History

Korean buddhist Wonkaksa, located in New York’s beautiful Hudson valley, is a Korean Buddhist Temple that has been playing a crucial role as spiritual center to the east coast Korean community and all people of America for experiencing korean culture and the practice of seon (zen) Buddhism since 1974 to this day.

Membership continued to grow steadily, and by 1986, the 17thStreet location was no longer adequate to accommodate the 600-700-member congregation, and so it was decided that Wonkaksa move to the current 228-acre location on Clove Road in Salisbury Mills, New York.

In an interview in Modern Buddhism, a magazine published for the Korean Buddhist community, Ven. Beop An said:

“I believe that this project is not what I can do in my generation, but essential project of Buddhists living in America that should accomplish from generations to generation. The first reason why I move here in the town of Salisbury Mills is to give our members convenience for parking and space. The second reason is that the Korean Buddhism in America must prepare for the globalization in the new millennium and for internal stability. The third reason is to establish a new Buddhist college and educate people to contribute to this country."

 

Korean Buddhist Wonkaksa, Inc. was founded in 1974 by Korean Zen master Seung Shan in a rented building on 42ndstreet in Manhattan. Due to Zen Master Seung Shan’s extensive world travel as an ambassador of Korean Zen Buddhism, Ven. Beop An, a visiting scholar at Syracuse University, was invited by the growing membership to serve as a vice president of Wonkaksa. In 1976, he became its president and began a fundraising initiative to buy the building the temple was housed in. These efforts included holding calligraphy exhibitions in Seoul in 1976 and in New York 1977. Ven. Beop An opened several more exhibitions in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago that were so successful, Won Kak Sa was able to purchase a house in Jackson Heights, Queens, and in 1978, the temple moved to the new building. By the early ‘80s, Wonkaksa would return to Manhattan after acquiring a building on 17th Street, thanks to the continued success of the calligraphy exhibits and the sale of the Queens location.

For the next five years, not only did great Korean masters and Buddhist scholars visit the temple, but so did Christian scholars, invited to Sunday Dharma service by Ven. Beop An so that they might have the opportunity to experience
more diverse spiritual teachings.

 

In 1987, Ven. Beop An received a PhD from NYU and intended to make his vision of the future for the temple a reality, but a sudden stroke incapacitated him. Following this event, Wonkaksa’s management and finances were thrown into upheaval without his steady leadership.

In 2004, however, Ven. Jungwoo, a great leader with unbridled enthusiasm for the propagation of Buddhism, was brought in as a president, with Ven. Gikwang joining him as vice president the next year.  Building on what Ven. Beop An had accomplished, Wonkaksa once again embraced the great vision for its temple development project. Over the next few years, Ven. Jungwoo raised funds from Korea that aided in the demolition of 26 ruined bungalows and buildings on the property, and enshrining a pagoda and a huge bronze Buddha statue.

In 2009, Ven. Gikwang became an abbot of Wonkaksa temple, leading most of the religious services and in 2011, Mr. Whasup Chung, a chair of temple development committee, presented new temple development projects to lay-congregation and organized members for the project and fundraising.  Many members of Wonkaksa– including large donors such as Mrs. and Mr. Misook and Harry Doolittle, Mr. Chung and Mr. Ilhwan Cho– participated in fundraising efforts, so that the project could proceed.

We stand on the brink of realizing Ven. Beop An’s dream of making Wonkaksa a world destination– in our lifetime– and the only thing that stands between us and that vision is the necessary financial backing to make it a reality.

 
 

Venerables

 
Zen Master Seung San

FOUNDER OF KOREAN BUDDHIST WONKAKSA 

Zen Master SEUNG SAN 

Zen Master Seung San was born in South Korea. He founded the international Kwan Um School of Zen. As one of the early Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practiced with groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western students. He was known by students for his many correspondences with them through letters, his utilization of Dharma combat, and expressions such as “only don’t know” or “only go straight” in teachings, he was conferred the honorific title of Dae Jong Sa in June 2004 by the Jogye order of Korean Buddhism for a lifetime achievements. Considered the highest honor to have bestowed upon one in the order, the title translates to mean ‘Great Lineage Master’ and was bestowed for his establishment of the World Wide Kwan Um School of Zen. He passed away in November that year at Hwa Gae Sah in Seoul, South Korea, at the age of 77.


 
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FORMER ABBOT

Venerable BEOP AN

Venerable Beop An became a novice practitioner under his Master Kwenum and received novice monk precepts at Jikji-sa in 1956. He received the Full ordination under Master Dongsa, at Chogye-sa in 1960.

Mater Beop An graduated University with Political Science degree in 1956 and he became the vice president of Dongguk University in 1972. He came to US in 1974 and became Abbot at Wonkaksa after founder Zen Master Sung Sahn in 1976.

He has relocated the temple to Jackson Heights in 1978, and then moved again in Manhattan in 1882. His vision was to build a full Korean Buddhist Monastery, eventually he bought the current site in 1986. The site used to be a Summer Camp site for Jewish Children and to Master Beop An, it was perfect place to establish traditional Korean Buddhist Monastery. He also received PhD in Religious Education at NYU in 1988. Due to his physical condition, his plan was little bit delayed for couple of years, but his long-term vision for delivering Korean Buddhism in the World, eventually passed on the next generation of Korean Buddhist.


 

ADVISOR & THE SPIRITUAL LEADER

Master Venerable JUNG WOO

Venerable Jungwoo became a novice practitioner under his master Hongbeop (1930-1978) on January 30, 1965 and received the set of novice monk precepts at the Diamond Platform of Tongdosa Monastery, generally considered as the most prestigious ordination site in Korean Buddhism, on January 15, 1968. He received the set of full monk precepts from his grandmaster and vinaya master Wolha (1915-2003) at the same platform on April 15, 1971. He received the prestigious Manhae Grand Prize for Buddhist propagation in 2001 and the sixtieth grand prize for correction from the Prime Minister in 2005. Master Jungwoo also served as the twenty-seventh abbot of Tongdosa Monastery from 2007 to 2011.

Master Jungwoo successfully educated monks and lay Buddhists in Buddhism and other disciplines and let them accomplish his thought with their help in his propagation centers and in society in the following three ways. First, Master Jungwoo intended to guide lay Buddhists to live like the Buddha actually and concretely and established a number of propagation centers in towns, not in mountains. Master Jungwoo argued that if Korean Buddhists do not live like the Buddha, they could not contribute to the society very well. He stated that the success of Buddhism is entirely based on people’s behavior, not their superficial knowledge.

Second, he guided lay Buddhists to approach Buddhism through culture. He arranged a variety of cultural programs and taught calligraphy, Korean traditional music and dance, flower arrangements and others in propagation centers. He established a number of kindergartens and preschools, a pilgrim tour company, a publication company, a monthly magazine, a theater, a musical company and others and propagated Buddhism among lay Buddhists from children to adults.

Third, he internationalized Korean Buddhism. He made strong connections with Indo-Tibetan, Sino-Taiwanese, Japanese and American Buddhism. He visited India and Tibet numberless times and supported Tibetan refugees in India and needed Indians in India and needed Tibetans in Tibet. He made his Guryong-sa Temple have sister relations with Fo Guang Shan Monastery of Taiwanese Buddhism and Kyōgan-ji Temple and Shōgyō-ji Temple of Japanese Pure Land Shin Buddhism. He established several propagation centers (temples) in the United States, India, Canada and Australia and transmitted Korean Buddhism among overseas Koreans and local people.


 

PRESENT ABBOT

Venerable GIKWANG

In this world, everyone has some idea about themselves and others. However, often when our ideas about the world conflict with the way things really are, we create a lot of suffering for ourselves and other people. Seon (Zen) Buddhist meditation, sometimes called “Zen meditation”, is a traditional form of meditation from Korea, which returns the practitioner to this most basic human question, “What am I?” In other words, “What is my True Self, which is free from life and death, not dependent on any idea?” If you experience your original mind before conceptual thinking appears, then any situation in life is no problem, we can function clearly and truly help others.


 
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Venerable SEONGWON

Ven. Chanju Mun (Ordination Name: Seongwon) is the founder and chief editor of Blue Pine Books. He taught East Asian Buddhist Studies at the University of the West in Los Angeles between Summer 2004 and Spring 2007 and Buddhist philosophy at University of Hawaii – Manoa between Fall 2007 and Spring 2013, and is currently teaching Buddhism and Asian Religions at Coastal Carolina University since Fall 2013. He received a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2002 and a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Seoul National University in 1991. He has been a researcher at exiled Tibetan Drepung Monastic University in South India and at the University of Tokyo. He published numerous articles and several books on modern Korean Buddhism in particular and East Asian Buddhism in general and edited seven serial volumes on Buddhism and peace. He is planning to edit some more volumes in the series and to write several books on modern Korean Buddhism in the near future.


 
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RONALD GREEN

Ronald S. Green received a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003. He also holds a M.A. Degree in South Asian Religions from the UW-Madison, a M.A. in Japanese Literature from the University of Oregon, and a M.S. in Sociology from Virginia Tech. He is an editor of books on Socially Engaged Buddhism for Blue Pine Press. He studies applications of Buddhism to contemporary settings through various mediums: film, fiction, poetry, social engagement, and pilgrimage. Similarly, he studies how Buddhist ideas have been pitched in the past for an assortment of purposes, whether as skill-in-means employing once-current trends for awakening or to establish the legitimacy of a particular school. His research languages are classical Chinese and modern Japanese. His book titled Buddhism Goes to the Movies was published by Routledge in 2013. He currently teaches at Coastal Carolina University.