Living History

Living History – Larry “Hyunsung” Martin (Buddhist Monk – 1975)

Novice Precept Ordination with Kusan Sunim from 1975. (Picture Courtesy of Larry “Hyunsung” Martin).

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 are their stories!

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

A: I consider myself a native Californian, although I was born in Germany, while my father was a teacher on a U.S. Army base there.

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

A: I developed an interest in Seon Buddhism starting at 17 years old, and I decided to enter a monastery for meditation practice. A friend had gone to Korea with Kusan Sunim (1908-1983), who had come to our hometown of Carmel Valley [California] to start the Sambosa Temple.

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

A: I went directly to Songgwangsa Temple; and after a few years, I traveled around a bit to explore other temples.

Novice precept ordination at Songgwangsa Temple in 1975. (Picture courtesy of Larry “Hyunsung” Martin).
Winter meditation retreat gathering at Songgwangsa Temple in 1977. (Picture courtesy of Larry “Hyunsung” Martin).

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

Songgwangsa Temple

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

A: Seon meditation

Q6: What is your favourite temple? Why?

Songgwangsa Temple is closest to my heart, but I really enjoyed Bongamsa Temple, also. The setting of Bongamsa Temple is very special and there was great energy for practice there.

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

Songgwangsa Temple had only recently gotten electricity when I arrived. There was wood for heating the ondol floors and the very small bath that everyone shared privately on bath day. Water had to be carried from the stone basins to use. Water was heated in the fire box of the ondol. No cars drove into the temple, you had to walk in from the little village below.

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

A: All the temples that were in the mountains, you had to walk in from the bus stop where there was often a small village. Some were very remote like Chilbulsa Temple on Mt. Jirisan, which required a long bus ride on a dirt rode, followed by a long hike on a narrow mountain path to reach.

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

A: I returned home in 1980, having been in Korea for 5 years.

Tea with the monk Do-beop and Robert Buswell at Silsangsa Temple in 2010. (Picture courtesy of Larry “Hyunsung” Martin).
A Songgwangsa Temple reunion in 2013. (Picture courtesy of Larry “Hyunsung” Martin).
And another picture from the 2013 reunion at Songgwangsa Temple. (Picture courtesy of Larry “Hyunsung” Martin).

Leave a Reply