This photo represents the final “formal” moment of my final Kyol Che in Korea, February 2016. Standing with the Zen master of the retreat, Hyon Muk Sunim, who is the “Soen Won Jang” (head of the Zen hall) at great Songgwang Sah temple. Due to his invitation and support, I was able to do six very very strong winter or summer Kyol Ches at Songgwang Sah. Thankfully, I was never sick, and — when I gained some years of monk seniority and earned some acceptance from the elders — I was able to do at least three of the retreats completely on silence.
If there is ever the chance to do Kyol Che again in Korea, Songgwang Sah would be the first choice. The atmosphere is more removed, more solemn, and stricter than nearly every other Zen temple. The first years I was there, we sat from 2 am until 10 pm, every single day, and there were no days off. There was literally hardly any time to do a laundry, the schedule was so tight! But the intensity of that “hard press” was very helpful for forging the blade of practice in an especially stable temple atmosphere — no big temple events or other distractions with visiting tour groups. In later years, they had “loosened up” the schedule a bit — we were back to sitting from 3 am until 9 pm. That was also good for an aging body!
Some days before the end of the Kyol Che 2016, the last Kyol Che in Korea, some people came down to Songgwang Sah from Seoul (a 6-hour drive) to make one final offering to the retreat in my name. As the entire temple community of monks was filing out of the Main Buddha Hall at the conclusion of the daily “rice offering ceremony”, and heading into the formal lunch, one of the donors filmed this video to send to our family back in Regensburg, who were busily making things ready for opening the new Zen Center Regensburg, two months later.