Mirror of Zen Blog

Hae Jae Day: The Last Kyol Che in Korea

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This photo represents the final “formal” moment of my final Kyol Che in Korea, February 2016. Standing with the Zen master of the retreat, Hyon Muk Sunim, who is the “Soen Won Jang” (head of the Zen hall) at great Songgwang Sah temple. Due to his invitation and support, I was able to do six very very strong winter or summer Kyol Ches at Songgwang Sah. Thankfully, I was never sick, and — when I gained some years of monk seniority and earned some acceptance from the elders — I was able to do at least three of the retreats completely on silence.

If there is ever the chance to do Kyol Che again in Korea, Songgwang Sah would be the first choice. The atmosphere is more removed, more solemn, and stricter than nearly every other Zen temple. The first years I was there, we sat from 2 am until 10 pm, every single day, and there were no days off. There was literally hardly any time to do a laundry, the schedule was so tight! But the intensity of that “hard press” was very helpful for forging the blade of practice in an especially stable temple atmosphere — no big temple events or other distractions with visiting tour groups. In later years, they had “loosened up” the schedule a bit — we were back to sitting from 3 am until 9 pm. That was also good for an aging body!

Some days before the end of the Kyol Che 2016, the last Kyol Che in Korea, some people came down to Songgwang Sah from Seoul (a 6-hour drive) to make one final offering to the retreat in my name. As the entire temple community of monks was filing out of the Main Buddha Hall at the conclusion of the daily “rice offering ceremony”, and heading into the formal lunch, one of the donors filmed this video to send to our family back in Regensburg, who were busily making things ready for opening the new Zen Center Regensburg, two months later.

Winter Hae Jae Day 2021

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Today, the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, is the traditional end of the 90-day Winter Kyol Che retreat. At meditation and sutra halls all over Korea, and in the Zen halls of Japan, this is a letting go of the three-month period of intensified retreat. At the conclusion of morning practice, “the chugpi is put down” — the formal structuring of a tight daily practice schedule is let go. In many Zen halls in Korea, the Zen compound itself is closed off until the next retreat season.

Today, we concluded our fifth full Winter Kyol Che at Zen Center Regensburg. It was a year completely unlike any previous Kyol Che — the sangha was a community of 1.5 (Fabian could attend every Evening Practice only). In this way it was simpler, without all of the complex organization and caring for the myriad needs and comings-and-goings of guests, integrating this or that person into the delicate watchmaking that is running a Zen retreat on silence.

In addition, unlike previous retreats, we supported an online community of practitioners that numbered over 100 people every day, across many time zones. Those who could not attend the “live” broadcast of our practice in real-time were able to run the video feed from YouTube at a later hour in the day that was more suitable for their home-life and their flow. (So, we often had as many as 45 people participating “live”, and at least that much — and usually more — checking in with the same feed later to do their practice.) On Sundays, the all-Korean talk and Q&A after Morning Practice reached up to 450 people in one day, at its peak.

It has been a great experience, and this community is grateful to all of the beautiful souls who showed their energy and support for our needs. It was not only the occasional financial donation which we received with joy and gratitude. There were also offers to help with editing teaching-videos, and help with social media presence (Zooey! Lyn!), etc.

Thank you all for helping us to carry this beautiful and significant community into the new year. We hope to maintain this oasis of practice for as long as we receive support.