In a charming three-story house on Hill Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, Reverend Youngju Kim shows a man how to balance his budget. The man found the Won Buddhist Temple on the internet and came to seek help with his personal issues, including financial debt, addictions and time management issues. Reverend Kim advises him and offers him a plan to balance his spiritual and material life.
The main purposes of Won Buddhism, a modernized form of Buddhism originating in Korea in the last century, are edification, education and charity. Somerville Won Buddhist Temple is one of 600 Won Buddhist Temples and 200 related institutions worldwide. This temple, which is under the administration of Reverend Kim, was incorporated as a non-profit organization in March 2002. But Reverend Kim did not always reside in Somerville. Rather, she grew up in a village outside of Seoul in South Korea.
A highly revered Won Buddhist minister, Rev. Kim has lived in America since 1996. After being ordained in Korea in 1993, she served as a junior minister at the Won Buddhist Temple in Seoul in 1994 and 1995, residing in Miami and Los Angeles before moving to establishing the Won Buddhism Temple in Somerville in 2002.
Reverend Kim was raised in a Won Buddhist family, with his great-grandfather establishing and sponsoring a Won Buddhist Temple in his hometown as a lay member. She remembers being the most religious and spiritually oriented person in her family and loving being in the temple since childhood. “Back when I was in elementary school, there were no Dharma services for children, but I attended Dharma services for adults with my mother, although I don’t know what which I understood at that moment,” she laughs. “Then when I became a middle school student, the temple set up a weekly Dharma service for young people and I started attending weekly. One day I heard a Dharma talk by the minister and was hooked by the enlightenment stories of Shakyamuni Buddha and Sot’aesan, the founder of Won Buddhism. I became very curious about enlightenment.
What was it about the stories of enlightenment that intrigued him the most at that young age? “I was particularly fascinated when the minister said that when you are enlightened, you understand everything in the universe,” she explains. Reverend Kim compares this experience to the germination of a seed in his consciousness, after which his interest in other pursuits quickly ceased. “I stopped playing with my friends because I had lost my appetite,” she says.
Reverend Kim’s curiosity for knowledge, insight and the power of understanding led her to take a bus by herself into town to “find something I could read that could bring me more knowledge. “. She returned home with two books containing the stories of two Buddhist monks who lived 1,500 years ago. Reading them, Reverend Kim became more serious about Buddhist practice and the experience of enlightenment. “I . . . began to focus on the desire for enlightenment, and since that time I was thinking about the stories of the monks very often,” she shares.
Yet Reverend Kim did not think of ordination herself. Instead, she attended high school in Seoul and eventually entered a teacher training college, then became a German teacher in Seoul for three years.
Raised in a traditional Korean home, Reverend Kim was the youngest of six siblings. His older brother was very conservative. “I was always nervous in front of him, and even though he never scolded me, I had such fear and respect for him that I found myself conforming to his expectations and those of my family,” he told me. she. “My family wanted me to go to college, become a teacher and get married, so I went with them. I didn’t have a strong voice back then.
However, during his final year at teacher training college, his older brother died of an asthma attack. Reverend Kim remembers his death as the saddest moment of his life: “I felt so sorry for his death because he influenced me so much from my childhood.” And yet, at the same time, she remembers feeling a kind of freedom.
This sense of freedom prompted her to later begin training as a minister at Won Buddhist College in Seoul, earning top marks in her final exams. She intended to stay in Seoul and serve as a Won Buddhist minister in a traditional role, teaching, preparing Dharma services and visiting temple members, and served in this capacity as a junior minister for two year. However, during the second year, one of her mentors, whom she greatly respected, suggested that she move to the United States. Such a monumental change of life had never crossed his mind, but his privileged relationship with his mentor was enough to encourage him to embark on it: “Even if I had never thought of it, I respected him and I trusted so much that I wanted to follow him. his proposal. So I told him I would go,” she recalls.
Beginning in California, Reverend Kim found Los Angeles in the winter both strange and difficult. Everything from the weather to the flat terrain to the new language and culture seemed like a challenge. At first she wanted to pack her bags and go home, but after a period of adjustment and introspection, she chose to stay. She became determined to take her struggles to the path, choosing to see the challenges she faced as an opportunity to grow in her practice.
She mentions how being in the United States gave her the chance to push the boundaries of what she thought her ministry would be. “Here in the United States, I had to do a lot of things that I had never done as a minister in Korea, like mowing the lawn and doing repairs. At first, I was in shock! she recognizes. Gradually that changed and Reverend Kim decided to do whatever was necessary, becoming receptive to a new way of being. “I began to realize that it is right for practitioners and ministers do whatever is helpful to others,” she said.
To this end, in 2001, the Dharma Master of the Won Buddhist Temple in New York sent him to Boston to found a temple there. The Hill Street building was purchased in late 2002, with the first Dharma service taking place on April 27, 2003. It began with community fairs, meditation classes and open houses to invite people to discover what the temple had to offer. The temple would host tea ceremonies, Korean cooking classes and Korean games for families. Others would learn about it by word of mouth at nearby universities, as well as through the internet.
Today, the temple hosts weekly services in English and Korean. In addition to traditional Won Buddhist services, Reverend Kim finds herself teaching basic skills such as nutrition, exercise and general life management. Gradually, some develop a more rigorous Buddhist practice once their personal life has become more balanced. She finds this situation peculiar to the American population. Nonetheless, she is willing to help and guide wherever she can – in fact, this has become the core of her practice.