Following spring training online last week, I noticed a strange headline. A player fouled off a pitch directly into his mom’s chest, who was sitting five rows up, just beside the dugout. The first thing I wondered was if it was some uncleared karma surfacing, but that’s not really the point. In the end, she was okay, just a bit sore. The player took himself out of the game to check on her, and she enjoyed the rest of the game in a shaded seat.
I received an email yesterday morning from my sister telling me that my mom had had a stroke, but not to worry too much, she was in ICU recovering, and was 95% back to normal. I’m still a bit shaken, but it’s times like these that “practice” becomes something more. Even so, it’s hard not to think about all the metaphoric “fouls balls” we hit off each other, all the times we choose pride over peace and hurt each other. Having a sudden house full of people was hard on my mother, and suddenly having us gone, half way around the world probably wasn’t any easier.
Almost ten years ago, when I was in university, I had a similar message from my dad that mom was in ICU. The illness was different but the feeling is the same. Since that time, my mother’s health has continuously been at the back of my mind. Every time I bowed, I thought about it, when I lit candles for meditation, I would light one for my mother and one for everyone else. In Nepal, I found a beautiful bronze statue of the Medicine Buddha that I sent to her.
On Saturday, I brought EunBong and Fina to a temple I’d visited when I first came to Korea, but hadn’t been back to since. EunBong noticed a special hall for the Medicine Buddha just before the main hall. She asked to go in to pray for her mother, naturally I followed her in to do the same. It’s strange to think that as I lit a stick of incense, and held it pressed between my palms, and sent a prayer of good health to my mom, 10,800 kilometers away, she was about to collapse in my father’s arms. On the bus ride back to Seoul, I looked out the window, at the silhouettes of the small Korean mountains, the endless display of red neon crosses and garish love motels passing in and out of our view. At the same time my mother was being rushed in an ambulance along HW 101 to the Yarmouth Hospital. I’m not really sure if distance is an illusion or real, but I feel much further from home than I ever have before.
We had already decided to visit BongEunSa on Sunday, but after learning about my mother’s condition, it seemed even more appropriate. It had been about a year and a half since we’d attended Ye-bul*, and it was exactly what I needed, not to distract myself, but to be able to feel for my mother without being distracted. After a year and a half of not chanting, the Heart Sūtra seemed twice as fast as I remembered, but EunBong commented to me how much liked this monk’s slow chanting compared to the one before. I trembled through the Thousand Hands Sūtra, I could hardly keep my palms held together, but after was the Gwan Se Eum Bosal chant. The monk chanted “Gwan Se Eum Bosal” for the next 20 minutes or so, I determinedly sweat through 108 bows for my mom.
I’ve noticed many teachings in Korean Zen that basically just make things alright. Not everyone is at the highest level, but that’s okay. I see these teachings as little Dharma placebos to remove suffering until you can move on. I wouldn’t say that attending Ye-bul is like that, I’ve reason to believe there’s a lot more going on under the surface, but it did have a huge effect of making this feel better. As I dedicated each bow to my mother’s health, I was left wondering what to do with the merit of dedicating my bows. As I was about to dedicate that to my mother as well, I thought my mom would most likely approve of me keeping a little for EunBong and Fina.