Day 7: Cultivating the Mind and Dealing with Pain

Post 7, Saturday Dec. 10, 2011

Wonhyo encouraged people to be free of preconceptions. How can one be free of preconceptions? How do they hurt us?

David, the South African member of the Wonhyo Pilgrimage, had an opportunity to put into practice some of Wonhyo’s Buddhist philosophy on the afternoon of Saturday December 10 as he was finishing the day’s 40-kilometer walk in weather that hovered around 0 degrees Centigrade.

His body was fatigued and aching and his legs were giving him pain. “I experimented in perceiving pain as an object, not as me or mine, and it helped a lot. I was able to manage the pain,” he said. He had read that Wonhyo taught that by cultivating the mind and overcoming ignorance, enlightenment would reveal itself. Perhaps with Wonhyo’s oneness of mind approach, he reflected, the limitations of the material body could be transcended.

We started off the day with breakfast in the 7/11 near the sauna/hotel where we spent the night in Cheongsong town. I drank a pint of milk and ate a banana that David gave me. Rhea had to leave us for a day because of a previous commitment the others – me, Chris, David and Sangmin sunim – set off into the crisp morning air of the quiet town. It was 1 degree Celcius.

We walked along the side of a two-lane road. Traffic was infrequent and not fast. To the right us was a rambling cliff covered with grey tree trunks and brown leaves. On the left was a slow-moving river about 100 yards across. A squadron of brown ducks flew just above the river, their squawking floating up to us.

It was an uneventful morning and we made good time, ending up in a quiet restaurant in the little town of Jinbo for lunch. The others chose tofu soup but I opted for kimbap, rice wrapped in sheets of green seaweed with vegetables, tuna and friend eggs inside. The outside is of the kimbap roll dusted with sesame seeds, and is served with side dishes of yellow pickled radishes and kimchi.

Over our lunch talk we decided to do something we hadn’t done before. We had noticed the workshop of a famous Korean potter on the way in and Sangmin sunim decided to visit him while David and Chris pushed on to Yeongyang.

Chris also had some thoughts on that tough last stretch to Yeongyang. “A lot of people might think this is a crazy idea – covering long distances in this kind of cold weather – but it’s actually a wonderful opportunity to experiment with mind and body concepts – Wonhyo’s idea of non-hindrance for instance and the concept of detachment.”

He said that for him the Wonhyo pilgrimage is like a metaphor for life. “At times it’s difficult and you want to throw in the towel. On the last stretch, the traffic whizzing by was really uncomfortable, but soon we managed to turn off onto a secondary road, which passed through an amazing valley – something we would have missed if we hadn’t walked that last stretch.”

The name of the famous potter that Sangmin sunim and I visted was Lee mu nam and he has been designated cultural asset number 25 by the province of Gyeong Sang Buk do.

Mr. Lee, 72, greeted us warmly at the door of his modest home, his brown face topped by dark hair speckled with grey, showing a keen interest in his two visitors. His house is surrounded by hundreds of pots and sculptures. He started making pots when he was 18 in 1957, learning from his father. He moved to Cheongsong town in 1959 because of the high-quality clay found in the area.

Over the years he earned a high reputation and appeared in many newspapers and magazines and on television. He was designated an intangible cultural asset in 1997. There is little he hasn’t tried in ceramics and his display rooms and areas outside his house prove it: Picasso-looking sculptures with big breasts and stomachs, long-toothed alien-looking creatures with long necks, abstract vases with distorted faces, twisted jars with remnants of faces – all demand attention.

What would Wonhyo thought of Mr. Lee’s eclectic collection? I think he would have enjoyed them despite the cultural gulf between 7th Century Korea and modern Korea. I think he would have appreciated them because he had an open mind and had done away with preconceptions. Without preconceptions of beauty and ugliness, Mr. Lee’s work could be fascinating.

Chris believes Wonhyo’s teachings on preconceptions are right on the button. “Preconceptions are dangerous,” he said, “because they’re often based on wrong information.

I agree with Chris. How rich and interesting the world can be if you approach it with an open mind without pre-judgements.

3 Responses to “Day 7: Cultivating the Mind and Dealing with Pain”
  1. Kevin Kim says:

    Mr. Lee’s place sounds amazing. I’ll have to visit it whenever I’m back in Korea.

    Today, your post mentioned traffic. How has the traffic been, all in all? Is there enough of a margin for people to walk safely (especially along winding mountain roads)? Are there any legal issues to consider re: whether one is allowed to walk along certain roads? I was unable to walk the freeways in Washington State, but once I was in Oregon, the freeways were legally walkable. Despite their noise, the freeways had wide shoulders that made walking a lot safer than it had been on those narrow mountain roads. I also had some scary moment crossing bridges, some of which had almost no shoulder space for a pedestrian. How have bridge-crossings been for your group?

    Good luck as you face winter temperatures! May your footwear never fail you!

  2. elusiveworld says:

    Looking like Jack Frost has arrived. Lovely crisp weather has put a lightness in your heels.

  3. chuti says:

    always encourage all of you along the way………I often try to separate mind n body when in pain acc to forest buddhist way works but depend on how strong of meditation practice experienced..for me not much …i do need a lots more meditation.

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