a great question. I describe myself as a "seeker" explaining a little about my religious background and how I just have a little exposure to Buddhism. It is very nice how nothing is a stumbling point and someone will fit into the circle in some way. This means they belong in somehow whether they be a late guest, someone who needs a different meditation position, or a person simply sharing an experience. For anyone asking about visiting a Buddhist temple I would advise to just go! It is a friendly experience which fits nicely into their practices of kindness. If Buddhist temples are like the one in my special sunny day, even if you goof up, it is ok. That is life and learning at its best, after all.

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