Love and peace amid urban bustle

Buddhist monk Kim Eung-ki is here to promote Nirvana – a colorful dance show from South Korea which will tour Israel for the first time in mid-July.

Nirvana_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
To begin at the end: At the close of this interview, Buddhist monk Kim Eung-ki, together with Korean choreographer Kim Hyang-kum (who appeared to be a Roman Catholic) and a translator (who was a Protestant), exited the hotel lobby take a few press shots in shady Rehov Zamenhoff.
Suddenly, a Russian philosopher from Kikar Dizengoff, who bore some signs of having already prayed to Bacchus, popped into the picture and entered into a conversation about meaning of life with Kim Eung-ki. It’s hard to say how they managed to communicate since the monk spoke mostly Korean, while our countryman spoke only Russian. But, anyway, the philosopher was disappointed.
“You say he is a Buddhist – but I swear he is not. I know what I’m talking about: I have a friend who is a true Buddhist, and this one looks like a fake!” But I’m afraid that the philosopher was very wrong. Not only is Kim Eung-ki a real Buddhist monk, he is a very learned and a famous one. He was here to promote Nirvana – a colorful dance show from South Korea which will tour Israel for the first time in mid-July.
The show, based on Yeongsan Jae – one of Korea’s most important traditional Buddhist rituals – features a 75-member-strong ensemble of dancers, Kodo drummers and players on other traditional instruments.
Born in 1964, Kim Eung-ki, who entered a Buddhist temple at the age of 10, holds several university degrees in Buddhist historical science and in the science of religion, as well as the position of professor in the Korean traditional music department at Dongguk University; also additional posts related to the preservation and development of Korea’s ancient culture.
He is also known for his research – for example, on the secret notation of ancient Korean scores, believed to be the oldest musical scores ever in human history; as well as on the recreation of Buddhist dances from ancient Korean paintings.
He was the initiator of the Nirvana dance show, which has been performed in nearly 50 countries throughout the world.
Among his other intellectual activities is his search for what he defines as conciliation between the major religions.
“Buddhism is not just a religion, it is our way of life for 2,500 years now,” he explained, sitting in the hotel lobby. “But rather it is a philosophy of love, of peace, of understanding your own essence, your inner self.”
In the heart of a bustling modern city, his very intonation sounded strange. He went on to elaborate: Nirvana is not just another ethnic dance show, but a religious dance performed onstage.
Throughout the ages, it has been used to teach people the philosophy of Buddhism. It also forms part of Buddhist monks’ religious training.
“Yeongsan Jae is the only program in the world where Buddhist dance is taught, and two years ago UNESCO included this program in the World Heritage,” he noted.
Monks study in special universities for 15 years. The program includes Buddhist philosophy, dance, music and musical instruments.
But those who think that all the show’s participants are monks are wrong: While this is true of about two-thirds of the ensemble’s members, the rest are professional dancers.
But is a secular artist able to understand the essence of a religious dance and really able perform it, dancing from the depths of his heart? “Buddhism came to Korea 2,500 years ago; this is our lifestyle, the basis of our culture and our philosophy. The professional dancers do not need to make any effort to understand it,” said Kim Eung-ki. Added the translator, with a smile: “Look, I’m a Protestant, but while Christianity appeared in Korea some 100 years ago, Buddhism has been here from the beginning of time.”
Choreographer Kim Hyang-kum explained that dance is very popular in Korea – it is taught at school and about 50 universities throughout the country have dance departments. There are three kinds of dance: classical ballet, modern dance and Korean dance, which includes traditional and creative dance.
In addition to the Korean National Ballet, there are dance companies in every city.
“Yeongsan Jae is a spiritual dance,” the interpreter explained, “and performing it demands a lot of responsibility.”
This was Kim Eung-ki’s first time in Israel, and he said he had learned a lot during this journey to the Holy Land.
“Here, in the capital of major religions, I somehow feel that all the religions are very much similar, and that as tutors, all of us – a Buddhist monk, a rabbi, a bishop, a Protestant pastor – profess and teach the same ideas.”
But aside from being the Holy Land, this corner of the world has been torn by never-ending wars. It is full of tensions and even hatred. How did he feel about that? “There are many conflicts all over the world,” came the reply.
“People’s selfish ambitions are their reason. We are at war with ourselves. If one day people overcome these temptations inside them, then peace will come.
“And yes, even long before Buddha, there were teachers who preached love of the neighbor; and still, people act like beasts. But we are just human beings, no more, no less.”
How did he see his life, what did he expect from it?
“I’m a Buddhist monk, my vision is that of love. I wake up in the morning and I say to myself that I’m happy. Wherever I find myself, I’m training myself and I teach other people – this is my message to the world.”
Nirvana shows will take place on July 10 at 9 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater (*6226), July 11 at 9 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Herzliya (1-700-702-929), on July 13 at 9 p.m. at the Karmiel Amphitheater ([04] 988-1111) and on July 14 at 9 p.m. at TAPAC in Tel Aviv ([03] 692-7777).