Update from the trail: The Buddha and Nature
Blog Sept. 20, 2012
The Buddha and Nature
We finished off our day (Sept. 20) with tea and a long chat with Hoseon sunim, a middle-aged man who had been a monk for 12 years.
I asked him about nature and what it can teach us. I had been inspired by the day’s filming near Magoksa Temple, beautiful vistas and long walks along country lanes. I and three companions are making a film of our pilgrimage from Gyeongju to a cave near Pyenontaek to honor the 7th Century Korean Buddhist monk Wonhyo, who found enlightenment after traversing the Korean Peninsula.
Hoseon sunim said we should take the Buddha as our guide in our approach to nature. The Buddha had few clothes, ate only food which was given to him and lived in simple shelters so he had little impact on nature.
Nature, the sunim said, cannot be conquered or controlled. We need to let nature be and adjust to it, he said. He also said it is teaching us all the time whether we realize it or not.
I thought of the “Five Observations” I saw on the wall in the dining room. They were, slightly edited, the following: (1) Where does this food come from? (2)I don’t deserve it through my merit. (3) Putting down all desires of my mind (4) This offering is medicine to maintain my body. (5)It will help complete the task of enlightenment.
Temple food is delicious but you are not supposed to return any once you have taken it. I have learned on this pilgrimage that it is better to take little and go back for seconds rather than taking too much at first.
Breakfast at Magoksa was delicious apple slices that crunched in my mouth, a kind of green squash, rice tofu, kimchi, baked beans, morning glory and many other side dishes, which are a feature of Korean food. I ate the food slowly, carefully, deliberately, feeling the texture of the vegetables with my lips and tasting the salty variety of plants, and feeling grateful for the food. The dining room is huge, about 20 by 25 yards with modern tables and chairs that fold under the table.
I went for a walk around the temple grounds after breakfast, which starts at 5.30 am. It is a beautiful and unique temple, founded by the monk Jijangyulsa in 643 AD. It has a river running through it, the only temple in Korea with that feature.
The temple name means flax valley, but a more appropriate name from my view would be “sound of running water temple” because the running water sound is with you all the time at the temple. I listened carefully to that sound in my morning reflection as I sat by a low dam near the river. Within the steady low roar there is constant sound movement – splashes, bubbling, gurgling and rippling.
The air is alive with a fresh-water river smell, fishes and water plants. I remembered the last time I visited the temple how impressed I was by the two bridges across the river, one wooden, one concrete. Both curved graciously across the river.
In the evening tea session, I also asked Hoseon sunim about the nightmares I suffer from. I asked him if they were a feature of a troubled mind and he said they were. He said following the Buddha’s eight-fold path is the way to eliminate them and as well as finding an object to focus on. I decided I would focus on the Buddha’s smile, which has always fascinated me because it is so full of contentment, knowledge and self-understanding.