A year ago, I was considering becoming a monk. The thoughts of a monk’s lifestyle were enticing, especially being in a small, deep mountain hermitage somewhere like Jirisan. I realized my thoughts were quite romanticized, but I would be willing the deal with the difficult aspects as well. I knew the most difficult part would be deciding to never get married or have a family. A part of me kept saying to myself, “I’m 28 years old, and I’ve never had a very meaningful relationship anyway. Why not just save myself the stress of suffering over it, and make the decision now?” It wasn’t only the thought of being alone so much as the idea of celibacy I thought I would have a hard time with. How much would it bother me throught out my life, would it get easier with time or more difficult? I had just begun a routine meditation practice for the second time in my life and, as with the first attempt, even while meditating, it was usually thoughts of women I found the most distracting. When I asked Chong Go Sunim how many monks have difficulty with celebacy, he replied, “How many male monks are there?”
As the days went on, I was becoming more and more convinced I wanted to be a monk. I decided, half sarcastically, I would give myself until I was 30 to either get a girl friend or get over it. I took the first five precepts and received my Buddhist name. At Saturday Sangha we even read Admonitions to Beginners, sort of a hand book for beginning monks. I started to become confident I could do it. Feeling especially frustrated with my thoughts one night, I told myself, from that moment on, I would overcome any carnal desires that arise. I woke the next morning feeling fresh and free. I felt there was some change that had taken place. So here I am, a year later, four days before I turn 30, with a three day old child. As with many decisions I’ve made in my life, as soon as I made them, life gave me something different. That same night, I ended up coming home with the girl that would soon be my wife.
Usually, after Saturday Sangha, we would head across the river to BongEunSa for Yebul, the evening ceremony. We would chant the Heart Sutra, do our best at following the Thousand Hands Sutra, do 108 bows to GwanSeEum Bosal, Avelokiteshvara, and listen to the rest. I figured going to the temple would be a good way to set my mind straight but in the end, I suppose, my true mind come through. One Saturday, Joe was too busy to make it but he called me on Sunday and asked if I’d want to go to the temple again with him. I didn’t mind at all, and we headed straight over. Any temple I’ve been to in Korea is usually full of older ladies, grandmothers, and a few middle-aged and old men. This Sunday, however, I couldn’t help but notice two young women across the room from us. We caught each other exchanging glances a couple times, then I tried to focuss on the ceremony. When it was finished, I saw them sitting outside and went over to say hello. The first girl said to me that she really likes foreigners and has a foreign boyfriend.We chatted a bit, she said she always comes on Sunday, and I told her we usually go on Saturday, but ended up coming today. Her name was EunBong, like the temple, but backwards. The Chinese character for her name Bong meant Phoenix. She introduced the other girl as her 18 year old ballet student. After a few minutes, keeping in mind that she had a boyfriend and as for the other girl, 18 Korean age means 16 anywhere else in the world, I looked at Joe and said, “Let’s get outa here!”
The following Saturday we all headed over to BongEunSa after Sangha. I had a couple things to do on the way, so I headed over on my own. I was a bit early, so I sat in the hall with my eyes closed, listening to the drumming outside. When I opened my eyes, there was the older girl again, sitting by my friends on the other side of the hall. We met again after, and she joined us for dinner. We made plans to meet the next day, then ended up in the same place in Seoul again that night, even though it was a part of Seoul I’d never been to before. Early in the day, I had asked about her boyfriend. She said he had gone back to Europe and pretty much stopped calling or answering her emails. She called him but he always had an excuse of how busy he was or something like that. She had been hurt pretty badly just a few months before by her boyfriend of four years and had been going to the temple to pray to GwanSeEum Bosal for the strength to be alone. I had been going trying to muster the strength to become a monk. She told her parents a few weeks before that she never wanted to be married, she just wanted to dance, have fun, and she didn’t care if she died young. After ending up together that night, we’ve been together nearly everyday since. The only thing I asked her before we were together was, what if she got pregnant? She answered, “Our baby will be beautiful!” With that answer, I suddenly saw my life unfurl. Two weeks later, we knew we wanted to get married and two months later we were expecting.
I remember when she was first late. I had a feeling already that she was pregnant. We had already even been choosing baby names. We picked up a home test on the way home one night and EunBong got up at 6am to take the test. I was still asleep when she came running to the bed, yelling, “Guess what!?!” Too sleepy to remember about the test, I asked, “You had your menstruation?” She wasn’t very pleased with my response… so she told me she’s pregnant. I sat there, a little dazed. It’s not too often you’re woken up with this sort of news. Deep down, I’d already decided it was what I wanted, but it still came as a shock, knowing that there’s no turning back now. My only response was to smile and give her a kiss, she had to remind me to say congratulations!
That morning was Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, so her parents were on their way to our house with food. She called her mom to tell her the news. About 20 seconds went by without any response. She looked at me and said, “I think my mom die!” Her mom’s fortune teller told her mom the EunBong would say something to her that year that would kill her. EunBong thought that might be it! Finally, I heard through the phone, “So are you making rice or do I have to bring it?” EunBong then asked me to call her father. She was a little nervous to tell him because we weren’t married yet. She told me what to say in Korean. Her dad answered the phone and I told him the news. He paused for a second and gave a good Santa Claus laugh and said he’d be over soon. After, I called my parents in Canada. My mom immediately broke into tears and said, “You’re going to have a baby?” If it took EunBong’s mom 20 seconds to ask about rice, it took my mom 20 seconds to calculate all the paper work that would be involved. I was still grasping the thought of becoming a father and wasn’t thinking about anything else. My dad got on and seemed exciting that he would be and grandfather. He told me to get him a cigar when he showed up for our wedding.
That evening, after EunBong’s parents left, we took a walk around the lake by our house. The full moon was rising over the hills. We kept walking until the road twisted and made it’s way into the city. We talked about everything and nothing in particular. We picked the Autumn flowers that in bloom along the side of the road and put them in our hair. It was a little intimidating, that we’d only know each other a little over three months at that point, to have made a life long decision together, but we both had confidence in each other. I remember never in my life feeling such a deep love for someone as I did that day.