Korean Buddhist monks pay tribute at Sandy Hook memorial

by Michael Bellmore, The Middletown Press, December 19, 2012

NEWTWON, CT (USA) -- A group of Korean Buddhist monks came to pay tribute at the memorial in front of the firehouse near Sandy Hook Elementary Tuesday.

They arrived the same way everyone else had, walking between the grass and the traffic cones that line Riverside Road — the most obvious difference between them and the countless other pilgrims arriving that day being their distinctive orange and white robes. The hand bells they rang sounded their arrival.

Haejin, a monk ordained in 2006, said the group of five monks arrived with an entourage of 20 to 30, from the Borisa temple in Teaneck, New Jersey, Bul Kwang in Tappan, New York, and Tageo Zen Center in Bogota, New Jersey. The reason for their journey? To let everybody who died during the tragic attack know they are loved, Haejin said. The prayers they recited were meant for those passed.

“It lets us say to them, “We will digest your pain, we will live your experiences, and we will suffer them for you.”” Haejin said. “Let our love and our mind become your mind. Let our thoughts become your thoughts. May you know how much we love you, know how much we understand your suffering, and how much we pray that in your next manifestation, that wherever you're at, that they’re able to ease the earth in a world of suffering.”

After their first prayer, the monks lit incense and placed the smoking sticks in a candle that already held a bundle of burning, scented stalks placed by others throughout the day. Haejin said incense and its use has a long history in his tradition.

“One of the reasons that we burn incense is to represent our intentions,” Haejin said, “our intentions and our wills for the people that have deceased. That our wishes spread not only just in the smell - in wind - but around the whole universe, symbolically speaking.”

The memorial, Haejin said, and the monks visit to it, is a gesture to Newtown that they are not alone.

“People from all over the world are praying for this town — all over the nation, all over the state, continuously, continuously,” Haejin said. “They are loved and supported. We are all here. There is a world and universe to be there for them.”