visiting Sandima


On Sunday, we finally took the opportunity to visit Sandima, the Burmese monk I’d met a few weeks ago, at his temple in a country town just east of Seoul. We traveled along the express way looping the city for about 30 minutes, then after a couple quick turn-offs, got dropped off in a small town that could have been anywhere in the Korean countryside. In Korea, Seoul is the only city, everywhere else is county. Although, I have trouble calling Busan, a city of nearly 4 million, countryside, but I have to admit, the only thing that usually distinguishes one town from another are the mountains beyond the buildings. Maseok, the town we’d just arrived in, was surrounded by beautiful, lush hills. The Sky Horse Mountain that was the towns back drop, looked sort of like it could be a volcano, the way the ridge dipped along its peak. This time of year, the foliage has just fully matured and the fresh leaves that coat the hills are rich, vibrant green. When the smog is thin enough that you can see a decent distance through it, and the sun can cast a shadow, the green of the hills really pops out against the relatively blue sky. We took a taxi from the bus stop along the road to the temple. It was the first weekend in a long time that we’d left the city. It felt nice to be out, even though the amount of stares we got from the locals was noticeably more, the expressions on their faces were equally more genuine.  The ridge I gazed out the window at as we drove had a huge, jagged, stone face protruding from its side. It looked as though a giant woodpecker had had a go at it, until it ran out of beak. A large V-shaped ledge ran through most of it, giving me an urge to go climbing through it until a found a good place to sit on its shade. As we passed the ridge, we found the the long driveway that led to the temple.

My first impression of the temple was that it looked like a cross between an old-fashioned Korean Hanok house and Tibetan temples I’d seen in India. The building looked like it could be a Burmese temple but the entrance was left Korean with a Buddhist flag flapping humbly above it. The building had been a museum of Buddhist artifacts before, so it was a good building to turn into a temple. What had been a gravel parking lot in front, Sandima said, was now perfect for walking meditation. The whole setting was relaxing. It was the first time since Fina was born that I felt I could catch my breath. Sandima was busy when we arrived, so we waited outside at stone table, under a bamboo canopy. A wooden helm with eight spokes hung from the canopy’s post, representing the Dhammacakka, Wheel of Dhamma, and the Noble Eightfold Path that turns it.

When Sandima was reading, he told us to sit before the alter and he tied a white string to a small pagoda on the shrine. He pulled the string across his seat, through my hands, then over to Fina where he loosely coiled it around her head. He took a flower from a large bouquet and dipped it in a bronze bowl of water, then blessed the three of us by splashing our heads. He said that he would recite the Abhaya Gāthā,
the Danger-free Protection Chant, in Pali. He said to focus carefully on his voice. The chant would remove fear from Fina’s past life Khamma and keep her from having nightmares. I’d never heard Pali spoken before. It flowed gently and was mesmerizing. It made it quite difficult to keep my focus, but I hauled myself back quickly when I found my mind beginning to drift. I think I may have found the chant online, but I’m not sure. It seems to match his explanation. It is only three paragraphs but Sandima chanted for nearly 10 minutes, so either he repeated it several times, or I’m wrong. I’ll check with Sandima next time I see him. What I found is this…

Yan-dunnimittaṃ avamaṅgalañca
Yo cāmanāpo sakuṇassa saddo
Pāpaggaho dussupinaṃ akantaṃ
Buddhānubhāvena vināsamentu
Whatever unlucky portents & ill omens,
And whatever distressing bird calls,
Evil planets, upsetting nightmares:
By the Buddha’s power may they be destroyed.
Yan-dunnimittaṃ avamaṅgalañca
Yo cāmanāpo sakuṇassa saddo
Pāpaggaho dussupinaṃ akantaṃ
Dhammānubhāvena vināsamentu
Whatever unlucky portents & ill omens,
And whatever distressing bird calls,
Evil planets, upsetting nightmares:
By the Dhamma’s power may they be destroyed.
Yan-dunnimittaṃ avamaṅgalañca
Yo cāmanāpo sakuṇassa saddo
Pāpaggaho dussupinaṃ akantaṃ
Saṅghānubhāvena vināsamentu
Whatever unlucky portents & ill omens,
And whatever distressing bird calls,
Evil planets, upsetting nightmares:
By the Saṅgha’s power may they be destroyed.
After he finished, he held Fina in his arms a bit and checked her palms. He said she has very nice palms but warned us she has very big pride, so be careful what we speak to her. According to her palms, she has what Koreans refer to as “Gong-ju Byung”, “Princess Disease”. It’s something I was already concerned about, having a half Korean daughter, but EunBong wasn’t very surprised. She said while she was pregnant, her feelings were very different about how she wanted to look and dress. She wanted to use make up a lot more and got her friend to buy her a knock-off Louis Vuitton purse after she saw the other women in our Lamaze class both had one. She thinks it was the mind of the baby that affected her. If that’s the worse thing we’ll have to deal with, I can accept it! She’s healthy, and has all the right body parts in the right places. She’s a beautiful baby!
He invited me into a room with a small tea table to talk. He said there was a couple who’d come in from Gangnam, the richest, most superficial part of Seoul, where on any day you’ll pass at least a few girls on the street whose faces are all bandaged up from plastic surgery. The man had a wife and baby, but had come to the temple with his girlfriend and wanted to divorce his wife and marry his girlfriend. His wife and him argue and can’t get along. When he asked Sandima’s advice, Sandima told him, “Go back to your wife, make things right, and take care of your baby!” He told him 70% of the problem was with himself, so changing wives isn’t going to solve anything. The man acknowledged that Sandima was right. The next people who visited that day was a mother with her son whose girlfriend was pregnant. They wanted Sandima to choose a wedding date. He checked their astrology and said they should get married next year, because if they get married this year, their astrology forecast they will be divorced. Of course, the mother wouldn’t accept that, because they’d have to get married before the baby is born, so Sandima was left wondering why they bothered asking.
At first, I was wondering why Sandima would be sharing this gossip with me. It might have been more interesting when I first arrived in Korea, but the novelty of hearing about peoples dysfunctional lives here has been worn off for a while. Korea gives you the impression that everyone wants their lives to be like an afternoon soap-opera and the effects are apparent. I felt relieved that I only wanted to talk about meditation, I wondered if he was relieved as well! He did turn the situation into a Dhamma talk, though. It was easy to agree with Sandima when he observed that patience is lacking. He felt that there is very little effort to work through problems and solve things. He also emphasised how it isn’t right to blame problems on others. He said people are kind of like magnets. If you take a magnet and place it next to a neutral metal, it will still effect and possibly even magnetize the other piece. Like this, we have an affect on each other. He drew a little stick figure with a circle around him and three little arrows representing the three kammas; kamma of thought, kamma of speech, and kamma of action. Our kamma follows us like this, feeding back the energy that we’ve made it with. The first time we met he spoke of the great amount of energy that meditation produces and and hours meditation has the same energy you would get from a few hours of sleep. This time he spoke that 2 hours of meditation can dissipate 5 hours worth of negative kamma. I’d never considered that before, but it makes sense. After that, it was time to head home and, ’till next time, just keep breathing!

>more photos from the trip<


5 responses »

  1. As always, Joseph, your imagery is beautifully descriptive. (Oooh, the Sky Horse Mountains conjure such wonderful visuals in my mind’s eye!) You possess such an organic perception of the fusion of biology and metaphysics! Your words calmed me as I followed your route to the gentle welcoming ambience of this sacred place away from the madding crowd. How fortunate you are to be open to such opportunities–and have them appear so readily!

    I smiled at the monk’s caution about Fina having “very big pride,” but my years of practicing Edgar Cayce study group disciplines compel me to suggest that you look first in yourselves and correct the activity of pride there; if, indeed, it needs correction at all! And, as a sidebar to that, I don’t believe that behavior is so easily dictated or manipulated by another–especially a developing baby in utero–if a person doesn’t already have a strong pre-disposition to it already. “The jewels on Indra’s net reflect each other endlessly.” (see Avatamsaka Sutra)

    That said, I am willing to concede that “very big pride” is a highly probable potential rather than a fully formed personality trait. I still believe in the transformative influence of free will and the positive intervention of loving guidance and experiential factors. As I commented in a previous context, considering the personality traits in Fina’s extended family, an excess of pride is not an anomaly! However, in light of the succession of changing facial expressions that inspired my previous comment, she has vast potential to display many characteristics. It’s not hard to agree that you and significant others (all of us who are her relations) should be careful how we speak to her, so as not to encourage vanity or gross materialism in her.

    But it’s really the negative association of other traits with pride that give it its bad name, not pride itself. Things like arrogance, self-absorption and superiority… In proper alignment with other virtuous traits, pride can play a positive role in developing healthy self-esteem and providing motivation to pursue and achieve difficult accomplishments. It can also facilitate responding to life crises with bravery and confidence. There’s no black & white sureness in such matters. I actually believe that it’s shaky or fluctuating self-esteem that give rise to the shadow aspects of pride, so do not recommend suppressing Fina’s (or anyone’s) natural expressions of pleasure or satisfaction with self.

    Ultimately, the example of your own actions will guide her choices far more than the words you speak. And, in the absence of perfect knowledge of what is “right” to do, love her exactly as she is, with no requirement for her to earn it by conforming to some external ideal you hold. Correct inappropriate behavior but don’t judge or fear the child herself.

    In the words of Alice Walker, “The Nature of This Flower is To Bloom!”

    I can’t wait to see you all! And lavish attention and Frenchy’s finery on our blooming little Princess, haha!

    Much Love,

    • Hi Mom,
      I knew you’d like the name “Sky Horse Mountain” and I also had a feeling exactly what other parts you might comment as I was writing them! ^^ hehe
      I would much prefer a confident child to one with too much pride, and if you spent any time teaching Korean middle school Princesses, you’d know why there’s reason to be concerned!
      Josette and Joe could vouch for that one, too! 😀
      How much less stress would we have dealing with each other if our levels of pride were switched for an equal amount of humility.
      I would hope that her pleasure or satisfaction with herself won’t depend on vanity but something more.

      As far as the child in the womb affecting the mom, neither of us has the knowledge to say with much certainty whether or not it can be. I wrote what EunBong said, not what I believe is necessarily true, but it is the opinion in Korea that there is an effect. For example, if the mother is craving fruit, it will be a girl, if she is craving lots of meat, it will be a boy. The developing child must also have the energy of their own Kamma surrounding them, so if its plausible that the person you live with can have an effect on you (I’m sure an element of that must ring true) wouldn’t the person growing inside your body have a significant effect? I don’t have much difficulty accepting that possibility.

  2. Pingback: A few more breaths with Sandima « Somewhere in Dhamma…

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