Musangsa Temple, Day #1, South Korea.
Buddhist meditation: Becoming Nothingness.
The mind must be a clean slate, an empty cup.
Blank mind, empty cup. Yes, I could feel it…the Zen was sinking into me.
Listen to the sound of your breath.
I could hear it alright- deep, tranquil, low…
Lose attachment to all sound and body.
Definitely losing it. Walls were losing focus, limbs had gone beyond numb. Outside, the birds, wind, trees, the sound of my neighbors’ fidgeting,… it all passed through my ears, falling right through me.
This wasn’t my first meditation retreat, but it was my first Templestay. Yet sitting in my buddhist temple robe facing the faceless eternity of a non-descript wall, it was hard to concentrate on staying awake. The crashing fatigue of my work week was a vicious physical barrier to push aside. The heaviness of breath weighed into me, sending me into downward spirals.
…Ahhh, the nirvana of sleep.
Check-in time at Mung San Sa International Zen Buddhist temple in Daejeon was 12P. Upon arrival with other other interested templestay folk, we were taken to our rooms to drop our bags and then shuffled upstairs for a robe fitting.
Fitting A Monk’s Robes
Fitting into a monk’s robe is like trying to wear a potato sack. A kinda one-size fits all.
The colors for winter, spring and fall?
Dharma talk is in English, but it might as well be spoken in Korean, Chinese or Russian… Being this is an international temple, monks here are all English speakers, but count on Zen Buddhists to answer your questions with a questions. Lest to say, walked away with more questions and a cup half full…
Next on the list went something like this– bowing practice, meditation, eating and chanting.
The meditation room is warm and filled with simple cushions to sit on. A peaceful golden Buddha sits in the middle of the room, mediating between men and women. When it’s time to meditate, we must turn to face the wall to remove all distractions, leaving us alone to corrals our thoughts. A neighbors fidgeting, the pain in your leg as it falls asleep… of all of them, the worst enemy of meditation is sleepiness !
The Lithuanian makes his rounds to check in on us as we sit. He carries a long paddle stick which is to help alert you if you’re falling asleep. It can be your best friend when you’re sleepy. I ask for the paddle a few times. To wake up.
Walking meditations are easier to find forgetfulness in. We walk in procession hurriedly, following the person in front of us. Like swishing car windshield wipers, they help me focus on detachment. I see my thoughts as precipitation that momentarily appears to obscure my vision. Swish swish swish. My thoughts enter and I must leave them like the steps behind me.
Temple Dining 101: the Monk’s diet
Eating at the temple dining hall, it was my first entirely vegan buffet in Korea!
My impulse was to load my plate to try everything.
I wasn’t hungry per se. As a vegetarian, I had merely accumulated close to a year’s worth of mental deprivation regarding food. My mind’s appetite was monsterous!
Temple dining has a golden rule: Everything you take into your bowl must be eaten.
Panic ensued. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared to eat all I’d taken. I was the last person and everyone had practically licked their bowl clean. Worse yet, there were things on my plate I knew I definitely didn’t like.
Hold breath and swallow?
Hold the food in my mouth, then run to the bathroom to spit it out?
Too obvious; not to mention I’d be suited with a potential eating disorder.
Fortunately, Wendy, a bright and beautiful Texan, bailed me out.
“I’ll take it“, she said.
Lesson learned– take only what you can eat -OR- take less than you can eat and go back for seconds.
My plate on the second day.
More asking for the paddle to keep myself awake. Wow, this Zen meditation was feeling hard. I’m used to meditations where they play lovely, new age music in the background, you focus on a point of light or God… something.
In Zen meditation practice– once you empty your mind, there’s nothing left to cling to to keep you from falling asleep!
Chanting isn’t singing. One of the Buddhist precepts is they cannot sing songs. Well, a chant isn’t considered neither a song, nor singing. For me, though it was really just a humiliating speed mumble, where I stumbled and bumbled my way through word sounds, feeling like I had marbles in my mouth. I was reading foreign pages of Buddhist scripture for the very first time, there was no rise or fall of pitches and it was not easy.
Ultimately, it’s the little phrases that are lightly sing-songy, such as when the same word or ones of similar sound are repeated over and over and over, which are the most enjoyable to chant.
We retire to our rooms. A long day.
Girl’s sleeping quarters- 6 ppl/room (those thin mattresses are our beds)
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