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The Ocean of Zen

The Ocean of Zen

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Published by WonjiDharma

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Published by: WonjiDharma on Sep 29, 2010
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09/15/2013

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The Shinjung Taengwa, a painting featuring Tongjin Bosal,
is commonly found in Korean temples. Its frequent presence,
however, in no way seems to make its meaning well known. The
only point, on which most people agree, Buddhists included, is that
they don’t know much about the Shinjung Taengwa.
There are twelve to twenty figures depicted in the Shinjung
Taengwa. The central image is of Tongjin Bosal, who is easily
identified by his elaborate headdress that resembles a fan of
feathers. One of a number of beings who guard the doctrine,
Tongjin Bosal is the Bodhisattva who protects the Saddharma–
pundarika, the Lotus Sutra of the True Law, one of the most
revered Mahayana texts that explains that the truth is conveyed by
silence and gestures as well as words.

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There are different interpretations of the Shinjung
Taengwa. One is that the figures surrounding Tongjin represent
beings that are well acquainted with the Three Refuges: the
Buddha, his teaching (Dharma), and the Buddhist community
(Sangha). Another is that the figures are historical personages such
as Confucius, or lesser deities like the Kitchen God. The four, or
sometimes five, figures at the base of the painting or to the sides of
Tongjin Bosal are clearly guardians. One guardian often carries a
rolled up scroll, representing the doctrine that he protects.
Depending on the size of the temple, and consequently on
the number of halls or shrines therein, the Shinjung Taengwa is
found in any one of many buildings, but most often on the right
wall of the Main Hall.

It is interesting to note that, as the gods are beings in the
realm of pleasure, they cannot attain enlightenment. Therefore, the
monks and nuns turn to the Taengwa when they chant the Heart
Sutra in order to help the gods attain a human birth in their next life
and so reach enlightenment. In addition, as humans need help from
the gods, often people will bow towards the Taengwa as a gesture
of respect and humility in the understanding of the fact that it is
difficult to reach attainment alone.

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