camping in Gwanaksan (part 2; 4am Yebul)

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ooooooThe 3:40 am alarm I set to get up in time for yebul (ceremony) ended up being unnecessary, not because we overslept, like I expected we might, but because even though the temple may feel like it’s miles away from Seoul, it’s actually just up the hill from one of Seoul’s major bar districts. All things considered, it was a quiet night, but by 2:30 am, enough drunks found their way into the woods to make sleep rather elusive. Mostly, I kept myself awake in case anyone approached the tent. Earlier that day, I’d read a chapter in my Vippassanna book that focussed on Loving Kindness and directing it toward the minds of others. So, instead of succumbing to fear, I practiced sending thoughts of Loving Kindness to the people coming through. Other than that, and poor little Fina getting ravaged by “no-see-ums” (she didn’t cry, just tossed around a lot), we probably managed a good 3 hours of sleep.

ooooooIf you ever manage to attend morning yebul in a small, Korean temple, you’ll be sure to be rewarded with the gift of a sweet, kind-hearted Halmoni (Korean grandmother) there to help you. I walked into the temple with Fina, not sure how eager they would be to receive a foreigner and a baby, but everyone lit up immediately when they saw Fina. The Halmoni came right over to get a good look at her, allowing herself to break the temple silence with laughter, no one minded in the least. She then pointed over to an unoccupied cushion for me and placed another beside it for Fina to sit on. I bowed three times and Fina mimicked my actions, squatting down as I bowed, and rising with a giggle as I also stood up. On the third bow, she even put her palms together, as EunBong has diligently been teaching her.

ooooooAs we sat, the temple bell was rung, awakening my senses and reverberating deeply within. If you’ve never heard a temple bell being tolled, even during the long pauses between tolls, its vibration continues,fluttering thickly in the air, fluttering in your chest, even deeper than the bone. As the monk hit his mokteok on the front steps and chanted, EunBong joined us, and the halmoni came over with a book of sutras for us to follow. We were seated by the small bell in the temple, so the Halmoni warned us Fina might be surprised when the monk hits it. Knowing Fina, I wasn’t concerned, but what I didn’t consider is the effected Fina might have on the unsuspecting monk. he came in and knelt by the bell, saw Fina, and literally missed a beat in his  cant. Being a monk and all, he recovered quickly and it was on with the show. As we began, sending out our prayers to the many Buddhas, Fina hummed along the best she could. Half way through the Thousand Hands Sutra, she started to get restless, but honestly, I usually have difficulty making it through that one, myself. I played with her by handing my mala back and forth and somehow managed to follow the whole way through (again, with the help of the Halmoni) for only the forth time in my life.

000000After the Thousand Hands chanting, there is usually a long chant of Gwan Seum Bosal, while those able will do 108 bows. In July, the Gwan Seum Bosal chant is started but soon switches over to Ji Jang Bosal. The sun still rose that morning, just as any other, but the overcast sky denied our view of it. As we chanted Gwan Seum Bosal, I looked back through the temple doors to see the sky lit an intense shade of morning blue, letting us know the sun was still there, despite the clouds. Fina kept up for a bit, watching the monk with a big noisy smile, but after a while, EunBong took her outside while I completed 108 bows. EunBong told me after that while they stood in front of the temple, Fina pointed up at the Amita Buddha and began calling out, “Ma, ma!” just as she does when she sees her reflection. Either she has a deep understanding of non-duality and her own Buddha nature, only babies and enlightened beings are capable of, or a really big ego! Time will tell.

ooooooYebul finished, and we all bowed to one another, wishing, “Seong bul hashipshiyo,” (“May you become a Buddha”), my favorite part of the ceremony. I think they were pleased to see a foreigner take part, and congratulated me for my effort. I helped put away the cushions and books and as I left, the Halmoni asked that I come again, so I told her I will see her next time. It was also one of the few times I’ve attended an “acoustic” yebul (with out the monk being plugged into over amplified speakers), a feature worth returning for. As we walked across the gravel yard, the monk came over to greet us.He told EunBong that when he saw Fina, he thought he was looking at an Angel, and was shocked by her beauty. Writing this now, I think back to meeting Sandima Bhikkhu, and his admonition to be careful of what we say to Fina, to watch out for her pride. I’m getting the sense that no matter how careful EunBong and I will be, it’s going to be somewhat out of our hands!

ooooooWe drank from the fountain once more, and I splashed the cool water on my face and neck and I paid one more visit to the Mountain Spirit. We returned to the tent and I gathered my camera, lenses, water, a few packages of vegetable soup from the Korean doctor, and followed the first sign toward Yeon Ju Dae, a hike I’d been anticipating for a long time…

5 responses »

  1. They really are great posts, aren’t they! Thanks Joseph!

    Those big bells are awesome. There’s a 5-6 foot high bell at one of the army bases I give talks at, and I’ve noticed that even 10 minutes after it’s been struck, I can still feel a slight vibration coming off of it.

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