Jungto International operates two retreat centers in the United States, one located in Washington, D.C., and the other in Seattle. On May 27th, the head temples of Jungto in Korea celebrated the Buddha’s birthday, while the retreat centers in America hosted the Lotus Lantern Festival. During our conversation, two volunteers, Sujin Kwak and Hyokyoung Kim, shared their delightful experiences preparing for the festival at each center.
Sujin Kwak is responsible for developing in-person volunteer programs at JTS America, a sister organization of Jungto Society. She always lends her assistance at the Washington D.C. retreat center when there is a big event. During our conversation, she expressed her particular enjoyment in contributing to this year’s festival, as it provided a rare opportunity to meet fellow practitioners in person following the pandemic.
“This was the second Lotus Lantern Festival held at the Washington D.C. center since the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the center used to host many more events, providing many opportunities for fellow practitioners to get together and volunteer. However, these days, we can only reunite once a year to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday. It’s a special occasion where we get to say hello to those we’ve missed.
When I was going through an emotionally difficult time, the Awakening Retreat and the teachings of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim helped me find peace. That’s why I volunteer at each event, so I can express my gratitude for the merits that I’ve received. Being useful in the preparations for these events makes me feel like I’m paying back to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim. It’s fulfilling.”
▲ Sujin Kwak (at the far left) and fellow volunteers prepare for the festival
“I went to the center the day before the event and spent four to five hours cleaning and making preparations. When we were done with cleaning, we wrote the names of donors on tags and climbed the ladder to hang them on the lotus lanterns. Afterwards, I helped out with the memorial ceremony preparations.”
▲ Sujin Kwak hangs lanterns
“For this year’s lantern festival, we had around 10 volunteers, mostly from the Maryland area. My friend, who had attended Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s Dharma Talk before, wished to help hang the tags on the lanterns, so we went together. My friend says she enjoyed hanging the tags on the lanterns because she likes Buddhism in general and she felt she was paying respect to our ancestors. I had a similar feeling, so I had a great time volunteering at the center and engaging in conversations with the other volunteers.”
▲Volunteers for the Washington D.C. center
“And we all had delicious bowls of bibimbap afterwards. Eating food prepared at Jungto centers is always heartwarming. One of the biggest memories I have from the Awakening Retreat is the food. They harvested the ashitaba plants grown at the center and put them in the bibimbap.”
▲ Bibimbap with the ashitaba plants grown at the center
We’d like to thank Sujin Kwak and other volunteers who have provided assistance at the Washington D.C. Center. The Lotus Lantern Festival is becoming a more significant event at Jungto International as we have fewer opportunities to meet with fellow practitioners.
The Lotus Lantern Festival held at the Seattle retreat center this year marked the first in-person event in four years. Hyokyoung Kim, who volunteers as the regional assistant for the North America and Europe regions, let us know how the event preparations went in Seattle. In addition to supporting member activities and Dharma meetings at Jungto International, Hyokyoung is often busy helping out at the Seattle Center.
“This was the first lantern festival at the Seattle Center since the last event back in May 2019. Roughly 20 Jungto Society members from the Seattle area joined together to prepare for the festival. Many of these participants are dedicated volunteers who have helped to maintain the Seattle Center through the years even though it hasn’t been officially used since the pandemic. Christopher, an English Jungto Dharma School graduate, was also there to help out. We had a good time playfully teasing him when he made mistakes while assembling the lanterns.
▲ Christopher (at the far left by the window) making lanterns with other volunteers
“There was another graduate from the English Jungto Dharma School who wished to help make the lanterns, but unfortunately, they arrived after all the lanterns had already been completed. I think it would be good to inform all the graduates in advance before starting the festival preparations next time so that more people can come and share in the experience together. Making the lanterns is actually quite enjoyable, and it’s a good opportunity for people to learn about the meaning of the Lotus Lantern Festival, which is a significant cultural event in Korea.
Given that the center had been unused for a while, we had a lot of work to tackle before the Dharma Teacher Myomeyong moved in last year. Although we began the process last year, we barely had enough time to repair the house, replace the fences surrounding the raised beds, paint the walls, set up audio and video equipment, mow the lawn, and plant flowers before we could start preparing for the festival and the subsequent Awakening Retreat. While making the lanterns may not be a time-consuming task on its own, due to the limited number of us working on them both at home and at the center during our spare time, it took several weeks to complete all 142 lanterns.”
▲ Hanging all 142 lanterns
“Overall, it took many months of work from many volunteers to get the center back in shape. At first, when the Dharma teacher suggested completing the lanterns before the end of April, I had doubts. But, when we actually began working on the lanterns, it ended up being quite fun. In the past, I only helped with gluing, but this time, I had to assemble lanterns as there weren’t many volunteers. The process of making the lanterns brought back memories of my childhood when I used to do origami, and I found it satisfying to watch the lanterns come together. Of course, being able to converse with others in person while having delicious snacks was also very enjoyable and reminiscent of the days where we frequently gathered at the center.”
▲ Hyokyoung Kim (left) enjoying the lantern building process
“Several volunteers prepared food, including seasoned greens, soup, vegetable pancakes, and fruit, for the memorial ceremony that is part of the Buddha’s birthday celebration. The memorial service at Jungto Society is not only dedicated to our loved ones but also to those who need help in this world. All the funds we donate for the ceremony are directed to Join Together Society (JTS), an international relief organization.
After the ceremony, we shared a delicious meal. We harvested some lettuce grown by the Dharma teacher to add to the delicious bibimbap prepared with the seasoned greens we had prepared for the memorial ceremony. It was an enjoyable experience.”
While interviewing Sujin and Hyokyoung and listening to how they prepared for the Lotus Lantern Festival at their respective centers, we gained a fresh appreciation for these annual gatherings that allow us to come together in person. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the volunteers who made this year’s Lotus Lantern Festival so meaningful.