Day 2: Physical challenges, Oeo-sa to Yangdong Folk Village
I finally decided to give up walking for the day at a quaint little restaurant that played gentle Buddhist music. When I fell on the first day of the pilgrimage, I banged my head and my knee on rocks. The banged knee was making walking slow and painful and my toes were beginning to hurt.
By the time we reached the Won du Mak restaurant in front of Wang sin ji lake, I knew I was holding the others up and suggested that I go by bus. We were fortunate to sit next to some young businessmen who spoke English. They were able to convey our request for information about the bus to the restaurant owner. The restaurant owner insisted that he would drive me to Yangdong Village, and he did. He refused the money I offered for the ride.
The morning began with a wonderful walk. We woke up in a small temple, JaJang Am, high above Oeo-sa temple, which nestled below us in a valley surrounded by mountains. It was a beautiful view and we had photos taken with the view as a backdrop right after breakfast. Breakfast was prepared by the solitary monk at JaJang Am, Park Chong Sang.
It was a filling and tasty breakfast of mild Korean curry, including potatoes and carrots, and rice. I thanked Park Chong Sang for his kindness and hospitality and in reply he thanked me for giving him the opportunity to show loving-kindness.
Oso-sa temple beckoned to us but the climb down and back up was too tough a way to start the day. We knew the history of the temple in any case. Oeo-sa means My Fish Temple and refers to a legendary competition between Wonhyo and another Buddhist master called Hyegong. To prove which one had the most supernatural powers, each caught a fish in the river and ate it. They then emptied their bowels. One fish came out alive, indicating supernatural powers but since both men claimed the fish came from him, the dispute was not settled.
We walked down the mountain from the little temple and into a rural area of paddy fields filled with the stubble of harvested rice stalks. Grey rice stalks were already beginning to rot into the wet paddy fields. It had been cold during the night and crystal-like ice reflected the morning sun as we walked through the fields on high paths.
As we came out of the paddy fields, Chris kicked an old golf ball and I followed up, asking him to be the goalie. He made a couple of spectacular saves until I kicked the golf ball over into the fields. Then we were on a concrete mountain road, walking upwards. On the left was a bubbling stream, half covered with bamboo plants while on the right stubble-covered paddy fields nestled against the road. Soon the paddy fields disappeared and there was only the road and the stream.
My stick tapped on the road as I walked rhythmically upwards, the concrete path speckled with brown leaves passed under my gaze and I achieved a meditative state in the late morning, not consciously thinking, not striving, just being. Shortly after that we reached the restaurant and I was driven to our room in Yangdong Village.
I rested and slept before Chris and David arrived and took a quick tour of the village with tour guide Bok Young Chul (BYC). It’s an incredible village. It was like a visit to the 18th century. I watched workers carrying huge bales of rice straw, which they used to thatch the roofs of houses. BYC said the thatch is replaced every year, but there are fewer and fewer people who remember how to do it. Two families dominated the village, which now has 150 houses and a population of 300 to 400 residents. He explained that the two families, the Son family and the Yie, in the past sometimes cooperated and sometimes conflicted. Now, he said, young people are leaving the village for jobs elsewhere. He showed me the oldest house of the Son family. It is called Seobaektang, which has in its garden a 600-year-old Chinese Juniper tree, planted when the house was built. He explained that the word Seobaektang means the need to write down every day 400 times the word patience.
After Chris and David arrived, back in our traditional house, I took a look at my feet and discovered that my toe nails of my big toes were turning blue and the toes were swollen. David suggested that the toes were probably repeatedly hitting the end of the shoes. The shoes were new and I concluded that they were probably too loose, allowing my feet to slip back and forth.
Chris suggested that we rest the next day and I concurred. I wanted to give my feet and legs a rest.
In the evening we discussed Wonhyo’s reputation as one who broke down barriers – barriers between groups and classes, and the internal barriers, barriers which prevented his enlightenment. I asked whether this first pilgrimage in Wonhyo’s honor was breaking down barriers.
David – paraphrasing someone he couldn’t remember – said, “Mind is the slayer of the real. May the disciple slay the slayer.” Buddha mind is awareness mind, he said. The thinking mind creates barriers. Wonhyo, he said, was talking about barriers that keep us from the truth – the truth of realizing who we are. David said that in his view, enlightenment is all about knowing people as they know themselves, which results in total acceptance of others, a kind of oneness.
David also said that getting to know Sangmin, a monk, on the pilgrimage, had broken down the barriers in his mind between monks and lay people. “I had never known a monk before,” he said. “I saw them as alien, lacking human qualities. Now that barrier is beginning to crumble.”
I said that for me barriers had already started to crumble on the pilgrimage because there were times when I was not consciously thinking, not striving, not trying, just being, just existing and feeling part of everything.
I asked Chris his view but there was no response. He was already sleeping. David joked that he had broken down the barriers between being awake and being asleep.