Day 12: Tea at the Temple of Eternal Happiness

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Post 11, Dec. 15, 2011

What is the best way to live, studying and practicing in a monastery or sharing your spiritual insights with others to help them? From story of Wonhyo’s life.

Sleeping in the Milano Hotel was a different experience from sleeping in temples and I began to realize how much I enjoyed the temples, mostly the kindness and consideration we were shown by the monks and temple staff.

The Milano staff was friendly and considerate but didn’t put their hearts into helping us the way the monks did. Our room at the Milano was warm and comfortable and we slept late after the relaxing visit to the Suanbo baths. Nuri arrived about 8 am but told us the muffler on his car was shot and that he had to get it replaced.

Late the previous night we had decided to change our plans and head directly to Magok-sa temple because we wanted to conclude our pilgrimage on Monday so that David Watermeyer one of the key members of the pilgrimage could participate in the closing ceremony. We planned to drink water from skull-like vessels in memory of Wonhyo’s enlightenment in the concluding ceremony. Nuri had agreed to drive us out of Suanbo in the direction of Youngpyung-sa, our next destination, in his 1997 Avante. We wanted to walk part of the way to the temple.

While Nuri was getting his muffler replaced, the three of us – me, Chris and Rhea – settled into the Hyang Namu (Fragrant Tree) restaurant for breakfast and planning. One of the waitresses at the restaurant went to the information centre and brought back some pamphlets in English describing attractions in the area. I had bibimbob – rice and vegetables – while the others had fermented bean paste and vegetable stew. Side dishes consisted of bean sprouts, tofu, mushrooms and other side dishes with vegetables I couldn’t recognize.

Another reason we decided to head directly to Youngpyung-sa was because Youngpyung-sa was the next temple on our list of places to stay and the temples helped us achieve a good state of mind for the pilgrimage.

After Nuri picked us up and we were heading out of Suanbo, we began discussing some of Wonhyo’s writings I had been reading from Master Wonhyo, An Overview of His Life and Teachings. “While staying at Puhwangsa Temple and writing the Commentary on Flower Ornament Sutra, Wonhyo suddenly broke the writing brush he was using, having come to the chapter entitled Returning Merit to Others. This symbolic action was based on a profound insight he received while contemplating the message of the Flower Ornament Sutra – namely, that its profound teaching could not be carried out in fullness by mere studying alone. The Flower Ornament Sutra taught that one must become a Bodhisattva, resolve to attain enlightenment, and give back one’s merit to all sentient beings. He believed that giving back one’s merit to others’ could be achieved by sharing the experience of his own enlightenment with all. However, he realized that the real meaning of the sutra could not be understood through words and letters. So, he left the temple to live the teachings of the sutra fully in the wider world.”

I think it was right for Wonhyo to leave the monastery but that is not necessarily the right way for everyone. On the pilgrimage during which we visited many monasteries I’ve come to appreciate how rich and full life in temples can be. Wonhyo chose the right path for him, but many monastics are happy to stay and are doing great work in the temples and should stay there.

When we arrived at Young Pyeong-sa (temple of eternal happiness) we were immediately invited to a Korean tea ceremony by the abott, Huan Seong sunim, a happy, relaxed monk who smiled easily.

He took us into a large room and sat underneath a large impressionistic watercolour of a house on a lake. While heating the water in a jug, he explained that the temple offered tea ceremony courses, which lasted from one to four years. He served us tea made of buds and flowers of many colors and I tried to take photographs of it, but the steam blurred my lens. Later he explained that Zen and the tea ceremony are one, that you become the tea – the tea and you become one. There is no distinction.

We had dinner in a quiet eating room with small round tables and a warm floor. The abbot and a monk ate at one table while Chris, I and Rhea sat at another. At the end of the meal we washed our dishes and walked across the courtyard to our rooms, all the while being overlooked by a huge statue of a standing Buddha on the left of the main meditation hall. Quiet Buddhist-style religious music floated from the meditation hall. Later Sangmin sunim rejoined us and we welcomed him warmly before settling down to sleep on the warm floors.

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Comments
5 Responses to “Day 12: Tea at the Temple of Eternal Happiness”
  1. Vanessa says:

    It s a nice place…hope one day I can enjoy the pure tea in the eternal happiness…

  2. chuti says:

    tea ceremony is very interesting,In Japan as well..I’d like to know what is concerned to state of mind,or life..tea and you become one…? but now I’m quite hungry.so..seem that me and a bowl of noodle become one..

  3. Kevin Kim says:

    If I understand correctly, one of the goals of this walk is to encourage a form of “pilgrimage tourism,” which I find a laudable goal. My question, though, is whether it’s possible to establish a viable walking path, from temple to temple, for the entirety of the route. This walk has featured car rides — and that’s fine, but the rides make it difficult for me to determine whether the entire path is walkable. (I was picked up by the police twice during my own walk in the Pacific Northwest, so I know that it’s sometimes difficult or even impossible to walk certain stretches of road.)

    So: is the path you’re walking the exact path that Wonhyo took? If not, in what ways (and to what degree) does it deviate from the original, and how closely do you think you can approximate Wonhyo’s own walk? What sort of records are there about the route Wonhyo took? How much of the route is actually known?

    I ask these questions because I’d love to see an entirely walkable path constructed as a result of this trip, but I think it makes a difference as to whether the future path is (a) a close approximation of Wonhyo’s route, or is (b) merely a “connect-the-dots” between temples that Wonhyo passed along the way.

    I apologize if I’m jumping the gun with these questions. It could be that this walk is a kind of reconnaissance mission to see whether the establishment of a walking path is even possible, and that you’re planning to address these very issues at the end of your trip. I sincerely hope a safe, maintainable walking route can be established, because I’d love to walk it, too, someday!

  4. steppeandsky says:

    Hi Kevin, that’s a good question – is there a viable walking route from temple to temple. The route we took was laid out by Prof. David Mason, an expert on Korean religious culture. He tried to strike a balance between the temples associated with Wonhyo, a good walking route and the route Wonhyo may have taken. Of course, if the pilgrimages continue every year, the route will become more refined, or perhaps several routes will develop. The truth of the matter is nobody knows the route Wonhyo took. His trip too place over 1,300 years ago and the route was never recorded. Of course, scholars surmise and make educated guesses, but nobody really knows. Pro. Mason took a stab at it to get our pilgrimage rolling, but I suspect there will never be agreement on the subject of Wonhyo’s route.

    I agree with you that it would be wonderful to have a completely walkable route, and that may be possible. Perhaps our exploratory journey will spark off a debate on that subject. I hope so. A completely walkable route would be a wonderful achievement. Of course, even if we did know Wonhyo’s route, it may not be possible to walk it because 21st Century Korea is a developed country with roads running all over the place.

    In the end, we decided that the most important lesson that Wonhyo had to teach was that the inner journey is the most important journey, and that is what we have focused on during the trip – looking inside and seeking self understanding. The physical journey, I believe, is a tool that enables the inner journey to take place.

    I hope some day Kevin that you’ll be able to walk the entire Wonhyo route and that you’ll find it as uplifting as we have done.

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