Day 13: Cold Walk, Sharp Mind on the Road to Magok-sa

Post 13, Dec. 13, 2011

“Wisdom and Practice are like the two wheels of a cart. To benefit oneself and benefit others – these are like the two wings of a bird.” From Wonhyo’s work. Is it more important to benefit others rather than oneself?

In the morning after breakfast at 6.00 am the abbot invited us – me, Chris, Rhea and Sangmin sunim – to a tea ceremony and we jumped at the chance.

We had enjoyed the tea and conversation immensely at the tea ceremony the night before. When we entered the tea room the abbot was seated behind a low table. In front of him was a deep, grey ceramic bowl about 15 inches in diameter filled with clear water. In the water submerged just beneath the surface was a huge lotus flower that just about filled the bowl.

“Why do Buddhists have such a fascination with the lotus plant. What does it mean? What does it symbolize?” I asked the abbot. My words were translated by Sangmin sunim.

“The lotus is like Buddha nature,” the abbot replied through Sangmin. “It can live in muddy water but it is always clean and pure. Water just runs off of it.”

He ladled the lotus tea into our cups and continued smiling and talking. “Drink tea without thinking,” he said through Sangmin. “Just drink without worry or anxiety. Feel and taste it.”

We had gotten up early and I had given Chris a book I had taken with me on the pilgrimage. I had noticed that he had been reading it frequently and he said the poems really resonated with him. It was entitled “”One Robe, one Bowl”, a book of poems written by the famous Japanese writer Ryokan, an 18th century Japanese Zen monk, known as Daigu or Great Fool.

The abbot gave us a donation of 200,000 (about $200) won before we left. We were shocked. We had been expecting to pay for the night.

After we packed and began moving through the courtyard, I threw a coin into the wishing well. It bounced on the ice and landed beside the well. It was several degrees below zero,  invigorating weather for walking. We strode down the hill from the temple and were soon walking on the side of a two-lane road. On the right were grey fields of dry hay and bulrushes. On the left was a mountain side, covered with brown leaves and grey trees.

Soon we were walking through a road construction area. Chris said he knew the way because he had come the opposite direction the night before. A guard shouted at us to get on the road. But the road had no shoulder to walk on and traffic was moving fast. Sangmin sunim argued with him. I couldn’t understand what they said, but the guard suddenly slammed his window shut. Sangmin said the guard had said he wouldn’t be responsible if we were hurt.

We walked through that road construction zone and found ourselves in an even larger construction zone. They were building a huge cluster of high-rise apartments, 30-stories high and higher. There were no restaurants and no taxis, just traffic and construction machinery. We couldn’t get out of the area. Finally Sangmin sunim asked some men in a guard cubicle to call a taxi for us.

The helpful taxi driver suggested where we should get out and begin walking to our next temple, Magok-sa, a large ancient temple with many monks and a temple-stay program. Sangmin sunim called ahead and said the temple had space for us. The taxi driver gave us a bag of biscuits before we left.

Before heading out on the road, we looked for a restaurant and found a tiny mandu (dumpling) shop. It was more of a stall than a shop and the middle-aged lady bustled around us, delighted to have us. She served some warm white buns filled with red and black beans. I also ordered kimchi mandu, which were delicious (machisayo). The lady served us complimentary ginger tea and almonds.

We had a brief discussion about, rational/logical mind and intuitive mind. I believe the intuitive mind is superior in decision-making to the rational/logical mind and that Wonhyo’s enlightenment was based on intuition, not logic or rationality.

Chris suddenly realized he had left his gloves in the taxi. Fortunately, Sangmin sunim had the taxi driver’s card and was able to call him back. The smiling taxi driver appeared with the gloves.

Then it was off for a 20-kilometre walk, beginning with a long bridge and then through a long tunnel – the first tunnel we had walked through – and finally staggered into a little town called Hogelee, and entered a run-down little tea shop called Temple Valley.

It had a big wood stove in the middle of the room. On one table three old men sat talking. Chris said it reminded him of the cafes in Mongolia. The middle-aged waitress sat with us and chatted for a while. She had a sister in Los Angeles, near where Chris lives and was very proud of her little town, pointing out that a famous baseball player was born there as well as a famous painter and other people I didn’t know.

It was snowing when we set off for the last nine kilometres to Magok-sa. We were tired by the time we arrived at a little restaurant at the base of the mountain where Magok-sa is located. Sangmin sunim fell asleep while we were waiting for our food, bibambop (rice and vegetables) and bean paste soup.

When we arrived at the temple, we were quickly ushered to two warm, cosy rooms, where we rested and started talking about Wonhyo and the question of the day.

Chris said all religions teach helping others and that he gets more satisfaction out of helping others than helping himself. “But you shouldn’t neglect yourself. Just don’t become obsessed with helping yourself at the expense of others.”

I think you need to concentrate on both – helping yourself and helping others. The big question in my mind is how to develop motivation to help others and yourself.

6 Responses to “Day 13: Cold Walk, Sharp Mind on the Road to Magok-sa”
  1. Kevin Kim says:

    “The abbot gave us a donation of 200,000 (about $200) won before we left. We were shocked. We had been expecting to pay for the night.

    After we packed and began moving through the courtyard, I threw a coin into the wishing well. It bounced on the ice and landed beside the well.”

    It seems almost as if the world is trying to tell you something about offering money!

    Regarding this:

    “The big question in my mind is how to develop motivation to help others and yourself.”

    One Zen teacher I know, a member of Seung Sahn’s Kwaneum School, would likely say that, because mindfulness and compassion are two sides of the same coin, one’s compassion arises automatically with one’s practice of mindfulness. Like a lotus flower opening itself to the world and revealing its beauty — in which the beauty is inseparable from the act of opening — the motivation to help oneself and others is inseparable from one’s practice, whether that practice involves walking or discussing or reading or sitting or chanting… or even picking one’s nose. (Preferably, one’s own nose!)

  2. Vanessa says:

    “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves.”
    As an old Chinese saying goes ” Help others, Help urself”

  3. steppeandsky says:

    Thanks for those comments Kevin. Full of insight. Yes, it’s true that mindfulness and compassion seem to be intricately linked somehow. I look forward to reading your blog with great interest once the pilgrimage is finished tomorrow. Thanks again. Tony

  4. chuti says:

    I do agree to helping people..but all of airline cabin crew ,they are taught to wear the oxygen mark first before helping passengers n parents have to put on their own masks first before helping their own children…to help oneself and others…..benefit oneself and others…
    Buddhist teaching says something like….. at the end, even the goodness, we have to let go too, relinquish all kind of be neutral be independent to go through nirvana..
    I do like Kevin comment very much too.I like his sense of humor..always make me smile at the end…thank you Kevin and all of you.

    • Tony Mac says:

      Hi Chuti. The cabin crew metaphor is a good one. The same holds true for firemen. They have to put on their own oxygen mass before trying to help others, otherwise both they and the person they are trying to help will perish. Even in a monestery you can show loving-kindness to others but if your mind is not at peace and mindful, how can you show good will to others?

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