MEET THE AUTHOR
WON MEDIA BOOKSTORE
CONVERSATION WITH EDITOR
WON BUDDHISM IN THE AMERICAS
Q : WHAT IS IT LIKE EDITING WON BUDDHIST TEXTS?
I have worked as an editor on many Won Buddhist publications, starting with the Canon and on books written by Master Taesan, Master Chawsan, and Master Kyongsan, and other Won Buddhist kyomunims. My task is always to take the literal translations of the Korean language into English, and then make the English translations clearer and more understandable to an English-speaking reader.
This is not always easy with Won Buddhist texts written for Koreans who share a Buddhist/Confucian cultural heritage. The Canon, in particular, has deep meanings for a Korean reader in the native language. They do not stumble over words and sentences. This is not the case in America, where if readers have too much trouble reading the Canon, they will soon stop reading. As I start working with the literal translation, I ask: What is the underlying meaning I need to get across? Where is the text confusing or does the sentences too dense? My goal is to have the reader get the most out of reading the Canon and all the other texts.
Over time, editing has become easier as I absorbed the teachings on a non-verbal level and could find a clear and simple way to express the meanings. Now I find the essence of Won Buddhist teachings expressed in no better way than the Doctrinal Chart, which places the Gate of Faith and Gate of Practice in mutual, beneficial balance in the Ground of Being and Nonbeing. And so, the Doctrinal Chart has become my blueprint for living in the spiritual realm.
Q: YOU HAVE ALSO TRANSLATED MANY WON BUDDHIST HYMNS
AND YOU’VE WRITTEN NEW SONGS. WHAT IS THAT LIKE?
When it comes to writing songs that convey the essence of Won Buddhist teachings, I began with the most popular Korean hymns, as chosen by the kyomunim at the Philadelphia Won Buddhist Temple, in Glenside, PA. The melodies and chords of these hymns could have been taken right out of a Protestant hymnal from two centuries ago. I was able to rework the translations into more poetic lyrics that would be easy to sing in English and capture the essence of the original hymn.
I also began writing original songs to convey Won Buddhist teachings using modern melodies and familiar words that would stir the heart. I have seen, both in the U.S. and in Korea, that my songs can stir the heart. And that is all the encouragement a composer needs.
I have always wanted to use music to reach the younger generation, to awaken in them their own spiritual path. Through a grant from Won Buddhist Headquarters, five of my songs have recently been beautifully arranged and professionally produced by Yurina Shin in a pop style. On three songs, Rev. Shinoh Kang was the vocalist, and her sensitive voice was well-suited for these songs. The final element of this project is its promotion, and that is being managed by Rev. Wonkwang Lee.
Q: What is your relationship with Won Buddhism
I have visited Korea on two occasions, participating in concerts and visiting the sacred places. I have walked in the center of Youngsan and at IkSan Headquarters, experiencing the energy and dedication of a thriving and well-established Won Buddhist community. But America is very different. We do not have a 100-year history of Won Buddhism, nor do we have Buddhist thought embedded in our culture. Won Buddhism is in the early stages of adapting to the American culture, and this will take time.
JOEL OSTROFF (WON JE)
Editor, Won Buddhism in the Americas Won Buddhism of Philadelphia