Day 9: The Beaming Monk of Yongmun-sa
Monday, Dec. 12, 2011
“There is no benefit in nourishing an empty body that does not cultivate the mind, and a transient and futile life is difficult to preserve however much one tends to it.” Quote from Wonhyo’s work. What is the mind? How do we cultivate it? For what purpose?
We asked that question to student monk Bo Seong sunim at Youngmun-sa temple on Monday evening. Bo Seong sunim, who has been a student monk for a year after spending 20 years as a prison guard, is exuberantly happy in his new calling.
Perhaps because of his background he emphasises deep repentance as a means of cultivating the mind. Words – imperfect in English -tumble from his beaming face. “Deep repentance purifies the mind. Forgiveness frees the heart,” he said smiling.
He said if we forgive each other we reach mutual understanding. Prisoners are men and can also shed tears, he said. “I also am guilty,” he said. “An ex-convict taught me that.”
We met Bo Seong sunim at Youngmun-sa after Sangmin sunim had arranged for us to stay the night at the temple. Bo Seong sunim knew we were on the pilgrimage for Wonhyo and he wanted to meet us and discuss with us.
I also found out that Bo Seong sunim is an incredibly fine foot masseur. When he learned that that I was having feet problems, he immediately volunteered to give a foot massage, and he did a wonderful job although I was almost writhing in pain during the treatment. After the treatment, my feet felt great.
I told him he had incredibly strong hands.
He nodded his head smiling. “Yes, I carry wood all the time.”
I couldn’t help thinking that both he and Wonhyo had at least two things in common. They were both compassionate and both uninhibited.
We started our pilgrimage late in the day because we enjoyed Cheongryang-sa so much that we decided to spend the morning in the 1,000-year-old temple with the spectacular view nestled among the mountains of Cheongryang-san Park. Rhea, who left us for a day, rejoined the Wonhyo pilgrimage about 9 pm the night before, just in time for tea.
We had breakfast at the temple cafeteria – rice porridge, kimchi, lettuce and soy beans at 6.30 am. At 8 am we took an early morning walk with one of the Abbots. About 9 am David and Sangmin sunim left us for Gyeongju with plans to return later in the week. That left just three of us – me Rhea and Chris. We decided to explore the temple before we left.
We could see the sacred mountain of Cheongryang-san - a great jutting, brown rock that protruded over the temple. It was sacred long before the temple was founded in the late 600s by Wonhyo, the man whose journey across the Korean Peninsula we are emulating. His journey across the peninsula ended when Wonhyo achieved enlightenment in a cave near Dangjin. We planned to end our pilgrimage with a ceremony at that cave.
During our early-morning walk we came across a cave with some candles and dishes sitting on top of a rock inside. Sangnim sunim said it was a shrine to the mountain spirit. We felt still and quiet in the mountains. I slipped into a quiet ,meditative state.
During the day, Rhea explained to me the difference to her between a hike and a pilgrimage. “It’s a difference in depth of experience,” she said. “Because we’re on a journey with a spiritual purpose people – especially those in the temples – are very welcoming to us, give us support and gifts and invite us for tea and talks. It’s really uplifting.”
She added that we had a wonderful helper in Sangmin sunim, a 37-year-old student at Dongguk University in Gyeongju. “He has organized things for us, opened doors and explained our pilgrimage for Wonhyo. He has made a huge difference to our journey.”