Day 10: A Journey to Find Wisdom

Post 10, Dec. 13, 2011,

“Though diligent in practice, one who lacks wisdom is like one who travels west when he should go east.” Quote from Wonhyo. How do we obtain wisdom?

Today we split our forces. Chris and Rhea attempted to walk the 20 miles between Youngmun-sa temple and Gimyoung-sa temple, while I, suffering from a heel problem, took a taxi with the intention of walking out to meet them and returning with them.

We estimated it would take about eight hours of fast walking to get to Gimyoung-sa, something I couldn’t manage because of a pain in my heel which, despite the efforts of student monk Bo Seong sunim, who gave me an impromptu and bone-cracking foot massage the previous night, still hurt me.

As the taxi driver manoeuvred his vehicle down the winding mountain path from the temple and out into the countryside, I began to realize how much I enjoyed walking and how much I regretted I couldn’t walk down the mountain.

We passed a spectacular lake with an island in the middle, looking in the early morning light and mist like something from the legends of King Arthur, passed a broken-down little plaster and wood house with smoke streaming from its stove-pipe chimney and big bundles of rice straw tied up and leaning together in the frost-hoary fields. What a waste to go by car!

I remembered the conversation I had with David and Chris three nights ago. They believe that walking creates a high meditative state of mind, opening up spiritual possibilities. Both veterans of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain, they believe pilgrimages should be walked as much as possible.

I called Sangmin sunim on my cell phone and asked him if he could call ahead to the temple and let them know I was coming and ask them if we could stay there the night. He phoned back just as I was getting out of the taxi and said everything had been arranged. A beautiful little stream flowed by the spot where the taxi had let me out and I took a photograph of it before proceeding up the hill to the temple.

I felt as if I were approaching a walled medieval city in the quiet of the morning light, not knowing what I would find or what kind of welcome awaited me. A huge gate with a black tiled roof faced me while on either side of the gate stood a mud wall embedded with rocks with a foot-high black-tiled cap. To my left was a wall of massive interlocking stones like an Inca wall.

I saw two women high up by some buildings and one of them detached herself and headed towards me when she saw me. When she got close she smiled warmly and bowed and held her hands together in greeting. She beckoned to me to follow up and and I followed her to the room of a monk. They spoke for a long time together and then the monk turned to me and asked clearly in English if I were Buddhist and whether I would like to pay my respects to the Buddha.

I said yes and he took me to the meditation hall where a golden statue of the Buddha was flanked by two Bodhisattvas.  I bowed three times as I had been taught when I was a monk in Thailand. Then the monk, whose name was Jeoung Gwan sunim, went with me and the cleaning lady to show me a room. It was small and cosy but Jeoung Gwan sunim was not satisfied and the cleaning lady led us to another room, which was actually two adjoining rooms with a bathroom and shower and, even a bath tub. This was real luxury.

Alone in the room, I read a little of “Master Wonhyo, an Overview of his Life and Teachings” by Professor Jeong Byeong-Jo then  fell asleep. It was 12 pm when I woke up – lunch time – so I quickly left to find the eating hall and found the cleaning lady whom I first saw walking by door. She beckoned me to follow her and she led to me the eating hall. A group of five monks sat at one table eating in silence. At another table sat three cleaning ladies. At the table to which Jeoung Gwan sunim motioned me to sit there was one man dressed in grey, presumably not a monk.

I bowed my head and held my hands in prayer as is the monks’ custom and felt genuine gratitude for the soup, the rice, the sliced lotus root, the peanuts and black beans and the unknown green and yellow vegetables. I enjoyed eating the meal in silence.

I’m feeling more and more a sense of gratitude on the pilgrimage. Now I feel comfortable bowing in thanks: thanks for hot tea and the warmth of the floor, sunlight and the salty taste of soup, the smell of cooked rice and the crisp taste of apple and the warm smile of the cleaning lady

After lunch I rested and took photographs of the temple grounds. I was sitting by the stream outside the temple when Rhea called. “We’re on the temple grounds. Where are you?” she asked. I was shocked. I hadn’t expected them until 5 pm.

Rhea said they had walked down the mountain and along a two-lane road for about nine miles. They stopped at a gazebo for a break and then decided to head over the mountains rather than keeping on the road. They arrived at the base of the mountains and started up through the brush, slipping and sliding on dead leaves, until they came to a semblance of a trail that led to a path on a ridge.

“We were just about to turn when a monk appeared behind us. We asked him for Gimyoung-sa and he told us it was a long way but that we had to go back and turn right \when we saw a resting bench on the trail and go down the mountain. We did as he told us and headed down a rocky path and we finally came to a fairly large temple, Dae Seung sa.

“We considered trying to walk the remaining distance, but Chris said we had already walked 25 kilometres and we felt we couldn’t make it before nightfall. We talked to a taxi driver who was cleaning his cab, but he wouldn’t commit to take us to Gimyoung-sa temple. We were hungry and the taxi driver, and a delivery man, both told us to eat inside but the woman in charge of the food wouldn’t prepare any for us. Finally, the monk we met on the trail – the one who had given us directions – reappeared waving his car keys. He could take us, he said. Moreover, the cook took directions from the monk and prepared us food.”

At the temple Jeoung Gwan sunim asked the ladies to prepare lunch for the two of them and they did so gladly. Later Jeoung Gwan sunim invited the three of us to his room for tea and a discussion about the Dhamma. Rhea was tired and wanted to rest, but Chris and I joined him for what turned out to be a remarkable discussion.

Jeoung Gwan sunim had studied in Myanmar as well as Korea and spoke to us of the nine kinds of concentration and the five hindrances. He said he had found a wonderful teacher in Myanmar, Pa-auk sayado, and urged us to study with him if we had the opportunity. The five hindrances, he said, are: (1) Physical desire (2) ill will (3) sloth and topar (4) restlessness (5) doubt.

Jeoung Gwan sunim said the pathway to concentration is to focus on the breath. He said he had been taught by Pa-auk to focus on the breath entering and leaving the body at the tip of the nose. He said a beginning technique is to count breaths until you don’t need that technique any more. But he said that you cannot reach enlightenment only with concentration.

“Concentration gives you power but you cannot reach enlightenment without insight or wisdom,” he said. If you understand the three jewels, he said, you understand wisdom. The three jewels are suffering (dukkha), impermanence (anicca) and non-self (anata).

2 Responses to “Day 10: A Journey to Find Wisdom”
  1. Kevin Kim says:

    Interesting! You were a monk in Thailand? I’m sure you know of Robert Buswell, who started off as a monk in Thailand before switching to Mahayana and living at Songgwang-sa for five years. I wonder how similar (or different!) your paths have been.

    As always, I’m greatly enjoying the story of your travels. Thanks for doing this.

  2. chuti says:

    the heel that hurt is sample of the three jewels,,dukkha…,anicca…..,anata…,.acc to the Buddihst teaching…”” I LOVE YOU””………there’s no I, no LOVE..and no YOU.

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