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State visit to Pakistan by the Jogye Order delegation set in motion the exchanges that will lead to a flourishing Buddhist culture
1. “Mahayana Buddhism originated from Pakistan… Cooperation needed for the restoration of Buddhist sites.” said Ven. Wonhaeng to Pakistani President.
The Jogye Order delegation led by the President of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism Ven. Wonhaeng met with Dr. Arif Alvi who is the president of Pakistan on November 20 at his official residence. The Pakistani president and Ven. Wonhaeng shared a mutual understanding that Mahayana Buddhism originated from Pakistan and readily agreed that the two countries should foster closer relations in the areas of culture and religion. On a state visit to Pakistan, the delegation also had an unofficial meeting with Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister.
President Alvi welcomed the delegation by thanking them for accepting his invitation, emphasizing the fact that Pakistan is the birthplace of one of the major Buddhist traditions. He also mentioned the Wangoh cheonchukguk jeon, a travelogue written by Ven. Hyecho, a Buddhist monk from Silla. He promised that he would do his best to facilitate the exhibition of the Buddhist antiquities held by the Pakistani government in Korea, especially the famous Fasting Buddha Statue currently housed in Lahore Museum. The delegation also discussed the possibility of establishing a Korean Buddhist temple in one of the Buddhist sites in the former Gandhara region in Pakistan.
Alvi told the delegation that he hoped the Korean Buddhist community would
support Pakistan’s efforts in various ways to save the Buddhist cultural
heritage in Pakistan from further damage, and stressed that one of his
government’s top priorities is to ensure the interfaith peace and harmony. He
assured that Pakistan is by no means as unsafe for the Korean government’s
travel advisory to be “Withdraw” and asked the delegation’s support in
improving diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Ven. Wonhaeng pointed out the relations between Korea and Pakistan went a long way, how it stared already 1,700 years ago when Ven. Maranantha, a Buddhist monk from Chota Lahore came to Bakjae, one of Korea’s ancient kingdoms to introduce Buddhism to Koreans. He also described how Silla’s Buddhist monk Hyecho visited the present day Chitral and Swat and wrote about them in his travelogue. Ven. Wonhaeng said, “Korean Buddhists have never forgotten how much we owe Ven. Maranantha who travelled across the vast region encompassing present day Gilgit, Hunza and China all the way to Korea and gave us Buddhism. On behalf of Korean Buddhists, I thank the Pakistani government for protecting and preserving the Gandhara Buddhist arts and sites. I hope our delegation’s visit will inform the Korean Buddhists of Pakistan.
Ven. Wonhaeng proposed as the first step to facilitate a special exhibition of the Gandhara Buddhist art in Korea, including the Fasting Buddha Statue in Lahore Museum and build a Korean Buddhist temple in one of the areas where Buddhist rock arts still remain.
Before having an official audience with President Alvi, the delegation briefly sat with Prime Minister Imran Khan at his office and asked his support so that Pakistan’s Gandhara art could be introduced to the Korean public and a Korean Buddhist temple be established in Pakistan. The prime minister welcomed the Korean delegation’s proposal, saying, “Pakistan is very interested in excavating and preserving Buddhist sites and making large investments.” The delegation also had meetings with Pir Noor-Ul-Haq Qadri, the Federal Minister for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Sohail Mahmood the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and discussed matters related to the cultural exchanges and cooperation between Korea and Pakistan.
2. The Jogye Order Delegation to Pakistan paid homage to the Fasting Buddha Statue
The Jogye Order delegation led by Ven. Wonhaeng, the president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism officially chose Lahore Museum in Punjab Province, Pakistan as its first stop in the state visit to Pakistan. When the Jogye Order delegation made of about 40 people, including Ven. Bumhae (Chairperson of the Central Elders Council), Ven. Jihyeon (Abbot of Jogye-sa Temple), Ven. Wonmyeong (Abbot of Bongeun-sa Temple) and Ven. Bongak (Chairperson of the Korean Bhiksuni Association) arrived at Lahore Museum on November 17, the first thing they did was to pay homage to the Fasting Buddha Statue depicting the emaciatedSiddhartha Gautama after going through 6 years of sever fasting. With Ven. Wonhaeng’s lead, the delegation solemnly chanted Sakyamuni Buddh’s name.
In front of the statue, Ven. Wonhaeng on behalf of the delegation gave a short speech about Ven. Maranantha’s role in the development of Korean Buddhism, saying “These precious contacts led us to be here together, upon which I hope the two countries will build closer relationship and play leading roles in bringing peace to the Korean Peninsular and to the world.”
The curator explained that Lahore Museum housed numerous masterpieces created in Greco-Roman style that flourished in Gandhara region in northwestern India (currently Peshawar, Pakistan) from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD and recommended to see other Buddha statues and Buddhist themed paintings and sculptures as well as the coins circulated in that era, but the Koran venerables couldn’t move themselves away from the Fasting Buddha. Although his body was totally wasted, Siddhartha Gautama’s face was radiant in spiritual bliss. Ven. Wonhaeng already saw the statue in 2002 when he came to Pakistan as part of the pilgrimage but he confessed he still couldn’t help looking at it utter awe and admiration.
In the interview with the local media, Ven. Wonhaeng said, “It feels like I’ve come home to Pakistan, seeing the Fasting Buddha Statue and other works of Buddhist art that depict Sakyamuni Buddha teaching his disciples.”DaricMuhammad Javaid, the director of Lahore Museum presented the delegation with the appreciation plaque thanking them for braving the unsafe road conditions to pay a visit to the museum. In return, the Jogye Order gave the museum wooden balwu, the bowl used for traditional monastic meal offering, andtraditional lacquer ware inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
3. The Jogye Order delegation on pilgrimage in Pakistan, the birthplace of Mayahana Buddhism
The Jogye Order delegation led by Ven. Wonhaeng, the president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism paid a state visit to Pakistan on November 16. The delegation’s itinerary was tight, filled with the meetings with the top government officials whose enthusiastic invitation the Jogye Order accepted, but they still found time to go on a pilgrimage to trace the footsteps of great masters. They had to cover in average 500km a day, spending over half the time in the bus, but they didn’t mind it at all. Their mind was focused on coming face-to-face with the traces of great teachers who risked their lives to disseminate Dharma to East Asia from the cradle of Mahayana Buddhism hundreds and thousands of years ago.
On November 18,
the delegation left Islamabad to Hunza, located in the 2,500m high Karakoram Mountain
Range in northern Kashmir and considered one of the remotest, most inaccessible
regions in the entire Asia. The delegation had to travel over half a day along a
nearly sheer escarpment to reach Hunza. The great masters of the past went to India
through various routes. When they traveled on land, they crossed the regions
bordering western China, and reached northern India through the current day
Pakistan and Afghanistan. If they chose the sea route, they sailed by Malaya
and arrived in eastern and southern India. Ven. Hyecho, the Buddhist monk from
Silla, chose the sea voyage. It took him 4 years and 50,000 ri (20,000km) to get to India, which is
referred to as ‘cheonchukguk’ in the Wangoh cheonchukguk jeon, the travelogue
he wrote. Hyecho started his journey by leaving China in an ocean going vessel,
but he crossed the Pamir Plateau on foot to get to Central Asia. The driving on
the unpaved mountain path following his footsteps was like riding a
rollercoaster. As the bus rattled along, passengers shot up from the seats and
then dropped back down. Despite the rough road conditions, Ven. Wonhaeng said,
“It is deeply moving to trace the footsteps of the great masters of the past
who must have followed the Silk Road to spread Buddhism. I honor their memory
and pray that Buddhism will flourish once more and become the bridge to connect
the whole of Asia, like the Silk Road once did.”
On the next day, the delegation moved toward a remote area in Gilgit to see Kargah Buddha,a carved image of a large standingBuddha in the cliff-face. Found by a British scholar, the rock carving is about 5m tall and is estimated to be completed in the 8th century. The Buddha’s face was broad and rounded, and his nose was wide and flat. One hand was raised with the palm facing outward, while the other hand was pointing downward. The cliff around the Buddha image still bore the marks of the carvings in the shape of canopy to protect the Buddha, but nothing was left of it. The delegation in full ceremonial robes crowded the narrow space in front of the Buddha, and the sound of chanting the Heart Sutra reverberated the rocky mountain as the local people were looking on.
On November 21, the Jogye Order delegation visited Taxila, the ancient city renowned for its Gandhara heritage sites. The delegation first headed to Taxila Museum founded in 1918 by the British archeologist John Marshall, where the antiquities excavated from the remains of Mohra Moradu andDharmarajika Monasteries are housed. The Buddhas and bodhisattvas are exquisitely carved, still fresh and alive defying their age of thousands of years in their depiction of their facial expressions, traditional Greek attires, and background scenes. The clay tablet described the life of Sakymuni Buddha, from his conception in Lady Maya’s womb to his first sermon and parinirvana.
To commemorate the visit by the Jogye Order delegation, Taxila Museum for the first time unveiled to the public the tooth relic of Sakyamuni Buddha, which was enshrined in Dharmarajika Monasteries by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC and discovered by the British. The delegation travelled back thousands of years to the time when Mahayana Buddhism was first born as they paid homage to the Buddha’s tooth sarira by performing a Buddhist ritual.
On November 22, the delegation left Taxila and Peshawar, passed through Mardan to reach Chota Lahore in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province, the hometown of Ven. Maranantha. The delegation visited Hund Museum in Swabi, where it dedicated a plaque to the museum to honor Ven. Maranantha’s memory and the exchanges between Korea and Pakistan. Inscribed on the plaque is: “In memory of the Great Monk Maranantha, born here in Chota Lahore and travelled to the Kingdom of Baekje in 384 A.D to spread the law of Dharma.” The delegation also planted a tree on the museum’s ground to commemorate their visit and donated US$ 50,000 to the museum to be used for the preservation and restoration of Buddhist relicts.
Ven. Wonhaeng said, “One of the oldest extant Korean history texts stated that Ven. Maranantha came to Baekje in 384 AD and introduced Buddhism to Koreans. Imagining how he must have traveled 1,600 years ago all the way to the Far East, I am deeply touched to be in his hometown.” Defining his state visit to Pakistan as an attempt to restore the pilgrimage in pursuit of Truth, he explained to the local Pakistanis that Baekje was an ancient kingdom in mid-western Korea and Geumsan-sa Temple, where Ven. Wonhaeng was ordained is located in this area. He expressed appreciation to the Pakistani government and its people for “preserving the precious Buddhist heritage.” He also hoped that “this visit will serve as a catalyst by which the Buddhist cultural heritage in Pakistan is better preserved and that yet another millennium of relationship will follow after our visit, just as Ven. Maranantha started the history of exchanges between two nations that last for thousands of years.”
A lavish hospitality awaited the Jogye Order delegation, welcomed with state dinners wherever they went. In return, the delegation gladly accepted the hectic schedule. They traced the footsteps of the past truth-seekers in the land where the past and the present, and the West and the East have been crisscrossing in complicated relationship for millennia. The pilgrims of the past and of the present day Pakistan face each other in the blazing sun and fierce wind, never turning their backs to the strangers they encounter in strange lands in their quest for Dharma. They once more kept to their hearts that they are the flowers of Mahayana Buddhist lineage that grew out of blood and sweat of countless bygone masters.