meeting my teacher


      In Korean, ‘in-yeon’ refers to your past life connection with the people in your life. It’s a term I hear a lot meeting people in Korea. Usually they are sure I have ‘Korea in-yeon’. The English equivalent might be ‘Karmic affinaty’ in Buddhist terms. With a baby coming any hour now, it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. What kind of being do my wife and I have a strong enough Karmic affinity with to have as our first child? Continuing on the topic, I was at the tea house last week, mentioning that I had spent a week in McLeod Ganj. One of the men there asked if I’d had the chance to see the Dalai Lama. I explained that the Dalai Lama left the same day I arrived, then the thought suddenly occurred to me, “In-yeon obseoyo!”  (“We don’t have in-yeon!”) It took a very minimal amount of humility to admit that I probably don’t have Karmic affinity with the Dalai Lama, but what’s pleasing is to look around at my life and see the wonderful people I do have a connection with, be it Karmic or not. 

      On Sunday, I felt very fortunate to have met Sandima, a Burmese Monk, who’s been in Korea for 10 years now. He came to Korea in 1999 to travel and learn about Korean Buddhism, but while he was here, over a thousand Burmese workers came to him. He had such compassion for their needs that he decide to stay for them. He had been based in Seoul, but is now opening a center outside of Seoul, quite close to where I’m living. On May 17th, they will celebrate the opening of the center. It will be a great opportunity to experience some Burmese culture (and food! ^_^). 

      We met on the street close to Insadong, it was easy to spot the man with a shaved head and burgundy robes, even among the Sunday crowds. The first thing that struck me about him was his deep, bright, shiny eyes and his huge South-East-Asian smile. At first he looked like a boy. After talking for a moment I figured he looked about 30 but might be as old as 40, maybe. When EunBong looked him up online this morning, we couldn hardly believe when it said he was born in 1960. We followed him up a small staircase to a traditional Korean tea house to talk. He gave my wife and I an invitation to the opening of the center and we chatted a bit. He is fluent in Korean and English so it was nice for EunBong to be able to speak to him as well. He said that after the baby is born, to visit him and he will do a ceremony for the baby. He also said that in Myanmar, they say the path to a happy family has five parts; 1-Love 2-Trust 3-Meditation 4-Understanding 5-Simple life. He told us that by practicing meditation, the other four fall into place. Love becomes loving kindness, and an unselfish love is more trustworthy because you don’t want to hurt one another. Understanding becomes deep understand so that we don’t need words to know what the other is feeling, and a simple life comes easily. 

      I told him that I know a little about Vipassan, but really need to start from the beginning. He told me that he will be doing a five month course about Vipassan but in Korean, so after the class to come and he will teach me. To start, he asked me, “What holds you? What keeps your body up?” I knew the answer would be so obvious, but I couldn’t come up with anything. Everything that came to mind I already knew wasn’t the answer. The best i could do was to answer, “Mind?” but I knew that wasn’t it. Finally he told me to hold my nose. He asked if I couldn’t do that for 3 hours. I held up one finger. He asked, “One hour?” I let go, and responded, “No, one minute!” I did see where he was leading me though. Breath is what holds us all, we can go a while without food, even a few days without water, but not very much time without breathing. My first lesson in Vipassana is to focus on breathing, in meditation or whatever I may be doing. He then asked me if I really know this now, or just believe it. He said I must know it, deep within, that it’s true. Contemplate it. It’s not very difficult to know that I need breath, but with all things, it’s important to contemplate and really know it. When I mentioned that I have difficulty focusing on my breathing for even ten breaths, he gave the best answer I’ve heard yet. He asked, “What did you do today? Where did you go?” I told him we came to Seoul, went to the tea house, then came to meet him. “Where are you going next?” he asked. “Home…”  “Yes,” he said, “so don’t worry about your thoughts, everyone has trouble with thoughts. Your breath is your mind’s home. When your mind goes out, just bring it home. Don’t worry about it. After time, your mind will spend more and more time at home.” 

      He told me that the best time to meditate is the moment you wake up, before you do anything. At that time, he said, there is a large gap between knowledge and thoughts. As soon as you start doing things, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating, thoughts start taking over and the gap tightens.I asked about extended meditation sessions and he answered that after meditating for an hour, it’s good to move around, do some walking meditation. It keeps a body/mind balance.

      He quickly mentioned the eightfold path and the five khandhas (aggregates), perhaps to test my knowledge. He will probably go into greater detail eventually, but for now we will just start very slowly, which is exactly what I want. I’m excited about all there is to learn, but for now, I won’t hold my breath!




One response »

  1. How wonderful that you have met a monk who is willing to offer guidance and support! This is a great blessing – in-yeon, indeed!

    Zen Master Seung Sahn used to ask students questions similar to the one Sandima asked you. He would ask, “Why do you get out of bed every day?” “Why do you eat?” People would get stuck and he would laugh. Then he would ask someone to ask him the same question. So the student would ask the Zen master, “Why do you get out of bed every day?” And Seung Sahn Sunim would roar, “For you!!”

    This “For you!” points to the inner direction of our practice – many techniques but one direction.

    I look forward to your reports on your experiences!

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