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Seonamsa is one of the head monasteries of the Taego Order, which includes over 8,000 monastics and 3,100 temples. What sets Taego apart from some of the other Korean orders like the Jogye Order (also written Chogye), among other factors, is that this order allows ordained priests to marry, though nuns must remain celibate. This custom of married priests is a remnant of the Japanese occupation of Korea (though some native Korean Buddhist monks had also called for an end to celibacy prior to the Japanese occupation). However, not all Taego priests are married. This order also includes traditional bhikkhu, currently comprising about 40% of Taego monks (this is a "guestimate"). Taego monks (that is, celibate bhikkhu) tend to remain more separate from society and live in mountain temples, whereas the married clerics are more like parish priests.
According to the Patriarch of the Taego Order Overseas Parish, Venerable Dr. Jongmae Kenneth Park, the Taego and Jogye orders follow the same pratimoksa (the Caturvagga Vinaya of the Dharmaguptaka—also followed in Vietnam and China). There are 250 bhikkhu precepts, 348 bhikkhuni precepts, and 10 samanera/samaneri (novice) precepts. However, as mentioned above, celibacy is optional for men in the Taego Order. Also, both the Taego Order and Jogye Order use the Indraraja Sutra that contains 10 bodhisattva vows and 48 lesser precepts. Contrary to some misconceptions, the Taego Order does not use bodhisattva vows as the basis of its ordinations.
Before 1945 the majority of Korean Buddhist monastics were descended from Master Taego Bowu, especially within the Jogye Order, which was founded at the end of the Koryeo Dynasty. This unified order continued until 1954, when President Lee Seoung Man and a number of bhikkhus ordered a separation of the Jogye Order into two orders, one composed of celibate monks and the other of those who had families (which would be known later as the Taego Order).
The celibate majority group that retained the name "Jogye Order" changed the color of the kasa (outer monastic robe worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm) to brown, despite the fact that the traditional color of a Korean kasa was red. This was done to create a visual distinction between the orders. (Interestingly, North Korean Buddhist clergy use the most traditional robes - a red kasa and a dark blue or nearly-black ceremonial robe.)
After the separation of the orders, the monastics in the celibate majority as well as the government suppressed the group that became the Taego Order, in part by forcing married clergy out of the temples, so these disestablished monks had to establish a new order that would carry the characteristics of the original Jogye Order, including the use of the original red Kasa, though allowing for marriage. In 1970 a new order was officially founded, named after Master Taego Bowu. The Korean Buddhist Taego Order does not promote a separation between the clergy and the laity, but instead, a Buddhism that fits the mundane world.
Of particular note in the Taego ritual tradition is the Yongsanjae ritual. This is a reenactment of Shakyamuni Buddha's teaching of the Lotus Sutra on Vulture Peak. It involves a great deal of chanting and dancing. The full ritual is quite long, but is sometimes performed in an abbreviated fashion lasting just a few hours. This ritual is only preserved in the Taego Order and has been recognized as an intangible cultural asset by UNESCO.
Training for clergy
The training for Taego clergy is similar to that of the Jogye Order, except that prior to ordination, all Taego clergy must complete a two-year program of study at the Taego order's university in South Korea, Dong Bang University. After the samanera/samaneri (novice) ordination, Taego (and Jogye) monks and nuns can study at a gangwon which is a traditional academic institute similar to a Tibetan shedra. Another option in both orders is to train in a seonwon. This consists of two roughly three-month retreats per year. Generally a monk or nun would travel and train at more than one seonwon under more than one master. A modern education, generally in Buddhist Studies, is also an option in both orders. However, in the Taego order, training at a yeombulwon is also an option. This consists of training in ritual and traditional arts, most notably ritual dance and music, a tradition not kept alive in the larger Jogye order. In fact, when such ritual specialists are needed, the Jogye order will generally invite Taego ritual specialists to perform, though the Taego monks will wear the brown kasa of the Jogye order out of respect to their Jogye hosts.
The curriculum for a gangwon is as follows according to the Bishop of the Overseas Parish, Venerable Dr. Jongmae Park (note that transliterations for Zen Master's names is not currently available):
First year: Chi-Moon (緇門 / teachings of Zen master 智賢水中); Ah-Ham (Nikayasutta / 阿含經); Study second language (English, Chinese, Japanese etc.)
Second year: Doh-Suh (都序 / teachings of Zen master 宗密); Jeol-Yo (節要 / teachings of Zen master 普照); Suh-Jaang (書狀 / teaching of Zen master 大慧); Seon-Yo (禪要 / teachings of Zen master 高峰)
Third year: Nung-Om-Kyong (Suramgamasutra / 楞嚴經); Ki-Shin-Ron (Mahayanasraddotpadasastra / 大乘起信論); Kum-Kaang-Kyong (Vajraprajnaparamitasutra / 金剛經); Won-Gaak-Kyong (Mahavaipulyaprunabuddhasutra / 圓覺經)
Fourth year: Hwa-Om-Kyong (Buddhaavatamsakamahavaipulyasutra / 大方廣佛華嚴經)
For novice monastics who study at a gangwon, yeombulwon, seonwon or modern academic institution to fulfill their basic education requirement, four years of study/training are required. After this, they may be ordained a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni if they pass an examination and then either work at a temple in a capacity similar to that of a "parish priest," or continue their training and education. For students at a gangwon, they would then study for four years at a yulwon which is a Vinaya school. Upon graduation they would be known as Vinaya masters. For this reason, yulwon students must be celibate. Yeombulwon students may request private tutoring for further training. For training in Seon (Zen), there is no "graduation" after a specific number of years. In rare cases, one may receive "Inka" (Dharma transmission) from a master of Seon after 20 or 30 years of practice. However, Dharma transmission in the Korean Seon tradition is extremely rare.
As for foreign clergy, there are a growing number of Taego Order clergy in the U.S., Canada and Europe. According to the Taego Order website (listed below), international clergy (that is, those who are not Korean) can study for ordination from home in a two-year program through the Institute for Buddhist Studies. This is a two-year program leading to ordination as a samanera (though not necessarily with vows of celibacy) or samaneri (requiring a vow of celibacy). The ordinations are carried out in South Korea. Dharma teachers can also be ordained after completing this program. These ordinations appear to be conducted in the West. (It should be noted that graduation from the seminary does not itself guarantee ordination. In addition, the seminary itself does not conduct ordinations - the Korean Taego Order conducts the ordinations.) The website does not clarify the difference between regular clergy and Dharma teachers, however the primary difference is that Dharma Teachers have fewer obligations and cannot be abbots of temples. Dharma Teachers also do not perform ordinations, memorial chanting, the "eye-opening ceremony" (consecrating religious images), nor do they perform the Dharma transmission rite (Inka). In both the Taego and Jogye orders, only monastics are eligible to receive Inka.
The website currently lists more than 40 clergy in the Overseas Parish (everything outside of South Korea), though a few are Koreans living overseas. There are also temples in New Jersey (Bogota and Warren), New York (Staten Island), Georgia (Hampton), Texas (Austin), Michigan (Royal Oak and Grand Rapids), Canada (Brampton, ON), California (Anaheim, Los Angeles, Seal Beach, and Pinion Hills), Idaho (Mountain Home), Missouri (St. Louis), the Washington, D.C. area, Hong Kong, and Germany (Solingen).
- Robinson, Martin (2003). Seoul. Lonely Planet. p. 19. ISBN 1-74059-218-2.
- Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?. Wisdom Publications. p. 98. ISBN 0-86171-509-8.
- Scoville-Pope, B. (2008). Go Tell It Off the Mountain: Missionary Activity in Modern Korean Buddhism. Rosemead, CA: University of the West (Master's Thesis).
- Taego English Website
- Muddy Water Zen Michigan
- Taego Zen Center New Jersey
- So Shim Sa Zen Center New Jersey