It was during his stay in Korea from 2005 to 2008 that Tony discovered Korean Buddhism and his fascination with Wonhyo began. He describes Korean Buddhism as a hidden jewel, which has much to offer and Wonhyo as a man with a message for the modern world.
He says that message is for everyone, not just for Buddhists but for people of all faiths and those who have none at all. He points out that Wonhyo’s own life was very unconventional and turbulent, full of unexpected changes, just as our modern lives are. But he says Wonhyo managed to break down barriers, including those barriers in his own mind that prevented him from reaching enlightenment. Wonhyo’s teachings on the oneness of all things, he says, is perhaps more important today than it was in his own day as the world shrinks and people with different cultures and values are brought into contact with one another.
It would be wonderful, Tony said, if this pilgrimage route, the Wonhyo pilgrimage route, becomes a testimony to Wonhyo’s teachings and that many people from around the world gain insight into themselves and find a balm that calms the inner turmoil as they re-enact Wonhyo’s journey from Gyeongju to Pyeongtek.
Currently Tony, a Canadian, is finishing an MA degree in Buddhist studies at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University in Bangkok. While in Korea he taught English and worked as a foreign copy editor at Yonhap, South Korea’s national wire service and the Korea Times. Tony has spent most of his working life as a journalist, a columnist, a corporate writer, TV talk show host, a radio reporter, travel writer, speech writer and editor. He discovered Buddhism, he says, through trying meditation as a health-enhancing tool.
This is my 27th year of living in South Korea, exploring it and writing about its history and culture. My main passion remains the beautiful Korean mountains. Active worship of the “spirit”s of the grand peaks is still going on all over the nation, the continuous discovery of which adds a whole new dimension to hiking that doesn’t much happen in the West.
Colorful Zen monasteries mark many trail-heads, old hermitages filled with unique art and friendly monks are found along the trails, peaks have sacred names and shamans invoking the spirits are stumbled across on the high cliffs or at spring-water sources…
I was appointed by the Mayor of Gangbuk-gu to its Advisory Commission in 11/07, and as its P.R. Ambassador of Samgak-san in 2/08. I serve on the managing boards of the Royal Asiatic Society – Korea and the Korean Society for Shamanic Spirit Studies. I enjoy living here.
In 1978 a distressed mother opened the door to a policeman who had her son Simon with him. He had been picked up four blocks away from home on his blue four wheeled bike….. He was two years old. When Simon finished school he headed to the USA and made a tour of the Pacific Coast. Deferring his entrance to university, he then spent three months in the Himalayas exploring a remote Western area of Nepal with two Scotsmen.
Simon’s exposure to Buddhism came on this first trip to the Himalayas. Time spent among the monks of the high mountains had a profound impression on him, which has stayed with him since. The ability to transcend one’s everyday life into realms seldom seen is a mystique which has called him ever since. Simon went on to study Buddhist cultures in remote Himalayan regions as part of a human geography and development studies degree at University. He spent two years in Korea and was touched by the essentially ‘untouched’ nature of the grey monks there.
He says The Wonhyo pilgrimage offers those with a passion for wilderness the opportunity to simply walk unhindered by the confusion of life in urban zones. Through this simple act comes a chance to reflect, and essentially experience nature more instantaneously and in greater depth. In essence leaving behind clutter and freeing one’s mind.
Since a young age Christopher admits to having an all-pervading passion to unlocking the secrets of life’s eternal question: why are we here?
Though his quest has led him to explore a myriad of the world’s cultures and traditions, including Shamanic rituals in Siberia and Voodoo ceremonies in West Africa, it was the simple utterance by a Korean Zen master that finally helped cleanse his doors of perception.
When asked what is the meaning of life? The humble monk replied:
“To put one foot in front of the other.”
Christopher believes that pilgrimage – even without spiritual aspirations – is good for the soul. Walking in nature provides an opportunity to connect with the enchantment of the present moment and embrace a more natural existence. It’s his hope that the Wonhyo Pilgrimage will serve as an invitation for others to rediscover their innermost self and rejoice in all that is good and beautiful. He splits his time between the pacific coast of California, where he is working on his PhD, and Northeast Asia.
David Watermeyer, a South African currently teaching at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, has been involved in the idea of the Wonhyo pilgrimage from the beginning, when Tony MacGregor first conceived it back in 2007. But it was only after his experience walking the famous Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James) in Spain that the power of pilgrimage became so evident to him.
As most who have looked at Buddhism know the word “Buddha” means one who is awake, or the “awakened one,” and the walking experience in the context of pilgrimage, lends itself to the awakening process. One is simply putting one foot in front of the other, with nothing else to do or say, while passing through all kinds of terrain, experiencing different weather patterns and different bodily sensations. What better metaphor for life is that?
So for David truth is all about awareness. It is rather a mystery because it leads to the question of where awareness resides. Does it simply arise with being born in the body, or is it something that is mysteriously present in space itself, something which underlies the universe itself and beyond. Are we part of the universe becoming conscious of itself?
Such questions can be contemplated as one is engaged in the simple act of hiking. What better thing to do than discover these jewels that underlie life itself.