Day 12: Tea at the Temple of Eternal Happiness
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.