[ 한국말 아래 ]
This is a group photo from my first post-ordination Dong-ango Winter Kyol Che retreat, at Shin Won Sah Temple, in the Kyeryeong Sahn mountains of South Korea.
I had already sat one Kyol Che at Shin Won Sah previous to this one, in the winter of ‘90/‘91, taking a one year hiatus from Divinity school expressly for that purpose. That retreat gave the first taste of the possibility of monastic life, and inspired me to strive to ordain as a monk after completing studies. Without this long-term tasting of hard practice (yeah, I really aspired to that excess at the time), I doubt there would have been the confidence to sustain a jump into the unknown of monastic life in Asia.
So, for this reason and many others too innumerable to contemplate, I am so forever grateful to this temple for this opportunity to sit there during an absolutely crucial period of my life. (Of course, that goes without saying that there was gratitude to such a one as Dae Soen Sa Nim for opening up this opportunity to people like me, to the lay supporters and the teacher-in-residence at the time, Mu Seung Sunim, later Su Bong Soen Sa).
And, despite the smile in the picture, it was a bitter, brutal alchemy that needed to be passed through. I saw real heaven and hell there – – for the very first time, I tasted the true infinite bliss-state heaven of before-thinking not-moving mind (flickering glimpses only, at first), and the true bottomless-pit brackish rank-stench hell-states of unexamined Karma. Of the latter, it was an accustomed sight since childhood, living in these lost and alienated mental states and naturally taking them to be “reality“. But the unvarying regularity of the daily schedule and the absolute silence-practicing were essential to really getting deeper insight into the nature of mind. Except for these very rare visits of lay supporters from the head temple in Seoul, Hwa Gye Sah, we were left by ourselves in the mountains. We were basically locked into this poor temple in the last pre-internet days, with very little heating and washing ourselves in a freezing cinderblock-and-corrugated-roof-shed shower room with just two spigots to wash from and an allowance of two bowls of heated water per day to use for face washing, foot washing, etc. The full-body shower was permitted once per week, when your gender went in at scheduled intervals and shared a large tub of hot water which had been heated just for that day. You soaped up standing naked in the freezing air of the shed, and doused yourself with large ladles of steaming water. This was not done intentionally, for some extremist trial, but because this temple was just so darn poor, and its local supporters were humble family-farmers who themselves struggled to put food in their families’ mouths. It was a supremely humbling experience, and so you were forced to make every hour, every minute “count“.
In this photo, I am standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the great Nissim Amon, who is now a very prominent Zen teacher in Israel and around the world.
At least five of my co-retreatants in this photo are now dead, possibly six. At least three of the visiting laypeople arranged behind us are also dead.
“In the Great Work of Life and Death, time will not wait for you. When you die, what kind of body will you get? Isn’t this matter of utmost importance? Hurry up! Hurry!”
승려로서 첫 동안거, 계룡산 신원사, 겨울 1992/‘93