Day 8: A Feast on the Side of the Road

Post 8, Dec. 11, 2011-12-11

Can pain be used as a tool to develop spiritual insight?

We arrived in the little town of Nam Myon Lee about 1:45 pm hungry and tired with a steep mountain climb ahead of us. We needed a restaurant badly for food and warmth but there was none in the little town. Even the town store was closed.

Sangmin sunim, the only native Korean-speaker amongst the four of us, called the number listed on the store but there was no answer. He then asked somebody in a nearby house and was told the store owner had gone to church.

There was nothing for it but to make ourselves as comfortable as possible and share our snacks. We sat in a line on a wall opposite the store in the 0 degree Celsius weather and divided up our three apples and some chocopie cakes.

I had just finished my first chocopie when I noticed a middle-aged woman with a child on her back coming down the hill. She spoke to Sangmin sunim and then disappeared. A short time later she reappeared carrying a small camping gas stove and put it on the ground in plastic green house behind us. Then she disappeared and came back carrying some bags of instant noodles and noodle sticks.

Sangmin sunim began heating water and putting in the noodles when another woman appeared with some kimchi and tofu stew. In less than 10 minutes the green house heated up from the cooking stove and the smell of rameon noodles and tofu stew filled our nostrils.

So the four of us – me, David, Chris and Sangmin sunim – sat in the warm greenhouse listening to the flapping plastic sheet and rustle of wind through the dried corn plants and enjoyed our delicious meal in deep gratitude.

Sangmin took the stove and pot back and we asked if we could pay but she shook his head. Then we headed up the mountain.

We had left Muryang sa temple in Yeongyang after a night of sleeping on the floor of the meditation room, the light from a white Buddha shining down on us. The kindly abbot of the temple, Ji un, provided the three of us with a warm meal and joined us in conversation. She didn’t speak English but Sangmin sunim translated for us.

She was an admirer of Wonhyo and thought our pilgrimage was a wonderful idea. Even though her temple was not set up for visitors, she let us stay in the meditation room and use the shower. In the morning she gave us a traditional Korean breakfast including soup and kimchi. Then she gave each of us a present of prayer beads from Myanmar made of Juniper wood and $10 each to support the pilgrimage, declining any donations from us. Then she drove us outside of town after first checking with a taxi stand to try to find a walking stick I had lost. She let us off on a winding two-lane highway beside a river. Ice had formed amongst the rocks along the edges of the river.

We made good time on the two-lane highway that meandered through the mountains. Koreans, because their country is a mass of small, rounded mountains, make use of every square yard of flat land and the area around the highway was no exception. Tiny rice paddies and cabbage fields clung to the sides of the highway as we pushed on to our destination, Cheongryang-sa temple in Cheongryang-san Park.

I was getting deeply tired and my left heel was bothering me as we walked past some construction equipment on the road through the park up to the temple. Chris and David had gotten ahead of Sangmin and me when I thought I heard singing.

“What’s that?” I asked Sangmin.

“It’s chanting,” he replied. “We’re near the temple.”

I was relieved.

We had to climb up a steep path to get to the temple, but the path provided a fantastic view and soon we caught a glimpse of the temple perched on the side of the mountain like an ancient Tibetan monastery. Because Sangmin had called ahead the temple was prepared for us. We were greeted by a grey-clothed nun and while Sangmin donned his monk’s robe and paid his respects to the Abott, she showed us our room and the toilets etc. The temple runs a temple-stay program so visitors are expected and the temple is organized to handle them.

The nun invited us to tea after dinner and we tasted some delicious and expensive Chinese tea, along with some sweet cookies and cakes. The nun also treated my heel with suction cups.

David went to the meditation room after tea and wrote the following poem.

“How long has it been since I was able to sit –

Right here, right now

With absolute trust

No need to think of this or that”

On the question of using pain for spiritual development, we discussed the Buddha’s Middle Way approach of not indulging the body, nor denying its essential needs.

One Response to “Day 8: A Feast on the Side of the Road”
  1. Kevin Kim says:

    It seems that Sister Pain (as Saint Francis would have called her) is going to be a constant companion on this trip. May she– like your walking stick!– teach you much about mindfulness, commitment, and all the rest.

    Question: Buddhism espouses a doctrine of anatman/anatta/mu-a (무아, 無我), or “no-self,” so what justification is there for continuing to use subject pronouns like “I”? I’ve heard and read answers to this question, but I also wonder what you and your group think.

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