Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University continues the tradition of the role of women in Korean Buddhism
Becoming a Buddhist nun or monk was a common life option for the ruling elites of the Silla Kingdom and the Goryeo Empire that spanned over 14 centuries from 57 BC to 1392 AD.
Even kings and queens gave up their thrones to become Buddhist monks and nuns during the Silla period, just as Siddhartha Shakyamuni Buddha gave up his kingdom to become an enlightened kingdom around 2,600 years ago.
The oldest book still printed with movable metal type, the Jikji, is named after a nun named Myodeok, a possible member of the royal family, who commissioned the printing of the book.
When Buddhist temples were destroyed and bronze statues were melted down to make coins and weapons during the 500 years of the neo-Confucian Joseon Kingdom, the names of Korean women were often not recorded in the temples. genealogy books.
Women were mentioned only by her father’s surname in the jokbo, or family tree books, alongside the full names of her husband and the couple’s children.
Leaving home to practice Buddhism as a member of the clergy is called chulga, which literally means leaving the family.
Today, some 6,000 Korean Buddhist nuns carry on the tradition of leaving home to practice Buddhism full-time as a lifelong belief.
About a third of all Buddhist nuns in Korea were educated at Korea’s largest Buddhist nunnery, Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University in Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang Province.
Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University was founded by Ven. Myeongeong, 91, one of the first female Buddhist teachers in Korea. Since 1970, the university has graduated nearly 2,200 students.
Fri. Myeongseong’s teachings have been published in an anthology which is considered the definitive set of Buddhist teachings for Korean Buddhism.
The highly disciplined curriculum at Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University includes manual labor for all. Fri. Myeongseong instituted a work rule for his students, where everyone must do manual labor called “ulryeok” during the day or they don’t eat.
Unmunsa Temple is surrounded by a large amount of land, allocated during the Goryeo period, which is cultivated exclusively by nuns and university students. “We grow all our vegetables,” said the temple’s head teacher, Ven. Unsan.
Until Buddhist nuns are officially ordained after graduating from Buddhist University, they are called samini seunim.
About three years after graduating from college, samini seunim Dohyeon quit her job and became hakin, a student, at Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University.
Now a fourth-year student, samini seunim Dohyeon said she came to realize that “the answers to all of humanity’s questions such as ‘Who am I and why am I here?’ have already been addressed by the enlightened Siddhartha Buddha who had already found the answers to life’s dilemmas some 26 centuries ago.
Students at Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University are taught everything, including how to spit properly, according to one of the graduates who attended the university some 20 years ago.
“We had about 60 students in our class at the time. Admission to Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University, where everyone receives a full scholarship and accommodation, was quite competitive,” said the graduate who did not want to be identified by name.
“Along with declining population growth in Korea, we have fewer applicants to our university. We only have a student body of around 100 hakin, plus faculty and support staff totaling 152,” said Ven. Unsan, Ph.D., the head of the temple of the Buddhist Nunnery of Unmunsa, who manages the finances of the temple and the university.
“For me, the hardest part of adjusting to Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University was having to share a common room with my entire class of 23 hakin,” said a third-year student who didn’t want to. not be named. “It’s good that we sleep together in the same room, but that’s also one of the difficulties.”
“I felt like I started all over again when I was a kid, learning good habits like not walking on my heels but with my toes, chewing food with my mouth closed, and using chopsticks properly. In fact , I became proficient in using chopsticks after I started living here,” the third-year student said.
Hakin students at Unmunsa Buddhist Nunnery University learn about half of their curriculum in Hanja characters.
Hanja characters have been the common written language of East Asia and most, if not all, Buddhist textbooks are in Hanja characters.
Buddhist books today have pronunciation guides in Hangeul, the Korean writing system invented by King Sejong the Great in 1443, printed alongside the Hanja character texts.
“Courses are conducted about 50% in Hanja and the rest in Hangeul,” said Ven. Unsan.