The Dharma Hall

When people walk into the Main Dharma Hall, they are often deeply impressed by the magnificent work of the artists. The Buddha statue and the altar, the carved wooden relief behind the Buddha statue, the portraits of Seon Masters and Dharma stories, and the Danchung style of painting, which produces a myrid of colors from base colors of blue, red, yellow, white and black are all the work of outstanding artists.

The Buddha statue and the Dharma seat (the chair from which Seon Masters give Dharma talks) were carved by Mr. Chansoo Park, who because of his outstanding skill at carving has been designated as Korean Important Intangible Cultural Asset No.108. He has been working as an artist for many years, and he is the founder and director of the Mok-A Museum, which specializes in Buddhist wooden arts. The Danchung painting is beautifully done by Mr. Sunggyu Kim, who is a master of painting and gold leaf. Chungwon Sunim, who is also a master of woodcarving, carved the altar, the pedestal for the Buddha statue, and designed and carved the wooden relief.

All the artisans used traditional skills to make those works, but they didn’t let themselves be restricted by traditional ideas. In so doing, they filled the Dharma Hall with light and beauty.

The Buddha Statue
At the beginning of this project, Daehaeng Kun Sunim told everyone involved that “doing without any thought of doing” was the most important aspect of the work, especially when making the Buddha statue. Mr. Chansoo Park said that while carving the Buddha statue he tried to maintain awareness of the truth that “my mind and the Buddha’s mind are not separate.” Thus, the serene smile of the Buddha seems very
compassionate and fills people with peace.

The Buddha statue is 180cm in height, and it sits on a pedestal 60cm high. In contrast to most Buddha statues, Mr. Park tried to show the beauty of the natural texture of the robe. The Buddha looks as if wearing a fine linen robe that is embroidered with gold thread. Mr. Park says that this style of carving the Buddha statue has not been attempted before.

The Wooden Relief

The altar and pedestal symbolize Mt. Sumeru, thus the Buddha statue is represented as sitting on top Mt. Sumeru. The Buddha and Mt. Sumeru represent the center of all energy and the source of all life. Behind the Buddha statue, there is a large wooden relief carving that fills the back of the Dharma Hall.

Chungwon Sunim first made rough drafts of the design for the wooden relief based on Dharma talks by Daehaeng Kun Sunim. He then adjusted and revised the drawings over and over, and spent a whole year developing the design of the relief according to Daehaeng Kun Sunims instructions. Looking at the relief, we can imagine how much of his heart and energy he put into this project.

The wooden relief consists of three parts: In the middle is Shakyamuni Buddha when he attained the great wisdom, and on the left and right sides are the realms of Hell and the realm of the human beings.

On the left side of the Buddha are the sixteen great Seon Masters of Korea and on the right side are the sixteen sunims who were National Teachers of Korea. Although sometimes pictures of great Seon Masters are kept in Dharma Halls, this is the first time Seon Masters and National Teachers have been put on each side of Shakyamuni Buddha, instead of Manjushri and Samantabhadra. Nobody had ever dared to design a Dharma Hall like this. Chungwon Sunim recalls that he had very difficult time and suffered great deal just to let go about how a Dharma Hall should be designed. After finishing his work, he said that he realized what Daehaeng Kun Sunim had meant when she told him, “Even though there is all kinds of delicious food in front of you, you won’t feel full until you yourself eat it, ‘and’ no matter whether you are great or pathetic, your foundation is what you have to rely upon.” Through this work he realized how important it is for one to go forward while relying upon and believing in their own foundation.

If one looks closely at the wooden relief in the middle, one sees Shakymuni Buddha in the center of the relief. He is representing our fundamental nature, which encompasses both the visible and invisible realms and is the source of everything in the universe. This relief is showing that even the Earth and myself are not two, Shakyamuni Buddha and I are not different, and the mind of every great teacher and my mind are not separate. Everything is a manifestation of One Mind.

The relief on the right side shows the human realm. In many temples the human realm is represented as a painting called the Kam-no-taeng, which is used in services. However, this wooden relief is very different from other Kam-no-taeng. First of all, it is the first time a Kam-no-taeng has been carved from wood. Further, it explains the workings of mind in the human realm so clearly that everyone can understand them, which is somewhat different from ordinary Kam-no-taeng. Chungwon Sunim said, “Through this project, I realized that its possible to create Buddhist art without just following the traditionally used patterns.”

The different realms of human existence

The following poems by Daehaeng Kun Sunim are carved on the top and bottom of the relief.

If you just let of “I,”
all karma falls asleep.
Without being hindered by the past, present, and future,
you become free.

If you think about others before yourself,
that mind can encompass the entire universe.
It is onemind, Hanmaum!

The Hell realms

The realms of Hell are carved on the relief on the left side. In each corner of the relief, there are the four messengers from the underworld. And the middle, it shows the struggling people who fell into Hell.

The following poems by Daehaeng Kun Sunim are carved on the top and bottom of the relief.

Because karma is inherently empty,
How could it follow you around?
Everything depends on
how you raise a single thought at this moment.

A single thought is the difference
between Heaven and Hell.
Thus, raise thoughts well!

Portraits of great Seon Masters on the sides of the ceiling
On the right side of the ceiling, from the front are the Patriarch Bodhidharma, the Patriarch Huiko, the Patriarch Seng-tsan, the Patriarch Tao-hsin, the Patriarch Hung-jen, the Patriarch Hui-neg, Seon Master Naong, Great Master Samyeong, and Seon Master Kyeongheo. On the left, there are Great Master Wonhyo, Great Master Uisang, Vinaya Master Jajang, Seon Master Doui, National Teacher Bojo Jinul, Seon Master Taego, Great Master Seosan, Great Master Jinmuk, and Seon Master Hanam.

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