On our last morning, we decided we would make the effort to get up for morning ceremony. I set my alarm for 4am, thinking that was when the temple bells rang the morning before, but it was actually 3:30.
Since we left just before the Thousand Hands Sūtra last time, it was fitting that we got back to the Dharma Hall just as the Thousand Hands Sūtra was starting. There was one older monk in the center chanting and two younger monks on the left side of the hall, while the right side was full with about eight typical Korean grandmothers, short hair tightly permed, bright-colored clothes, and warm smiles. We parked Fina in her stroller by the door, wrapped in some heavy blankets.
About ten minutes into the Sūtra, we heard Fina wake up, once again in a different place from where she fell asleep, but she’s getting used to that by now. She sat with us on her cushion, still wrapped in her blanket, and even sang along with the monk a few times. A few of us managed our 108 bows while we accompanied the monk in chanting Gwan Sae Um Bosal (Avalokitesvara). EunBong was looking forward to doing hers but Fina wasn’t cooperating with the idea of sitting with me at that point. Eventually, she fell back to sleep and the women made room for us by the heater as I held her and EunBoong was able to do 108 bows in a temple for the first time since before we had Fina. She was too polite to let me know she’d been wanting to, I was too hard-headed to realize it on my own… Anyway, she thanked Buddha for making Fina sleep again and was very happy to have finally done her bows.
When ceremony was finished and the monks left, I was itching to take some photos in the hall. generally, you shouldn’t take pictures in the halls. I’ve only been to a couple were photography is officially permitted, but even then, it’s not nice to take a camera out while people are practicing. Understanding both sides, I usually only take photos when the hall is empty, or big enough that I’m not distracting anyone. At this point, I didn’t want to interrupted the pleasant feelings we had with the woman, so I kept my camera in its bag. I figured they’d probably leave soon enough, so i sat and waited. But, even with ceremony finished, they all took out their Sūtra books and started chanting more, and when that was finished, they started another one, and another one. After every long chant, another women would call out the next one… Eventually, I realized that sitting there hoping they would finish probably wasn’t the best intention for the Dharma Hall, and EunBong was ready to go back to the guest house, anyway. Before we left, the woman got together and stuffed some money in a beautiful little red cloth purse, with a lotus embroidered on the front, closed with a draw string at the top, and put it inside the blanket with Fina.
It was still dark when we came out. Of of the younger monks was returning with a beautiful, golden offering bowl of water for the shrine, so i held the door for him, then put my cold shoes back on. As much as we just wanted to get back to sleep, it was nice to linger around the temple. The faint glow of approaching dawn shone from behind the mountain, the murmurs of the women still chanting inside seeped out of the hall like the red light of the lantern that hung inside. We drank once more from the spring that trickled out from the stone dragon’s mouth, just to the side of the front stairs.
I slept for a couple of hours, then snuck back to the temple. The sun had probably been up for the better part of an hour, but it still hadn’t climbed the top of the mountain. from the Liberation Gate, I could see the morning light just brushing the tips of the smaller mountain behind the Dharma Hall, and warming the side of the Buddha’s Face. As I headed to the Dharma Hall to see if I’d get a chance alone, three travelers came in with me. instead of wishing them away this time, I did three more bows, and sat with the Dhammapada and read for a bit. One by one they slowly made their way out, but not before the last woman took out her camera and snuck a couple of shots of the gorgeous altar. And with that, I got out my camera and pile of lenses, and scratched my itch. It was a bit more than ten minutes that went by before the woman who sits at the table all day collecting donations came in just as the shutter clicked. A bit frantically, she asked what I’d just taken a picture of, and without lying, I pointed to three bells that sat on a shelf by the door. Relieved, she said that was okay, and I decided not to let on that I’d taken any other photos. I hope that the sincerity I bring to the temples is enough to balance my desire to document them. Although I really enjoy doing it, as you can tell, I also enjoy sharing the places I’ve been with the rest of you, so it’s not entirely selfish. I spent much of my time thinking about what people from home, or even online friends I’ve never met, might enjoy seeing or hearing about.
The day before, at the tea house, the woman gave us the name of the hermitage where the tea I ordered was grown. I checked on the map and it turns out it was just up a short way on the road I didn’t take. I headed back, and only about 10 minutes up the hill, I saw the sign pointing toward the hermitage. It definitely wasn’t the best time of year to visit a tea crop, especially considering the sun hadn’t poked over the mountain yet, but I managed to find a few new buds, just about ready to be picked. In about one more month, the rest of the crop will be green with buds. Now it was mostly withered and brown.
Finally, it was time to go back to the guest, back up and start the long, long way home.