Sunday, June 19, 2005

Beaten by a Buddhist

I have a new found (and hard won) appreciation for Buddhist monks. It ain't all bowing and chanting, that's for sure.

We arrived at Golgulsa Temple just in time for the dinner ceremony (Balwoo gongyang). The ceremony was very detailed and involved so many steps, I was sure I was going to screw up and offend one of the monks I was eating with. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, each person is given a set of four bowls, all of which fit into one another like a set of Russian dolls. After unfolding a linen cloth and placing it front of you, you have to put the bowls in a square formation. The largest bowl is for seaweed soup and sits at the bottom right hand corner of the square. The next in size is for rice, then water, then kimchi. The monks came around and filled our water bowls with water (we indicated we had enough by twisting the bowl slightly in our hand) and then the next bowl with rice. We had to bring the bowl to our foreheads and bow and then we received two scoops of rice. After we served ourselves some kimchi and the monks said some prayers, we bowed and then began to eat in silence. We finished quickly and then continued with the ceremony of cleansing our bowls. We poured water from the water bowl into each bowl and then, with the one piece of kimchi we had kept (every other morsel of food had to be finished) we washed our bowls and rinsed them with the water. It was all very involved and needed to be done in specific steps. It was really interesting and at the end, all of the bowls were clean and I had eaten my first ceremonial meal.

After dinner we went up the hill to the temple platform for evening chants. We did 108 prostrations to the Buddha and tried to keep up with the monks. After chanting we started Sunmudo training. Sunmudo is a zen martial art which involves fighting, yoga-like postures and breathing meditation. It has been practiced at Golgulsa temple for at least 1,000 years and was used by monks fighting the Japanese invasion in the 16th century. I was put into positions I couldn't even have conceived of, let alone orchestrated, and stretched in every direction. The evening was beautiful and it was really amazing to be up on the side of the mountain practicing meditation with Buddhist Grand Masters. We were surprised that several of the monks in training were foreigners. One was from Norway and had been living at the Temple for just over a year and the other was from France. Because Brian and I can both understand French, some of the meditation and Sunmudo postures were taught to us by the French trainee. There we were, learning an ancient Korean art, in French. It was very cool.

Bedtime was at 9:30 and I had a really hard time getting to sleep...literally. Sleeping on the floor is not my thing. I've tried it and I recognize that it may be good for your back, but it hurts. I tossed and turned for most of the night but eventually fell asleep. Just in time to be woken up at 4:00 am for morning chants. We made our way up the steep mountain side for the 4:30 chants and were still half asleep when we started bowing. Bowing itself isn't hard, but doing it 50 times in a row at 4:30 in the morning with no food in your stomach is tiring. After chants we headed out to the platform, which overlooks the valley and temple grounds, for more meditation. It was really relaxing to be sitting there in the lotus position and to hear the birds singing in the trees. It was cool and the it smelled so fresh and clean. I was really enjoying it...until I got hit three times with a big bamboo stick.

The Sunmudo trainer came up behind me and hit me three times on the shoulder with a big piece of slitted bamboo. It scared me because I wasn't expecting it (why would I?) and it hurt. I can tell you, that for the rest of the meditation session I wasn't very relaxed...I just kept imagining hitting the monk with his damn bamboo. Maybe that was the learn to accept life's little injustices and not get too hung up on them. It didn't work. I was annoyed. After that, we did some walking meditation (if by meditation you mean imagining all sorts of creative punishments involving a piece of bamboo) and headed down the hill for some more Sunmudo training. This morning's training was ridiculously hard. We were supposed to "be like a tiger" and jump our way up the long and rocky temple stairs. Then were were supposed to walk, on all fours, back down the stairs...head first. It was nuts.

We had breakfast this morning after training (man, were we hungry) and then after a brief rest, we headed to a temple building to have tea (Dahdoh) with the Grand Master. The GM was really cute and actually reminded me of my friend John McCrank. It was funny to be sitting with my friend's Korean monk double! We sat with him for more than an hour and he served us green tea (prepared ceremoniously of course) and we had the opportunity to ask him questions. It was very interesting and a perfect ending to a great experience.

I am tired and incredibly sore but satisfied. I've been on this "pushing yourself to do difficult things" kick lately and I'm enjoying it. Doing a temple stay was a really amazing chance to step into another life, if only for a day.

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