Won Buddhism of Philadelphia is associated with an international organization, Won Buddhism, headquartered in Iksan, Korea. Won Buddhism is a modern form of Buddhism dating to the early 20th century, which is characterized by secularism and hybridity of several schools of Buddhism with various forms of Asian and Western thought. Won Buddhism globally has a strong emphasis on education, social involvement, and healthcare.
The Glenside temple's basement houses an affiliated organization, the Won Community Services Center, which is technically a separate legal entity. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to enacting the ideals of Won Buddhism in society through a range of charitable activities. An affiliated graduate school, Won Institute of Graduate Studies, is located nearby at 137 S Easton Rd, Glenside, PA 19038. The school focuses on Chinese medicine, including an MA in acupuncture and a certificate program in Chinese herbal medicine. It also has offered a range of programs in clinical psychology, Won Buddhist ministry, and Buddhist studies.
Glenside is an affluent, predominantly Caucasian, suburb of Philadelphia, on the border of an area with a high Korean population.
The temple location is a refurbished church, which retains many of the features of a Protestant facility on the interior. Parallel services are attended by two different groups, the Korean language services attracting mostly Koreans and Korean Americans, and English-language service attracting mostly Caucasians. The Korean services include chanting to Amitābha Buddha, as well as Dharma talks, hymns, and rituals. In contrast, the services in English are mainly focused on sitting meditation, "moving meditation" (i.e., qigong), and Dharma talks, spending less time on chanting and none on singing hymns. In the Korean service, practitioners sit mainly in church pews, while in the English service practitioners sit on the floor on cushions. The average age is 50-60 in the Korean service, while there are more young adult practitioners in the English service.
The Won Community Services Center began largely as a service center for Won Buddhist ministers immigrating from Korea, as well as for the Korean immigrant population in the suburbs north of Philadelphia. As immigration patterns have shifted over the past decades, they now primarily serve people from Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world.
At the Won Institute of Graduate Studies, the enrolled students (many of whom drive in from outside of the Philadelphia area) are mostly female. They represent a diverse racial/ethnic mix, though primarily Caucasian. All enrolled students are required to take courses in meditation and are introduced to basic Won Buddhist thought during their programs. Regular group meditation sessions are held in the building, including sessions for the general public. These are presided over by Won Buddhist ministers associated with the temple, but also by faculty and staff of the Institute.
At the temple, “spiritual healing” is a stated focus of both the English and Korean services, and meditation is one of the main practices to attain this. The interviewee (a Won minister) encourages practitioners to practice mindfulness during different daily activities. Through the practice of meditation, it is said that the practitioner can balance the water and fire qi in the body. As the practitioner enters into a meditative state where delusive thoughts disappear, the fire qi in the body descends while the water qi ascends. When this occurs, one’s body and mind come into perfect harmony, which in turn enhances one’s health and well-being.
In addition to meditation, practitioners also practice "moving meditation" (i.e., a form of meditative qigong). Interviewees claim that this practice can be used to treat a variety of diseases. They report that illness occurs when the flow of qi in the body is blocked, and the obstruction manifests as illness or disease. The practitioner clears the blockages and allows the qi to flow again in its natural rhythm. By continuously practicing, one can enhance his or her mental and physical well-being.
At the Community Services Center, the Buddhist concept of compassion is the main driving force behind the mission, and they also offer meditation classes. However, the center mainly focuses on a range of non-Buddhist social services, including ESL classes for both children and adults and tutoring for citizenship examinations. Specifically in terms of healthcare, the WCSC offers assistance in applying for health insurance (Obamacare and Medicare), as well as transportation and translation services for members who need to go to the hospital. They also have a volunteer psychologist who assists with personal and family issues.
The Won Institute of Graduate Studies offers the only accredited MA program in Chinese medicine in the area, and has also offered a range of smaller programs in psychology and "applied meditation" (i.e., the application of meditation to therapeutic and other settings). The Institute operates an student-run acupuncture clinic that offers low-cost treatments to the public, including heavily subsidized sessions for veterans once per week. The Institute briefly operated the Won Center for East West Medicine, an acupuncture clinic inside of the Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, but the unit closed in 2015.
The institute periodically offers on-location meditation sessions, qigong classes, and special lectures and events related to Buddhism and health that are open to the public. In addition, members of the faculty are involved with various charitable health initiatives in the Philadelphia area, and students offer acupuncture at local health fair clinics.
For open hours and events at the temple and Won Institute of Graduate Studies, see their respective websites. The community center is not open for public visitation, except for recipients of services.