Day 11: Taking Care of the Body in Suanbo
Post 11, Dec. 14, 2011
“Who would not wish to dwell in the mountains and cultivate the mind? And yet you cannot do so, because you are enslaved to desire.” Quote from Wonhyo’s work. What keeps us from cultivating the mind?
I woke up at 4 am to the piercing/empty tapping sound of a moukta calling the monks to a chanting session in the meditation hall. I had attended a chanting session the afternoon before and I decided to pass.
The afternoon chanting consisted of both chanting and prostrations. Prostrations are a feature of Korean Buddhism. The people in the temples – monks and lay people – do it a lot in daily life and since I have been spending a lot of time in temples during the pilgrimage, I have started the practice.
I have found it a good practice, especially when you don’t speak Korean, as I don’t. Bowing the head in thanks and gratitude is the highest form of body language, the most eloquent way of saying thank you, more powerful than the actual words. Bowing and letting people know their efforts and actions are appreciated is a door that opens hearts and breaks down barriers, something Wonhyo would have approved of. During meditation sessions, it is also a good form of physical exercise.
Breakfast was at 6:30 am and the three of us – me Rhea and Chris – arrived a little early and accidently got in line before the monks, a mistake in Gimyoung-sa temple. Each temple has slightly different rules. Our breakfast consisted of rice, kimchi, soup with a kind of fine grain, apples, tea and ginseng drink.
Before leaving we had another conversation with Jeoung Gwan sunim. Both Chris and I had enjoyed his Dhamma talk and had more questions to ask him about the attainment of wisdom. He said understanding change is an important part of attaining wisdom and to understand change we should observe the physical. “The weather changes,” he said. “This table in front of me will eventually rot. In the future it will revert to its elements. Nothing is permanent, including relationships. We have to die and leave behind friends and loved ones. If we attach- think this is mine – we suffer. The body also changes and dies. It is inevitable. We can’t exist for a long time even if we want to.”
After leaving Jeoung Gwan sunim’s room, Chris said that if he had the opportunity he would join the monk and live and study at Gimyoung-sa temple, perhaps indicating the truth of Wonhyo’s observation about dwelling in the mountains and cultivating the mind.
Jeoung Gwan sunim called for a taxi for us since we needed a lift to get on get on our route to Suanbo, a town famous for its hot springs. In Swanbo lives my friend Nuri Tzoweh, a 68-year-old Korean Canadian who spent over 20 years in Prince George, British Columbia, where I had lived for seven years.
After a long conversation with Jeoung Gwan sunim, the taxi driver agreed to take us to the entrance of Mungyeongsaejae Provincial Park. The park didn’t show clearly on our GPS map and we weren’t sure whether we would end up on some unpassable mountain, but he insisted and spoke with great conviction and emotion.
After we arrived at the entrance of the park at a straggly village of restaurants and convenience stores, the driver called out to a husband/wife team dressed in hiking gear about to enter the park and asked them about Suanbo. “Yes, yes, the couple nodded in agreement and pointed to the entrance of the park, “Suanbo, Suanbo.” Even though our GPS map didn’t show a clear trail to Suanbo, we decided to take a chance.
We bought some coffee and snacks at a convenience store and headed into the park. We had made a good choice – or perhaps the taxi driver had. The park was a pleasure to the eyes with a rocky river running on the left of us, the mountains in the distance and the blue sky in the background. It was cool, invigorating day, cold enough to make you want to walk, but not so cold that you wanted to avoid the outdoors.
After we entered the park, we saw a few hundred yards away a massive ancient gate and a wall sitting in front of us. The park is situated on an ancient transportation route, important even in the 7th Century when Wonhyo and his friend Uisang made their historic journey across the Korean Peninsula, a journey that ended with Wonhyo’s enlightenment.
Wonhyo lived during the era of the Three Kingdoms of Korea (18 BC to 935 AD) when the three states were clashing and vying for dominance. The first gate is called Juheul-gwan, the second Jodong-mun and the third Joryeong-gwan. In later years this crucial area became the scene of battles between Korean soldiers and invading Japanese armies.
Other hikers were very friendly towards us, some of them shaking our hands and welcoming us, others smiling and waving. On this pilgrimage I am reading for pleasure “Hamel’s Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea, 1663 to 1666.” Hamel, a Dutch sailor who was shipwrecked in Korea on the 16 August 1653, kept a journal of his observations of Korea and Koreans, the first recorded description by a European of Korea.
In that journal Hamel records his impressions of the hospitality of Koreans. He said of his guardian after he and his shipwrecked mates were taken into custody, “Also, he sometimes organized feasts and other entertainment to dispel our sadness. Every day he encouraged us, telling us we would be sent to Japan once the answer from the king arrived. He also ordered our sick to be given treatment. Thus we were taken care of by a heathen in a way that would put many a Christian to shame.”
I suspect Koreans’ generosity and hospitality has not changed changed a great deal over the centuries, something which would have pleased Wonhyo who saw compassion as an inevitable result of spiritual awakening.
I had a long conversation with a young Korean woman, Ellie, on the trail. She had recently been to Australia to visit her boyfriend in Perth and told me of her impressions of Perth and their plans for the future. We passed a restaurant in the mountains from which came lilting modern music. Later we heard haunting traditional music, a woman singing, but couldn’t figure out where it came from.
At the last gate, Joryeong-gwan, I met Chris and introduced him to Ellie. She exchanged phone numbers and email addresses with us.
Chris and Rhea decided to walk into Suanbo while I, with a heavier backpack and a painful left heel, decided to ask Nuri to pick me up. He did so about 45 minutes later. I hadn’t seen Nuri for about a year and we had a lot of catching up to do. Nuri, a 68-year-old Korean-Canadian, had helped me settle in Korea when I arrived for a three-year work stint in March of 2005, and we had become good friends.
I was eager to get into Suanbo’s famous hot springs but we caught up while waiting in a restaurant for Chris and Rhea to arrive. I also asked him about the general impression Koreans have of Wonhyo. Nuri who was raised a Roman Catholic, said almost all Koreans respect and admire him no matter what their religious background. “Koreans revere him as a great monk. He was a legendary person,” he said.
Later we drove to a nearby temple built on a historical site Mireuk-ri Jungwon. We asked the kindly abbotess there if we could stay the night. She would have liked us to stay but had no facilities so we returned to Suanbo and finally rested our bodies in the hot waters of the Hi Spa baths. It was wonderful to feel the aches and pains of the day’s walk fade away.
I thought about what keeps us from cultivating the mind and concluded that it is the refusal to let go of pleasurable things that keeps us from real happiness based on spiritual truths.