Other than having a chance to learn about and drink some of the world’s best teas, what I really enjoy about going to Kkik Da Geo (Go Drink Tea), my favorite tea house, are the people I meet there. The owners are from a small country town outside of JeonJu. They lived in Taiwan for 10 years while the husband studied for his masters in Chinese calligraphy and they discovered Chinese tea. He usually wears “gyeryang” hanbok, a modernized traditional outfit, he keeps his hair white, slightly long, like what might have been in style in Korea in the 70’s. The usual customers are professors, artists, and monks. One man who usually stops in is an government employed astrologer. He has his personal tea cup wanting for him at the table in the tea house, a large antique cup, gold plated on the inside. There might be someone there who speaks just enough English to communicate a nearly in-depth conversation. Monks are usually more willing to try.
Last spring I might a young Korean monk who lives and studies in Burma/Myanmar. He recommended two books to me to read, “What the Buddha Taught” and “The Art of Living, Vipassana Meditation”. I wasn’t sure how easily I would be able to find them but by the end of the month they were both given to me by my friends Marcus and Joe without me even mentioning that I was looking for them. I read both of them together over a few weeks. They are both really good introductions for someone who knew little about the teachings of the Buddha. Reading about Vipassana was very inspiring and I began practicing on my own until I realized there’s only so far you can go with a book I started wishing I had someone to talk to about it.
There had been a nun dropping by the tea house lately who seemed a little eccentric. She said she stays in Seoul but doesn’t have a temple, she just moves around. After she left, I asked the owner if she comes in every Saturday. He started laughing and said she comes in everyday, two or three times! I had an urge to talk to her about meditation, but the last couple times I was at the tea house, I didn’t see her. After expressing some of my frustration in my last post, I received some good advice from a couple people who recommended I visit a temple in Korea where foreign monks are practicing. I started realizing today that I’m being sort of greedy living in Korea and complaining that an ancient India meditation isn’t easy to find here. I thought maybe it’s appropriate that I return to my interest in Seon meditation and not desire what I don’t have. With that point of view in mind, I sat in the tea house today and not long after the same nun came in again. I asked her if she liked meditation and she told me she meditates often. I asked her what style of meditation she does and she told me she has a “Hwa-du” which is a Zen style of repeatedly asking yourself an apparently unanswerable question until, hopefully, you awaken to a deep understanding. Just because I couldn’t help myself, I ask if she knew a Vipassana, and she surprised me by say she really likes Vipassana and had studied it with a Myanmar monk. She told me I seem to have a good mind for meditation so I told her that I’ve been meditating on my own but I’ve never had a teacher and lately I’ve really felt that I needed someone to talk to. When she said that she studied Vipassana, I thought she must have been to Myanmar but she told me she studied Vipassana in Korea, that the monk lives just outside of Seoul. She got her phone, made a quick call, hung up, and told me I have a Vipassana teacher! He is from Myanmar and speaks English well. She wrote his name and number on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
I’d been having a frusted day until then, over tired, over worked lately, teaching morning and night, this week on Saturday morning as well. I’d come to Seoul for the Buddhist festival the Sunday before Buddha’s birthday but was too exhausted to be involved with any of it and found myself losing patience with everything. I wanted to just dissapear so after sitting for a few minutes to try to collect myself, I chose the closest possible alternative, which was to head down the block to the tea house. I usually have a good sense of how one thing in life leads to another and things fall nicely into place, but lately I felt more like I was being swept along without much purpose. After leaving the tea house, I felt as though things might be falling into place again.