In the early 1990s, Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, a Korean Seon (Zen) master and social activist, embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage to India that sparked his humanitarian initiatives for the underprivileged in India. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim founded the international Buddhist relief organization Join Together Society (JTS), and its Indian office JTS India, which work to uplift the lives of people in Dungeshwari, Bihar.
Recently, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim led 1,250 practitioners from Jungto Society, the international Buddhist community he founded, on a pilgrimage to India and Nepal from 29 January–10 February. Jungto Society, a volunteer-run community and humanitarian organization, aspires to embody Buddhist teachings through social engagement, promoting a simple lifestyle centred on sustainable living.
The significance of 1,250 pilgrims taking part in this journey lies in the 30 years since Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s first visit to India and the completion of Jungto Society’s 30-year 10,000-day practice. The pilgrimage took them to numerous sacred landmarks in India.
Upon arriving in Sarnath, India, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim addressed the pilgrims and led a precepts ceremony at the site of the Buddha’s first sermon. The pilgrims received moxibustion, a symbolic act of repentance, and were explained the meaning behind the robe and bowl. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim emphasized the importance of Sarnath, as it marked the establishment of the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and the first appearance of lay practitioners.
“Sarnath is important for us not only because the Buddha gave his first sermon here, but also because lay practitioners, who practice while living as householders, appeared here first. The first lay practitioners were Ven. Yasa’s father and mother.”
“Sarnath is where the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha were established, and where lay practitioners appeared for the first time. The first upasaka, a male lay practitioner, was Yasa’s father, and the first upasikas, female lay practitioners, were Yasa’s mother and wife. In this sense, Sarnath is very meaningful. “Here in Sarnath, where the Buddha blew the horn of the Dharma, let’s vow to spread the Dharma around the world. Let’s take refuge in the Three Jewels and receive the Five Precepts, just as Yasa’s father and wife did, and, here today, let we 1,250 practitioners declare our vow to spread the Dharma far and wide, just as the Buddha and his 60 disciples did.”
During the pilgrimage, the participants engaged with local residents and celebrated the 29th anniversary of Sujata Academy, an educational institution. The practitioners served a meal to 10,000 local residents from nearby villages, reflecting the spirit of Sujata’s offering of milk-rice to Siddhartha, which gave him the strength to continue meditating and ultimately attain enlightenment.
The 1,250 pilgrims continued their spiritual journey to Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s awakening, embodying the true spirit of the Dharma.