The New York City Subway’s IRT Flushing Line #7 connects 34th Street–Hudson Yards station in Chelsea and Main Street station in Flushing, connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens and providing transportation for thousands of New Yorkers who ride daily . Traveling through diverse and cosmopolitan terrain, the last stop on the line to Queens is Flushing-Main Street at the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
The Flushing neighborhood around this busy subway station seems to be constantly changing. Once home to Jewish and Italian immigrants, the area began to attract Chinese and Koreans from the 1980s.
“Early Korean immigrants worked in laundries, delis, nail salons and restaurants, places like that,” said Do-Shin Sunim, the abbot of the Jungmyungsa Buddhist temple, which was established in the neighborhood. in 1995 to serve Korean Buddhists living and working. in Flushing. The temple is located about 10 minutes by bus from the Flushing-Main Street station.
In 1965, there was a huge change in immigration laws in the United States in the form of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, which abolished a previous quota system that favored European Christians. This act notably motivated many Asians to emigrate to the United States, taking with them a multitude of religious traditions.
Asian immigrants and others quickly came to the United States so they could be with parents who had already arrived, seeking better economic status and education for their children. Often leaving lands of ethnic Buddhist origin, they often faced hardship and discrimination while trying to establish themselves. Many of these immigrants landed in New York, and Queens in particular. Today, one could say that Train 7 is a metaphor for the vibrant complexity of the American immigrant experience.
“Each stop on the 7 train in Queens now has a different temple,” Do-Shin Sunim said with a smile, referring to the different ethnic neighborhoods along the line. He explained that once settled in the United States, many immigrants worked to establish places to practice their own religion – places that would strengthen them and connect them to their homelands, and that would serve as places to familiarize their children with their culture. , linguistic and religious heritage. Consequently, Taoist, Hindu, and Jewish temples dot the landscape of Flushing, contributing to one of the most religiously pluralistic areas in all of the United States.
It wasn’t always so, the soft-spoken monk told me. In fact, the first Korean Buddhist immigrants to settle in Flushing had to travel about three hours by bus or car to Wonjuska Monastery in the Catskill Mountains because there were no nearby Korean Buddhist temples in the 1980s. Such a trip would take time away from family and work, but members of the Korean community persisted in their sincere desire to practice.
“It’s very difficult to be a Buddhist living in America,” the monk told me, telling the story of the birth of the Jungmyungsa Buddhist Temple. It turns out that a Korean Buddhist monk named Gil-Sang Sumin, who was staying at Wonjuska Monastery in the Catskills, was very moved by the diligence and sincerity of those who made the three-hour journey from the Queens to practice and connect. with their Buddhist identity.
Wonjuska Monastery is affiliated with the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Korean Buddhist order in the world. Comprised of some 20,000 monks and 20 million lay Buddhists, the order’s history dates back approximately 1,200 years.*
Out of compassion for Korean Buddhist immigrants in Queens, Gil-Sang Sumin had a vision to establish a temple to serve them. He quickly dedicated himself full-time to this business, coming to Flushing to make that vision a reality just over 20 years ago. Today, the Jungmyungsa Buddhist Temple is a haven for members of the community, who meet regularly every Sunday morning at 11 a.m. for a service that consists of reciting the Chun Su Kyung Sutra, bowing, reciting the Buddha’s name, reciting the bodhisattva vow and concluding with a discourse on the Dharma. There is also a service for children on Sunday mornings from 10:30.
Additionally, the temple holds daily morning prayers and celebrates many Korean Buddhist holidays, such as Buddha’s birthday, which is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and therefore celebrated in late April or early May. A festival known as Baek-Jung is also celebrated, a form of ancestor worship that lasts 49 days. Baek-Jung, also known as Ghost Festival, is said to have crossovers with Indian Buddhism. Chuseok, also based on the Chinese lunar calendar, is celebrated, and Do-Shin Sunim explained that it is similar to American Thanksgiving. The winter solstice, known as Dongjing, is also observed, as is a day in or around February which Koreans believe marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, known as name of Yp-Chun. Finally, the traditional New Year based on the lunar calendar is also celebrated.
As the abbot is a yogi, Jungmyungsa offers yoga asana classes on a weekly basis. Having spent time in South India practicing yoga seriously, Do-Shin Sunim believes that yoga classes offer a way to broaden the appeal of the temple. Do-Shin Sunim is also an academic who came to the United States for the first time to study Buddhism, attracted by “academic studies in general and Buddhism in particular”. He says he was drawn to what he was told would be a more experimental nature of education in the United States. After meeting Gil-Sang Sumin in Korean in 2008, he accepted an invitation to come on a religious visa to the United States in 2010.
While serving at the temple, this dedicated scholar-monk was able to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Comparative Religion at Hunter College in Manhattan, where he traveled daily for classes back and forth on the 7 train. His curiosity and academic excellence l led him to attend Harvard Divinity School, where Do-Shin Sunim recently earned a master’s degree in theological studies, with a focus on Buddhism.
Eager to honor the temple that sponsored him, he returned to Jungmyungsa Buddhist Temple after graduating from Harvard. Do-Shin Sunim is currently interested in pursuing a doctorate in the New York area so that he can continue his academic studies while serving the temple community.
Do-Shin Sunim tells me that temple members carry a “double burden,” in that they not only have the challenges faced by immigrants in a new country, but are also a minority within the Korean immigrant population. “Nearly 90% of Korean immigrants to the United States are Christians,” he said. “It is essential to support Korean Buddhists as they face intense conversion efforts.” There is also discrimination in the form of teasing of Buddhist children at school, and even trade boycotts. “So life for them can be tough,” he said.
Started with the compassion of a monk living in the Catskill Mountains, the urban Korean Buddhist temple in Flushing, Queens, known as the Jungmyungsa Buddhist Temple, may be small in size but magnanimously important. True to traditional Korean Buddhism, the temple today continues to be propelled by the vigorous and sincere efforts of the current abbot to serve the Buddha, his order, and the Korean Buddhist community of New York. In an act of generosity, Do-Shin Sunim aspires to provide a home “for all people living in Queens and other neighbors.”
Just as the dreams of countless immigrants have been to grow, prosper, and flourish in the United States, so too does the Jungmyungsa Buddhist Temple at the end of New York City’s #7 subway line.
* Jogye Order (Wikipedia)
Jungmyungsa Buddhist Temple
Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism
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