Living History

Living History – Frank Concilus (Peace Corps – 1966)

Frank Concilus in the late 1970s with his wife. (Picture courtesy of Frank Concilus).

One of the great things about running a website about Korean Buddhist temples is that you get to meet a lot of amazing people. And a lot of these amazing people have varying backgrounds, interests, and insights. Rather amazingly, some of these people first visited Korea in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Here is Frank’s story:

Q1: Where are you originally from? Introduce yourself a little.

A: I’m originally from Pittsburgh but after college I joined the Peace Corps and came to Korea in 1966

Q2: When and why did you first come to Korea?

A: 1966 Peace Corps

Q3: When you first came to Korea what city did you live? Did you subsequently move around?

A: Busan for less than a year. Was medically returned to States.

Q4: What was the first temple you visited in Korea?

A: My Korean family took me to see Tongdosa [Temple] and Beomeosa [Temple]. They were devout Christians but wanted me to see the temples.

Frank Concilus at Pusan Boys High School in the Peace Corp in 1966. (Picture courtesy of Frank Concilus).
Frank with his Korean family at Haeundae Beach in 1966, as well. (Picture courtesy of Frank Concilus).

Q5: What drew your interest to Korean Buddhist temples? (Buddhism, architecture, art, history, etc)

A: We had at least 2 books about Buddhism in our Peace Corps foot locker that, along with the temple visits, made me very curious about Buddhism.

Q6: What is your favourite temple? Why?

A: I like many of the temples a lot, but perhaps Haeinsa [Temple] is my favorite. When I came back to Korea in 1971 on a visa trip from Tokyo (to begin teaching at Sophia University’s International Division), I took a bus to Haeinsa [Temple] and amazingly was permitted to join some monks for several days of their Winter Retreat. A monk invited me to climb up to a hermitage and introduced me to Songchol [Seongcheol] Sunim. I didn’t know who he was, but I had a chance to talk with him about meditation for at least 40 minutes. I later discovered what an honor that had been.

Q7: What temple or hermitage has changed the most from when you were first got here? What has changed about it?

A: We had a Peace Corps conference in 1966 in Kyongju [Gyeongju] and visited Bulguksa [Temple], which at that time had not be greatly restored. It was beautifully restored in the late 60s and early 70s.

Q8: What was the most difficult temple to get to? How did you get there?

A: In 1970, I asked about meditation at Jogyesa [Temple] and a kind monk wrote down a Seon master’s name and his temple outside of Incheon. I had to take buses into the countryside but found Yonghwasa [Temple] and met Jeongang Sunim, one of the great 20th century masters. I stayed there at the temple for about a week. I was so lucky to have met two of the greatest Korean Seon masters.

Q9: Did you remain in Korea or did you return home?

A: I have lived mostly in Korea since Peace Corps days but have also taught in Japan for a number of years.

A poster for Beomeosa Temple [Pomo-sa] in Geumjeong-gu, Busan from 1970. (Picture courtesy of the “2023 Special Exhibition from Gifts Donated by Gary Mintier” at the Busan Museum).

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