Friday, June 02, 2006

3,000 bows

Early Saturday evening I somehow found myself walking sans umbrella through light rain and rumbling thunder on the road to Hwagyesa. I was sitting on the steps out front when Bo Haeng Sunim drove up and asked me what I was doing here. I said truthfully, "I don't know."

"Good Answer," he replied, "Take your backpack to room 1-3. Be upstairs for 6:00."

By chance, I happened upon the last Saturday of the month, the day of every month when 3,000 bows are done from 9:00 pm- 3:30 am. I didn't realize this until Bo Haeng Sunim mentioned it, once I arrived I assumed I would do meditation, chanting and bowing on the regular Kyol Che schedule. Nothing crazy like 3,000 bows without any mental preparation.

At 6:00 I went upstairs for chanting and then at 7:00 for one hour of sitting. The hour felt like two and at the end I thought I was going to fall asleep. I had an hour before bowing to rest but I couldn't sleep so I layed down and wondered if I shouldn't just stay in my room.

Of course, I didn't. What follows is my (perhaps overly dramatic) experience of 3,000 bows.

Around 100 people came to the temple for bowing that night. We were in the main Buddha hall on the 3rd floor of the temple. A monk at the front keeps count by hitting a stick before each bow. Kwan Seum Bosal is continually being chanted. The 6 1/2 hours is split into 6 sessions with short breaks in between and a 30 minute break at the halfway point.

8 bows- I lost count of bows. Everything hereafter is an estimate.

20 bows- This isn't so bad.

180 bows- I look at the clock for the first time and think the glowing red 9:17 must be a joke. I was expecting it to be closer to 9:40.

300 bows- The robe and pants I was given to wear are hot and slightly itchy. I look around jealously at everyone in a T-shirt. Sweat is starting to bead up and roll down my neck and forehead. Some hot drops fall with me as I bow down and I watch them soak into the pink cushion. They also go into my eyes, salty and burning, making my vision a blur. A drop is perched atop my nose, teasing me for several bows until it falls to it's death. I wipe my forehead and after the next bow leave four fingerprints behind. Why didn't I bring my water bottle?

400 bows- I'm right next to a door and I want to kiss the woman who finally opens it to let in a breeze. The rain is still falling lightly and lightening flashes intermittently bringing me back to the moment.

Lots of thinking during the first period. What am I doing on Sunday night? What am I doing on Election Day Wednesday? What do I need to do before my friend arrives on Wednesday from Kansas? What am I doing after I leave Korea? Do I need a visa for Malaysia? My Lonely Planet Malaysia will be here next week! I have to start researching. I only have 3 months left before I leave! I can't believe how fast it has gone. That means only 13 more weekends! Holy shit, most of them are going to be out-of-town, that means only a couple more weekends in Seoul! What should I do on my week vacation in August? Jeju-do maybe... And on and on and on... Incessant interlinking thoughts, many that aren't fit for a temple or this blog.

700 bows- I notice a small blister on my left middle finger from pushing off the wood floor as I stand up.

800 bows- My legs have become as sturdy as ramyeon. Which, by the way, sounds delicious since I didn't eat dinner tonight.

900 bows- The blister breaks open. I try to start bowing without using my hands for support, which is how I should have been doing it from the start.

1500 bows- I close my eyes for the first time and start chanting Kwan Seum Bosal. My thinking has slowed down considerably and I forget about my legs hurting.

At the halfway point we get a 30 minute break. Someone brings rice cakes in (the red bean kind that misleadingly look like brownies) and there is a huge container of some sort of sweet tea that everyone drinks out of bowls. I walk downstairs to my room and my legs are involuntarily shaking. At 12:30 am we start up again.

Somewhere during the last three periods I started to have what I would call auditory hallucinations-- The chant "Kwan Seum Bosal" morphed into something about time (endless time, pointless time?) for about 30 minutes and then something with "cross skull" in it. If I focused on it, I could bring Kwan Seum Bosal back, but I didn't really care either way by that point. My thinking had dramatically slowed down during the last half. In order to finish I had to exert all my energy towards the bows with hardly anything left for any thinking.

3000 bows- The three clacks at almost 3:30 am signaled the end. I hobbled down the stairs and to my room to crash.

Sunday I could hardly walk. At one point while I was sleeping Sunday night I woke up and it took me a complete minute to turn over to my stomach. Reasons and reflections on 3,000 bows will come later. No time now. I'm going to Soraksan tonight after class with Barb, who came all the way from Kansas to see me!