Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Zen is very simple...What are you?

Meditation room at Hwagyesa
Last weekend I experienced the esoteric Zen Buddhist tradition of Kyol Che at Hwagyesa temple. This literally means 'Tight Dharma' and refers to a 90-day summer and winter meditation retreat when monks spend the majority of each day meditating. It is a very intensive retreat focused on meditation, chanting and bowing. Following the Kyol Che daily schedule we woke at 3:00 A.M. and started the day with 108 bows, chanting, meditation and breakfast. The rest of the day included several more hours of meditation, yoga, lunch, dinner and evening chanting and bed by 9:30 P.M. Over the course of two days I meditated for a total of 14 hours! Breathe in...What am I? Breathe out...Don't know. Zen meditation teaches to continually keep this don't-know mind. When eating, just eat; when teaching, just teach; when driving, just drive. It was a very new experience to have such intense, disciplined introspection. When I thought about long periods of meditation before this weekend I had imagined a rather undeviating experience of sitting and merely clearing your mind. The rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions I actually experienced was very far from that preconceived idea:

What am I? ...Don't Know. What am I?...Don't know. AHH! I fell asleep for 2 seconds and was dreaming! I was climbing up a stairwell in a prison and reached a ladder to the outside world but gravity no longer existed... Seriously, I need to wake up! I will NOT start snoring in front of monks trying to meditate! ... I wonder what my new schedule at work will be like? What should I do with my kindergarten class for Christmas? Okay, okay, stop thinking!!! What am I?....Don't know. What am I? ...Don't know....okay this is better and then several hours later... What am I? ... I don't know, but my right leg may need to be amputated from sitting in half-lotus position for two days!! How can these monks take it for 90 days??

Meditation is definitely something that takes dedication and practice and I realize it will not be perfected on a simple weekend retreat. Overall, this was a wonderful experience where the peaceful moments far outnumbered the excruciating ones; I would definitely recommend a weekend temple stay to anyone in Korea. I met the sweetest old Korean lady doing the entire 90-days and a young girl who was doing a few weeks and am looking forward to seeing them both again. As an added bonus, the temple food was delicious and meat free-- quite a rarity in Korea!

I woke at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and was surprised to see the first snow of the year!

Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said,
"The flag moves." The other said, "The wind moves." They argued back and forth
but could not agree. Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch, said: "Gentlemen! It is not
the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves."

-Zen Kongan