Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wax on, wax off

When I first told my mom that Juan and I were headed to a Buddhist temple for a few days, her response was, “How relaxing.”  As it turns out, not so much. 

Each day began with morning chanting at 4:30am.  If you were even a minute late, you must perform 3000 bows – a process which reportedly would take from 8-9 hours and leave your knees begging for mercy.  I was somewhat skeptical they would enforce this punishment against tourists, but I also wasn’t willing to risk it.  Unfortunately, this meant I was awake most of the night babysitting our $4 Brazilian alarm clock which, sure enough, stopped working around 1am our first night in Golgul-sa.  It did mysteriously start working again the next day, but obviously trust is like a mirror, once it’s broken...

After morning chanting, we had 30 minutes of sitting meditation.  We now know it’s surprisingly hard to focus on meditation when all you can think about is how cold you are, how you’d rather be sleeping, or how the resident puppies on the pillow behind you are snoring like old men.  The rest of our days were filled with walking meditation, sparse vegetarian meals, community service, and two sessions of Sunmudo training – a uniquely Korean zen martial art passed down from generation to generation by Buddhist monks.

Most of our Sunmudo classes were taught by a Norwegian who has been studying the martial art in South Korea for the last six years.*  We sort of expected he’d have some watered down exercises for the tourist initiates.  Wrong again.  Our legs haven’t been this sore since Roraima…

We were also around for a couple of Sunmudo demonstrations performed by some of the black belt monks and participated in Barugongyang (a traditional Buddhist meal) where the principle of “cleaning your plate” took on a whole new meaning.  You start with four bowls – one for rice, one for soup, one for kimchi/ accompaniments and one for “pure water.”  You must clean the spice out of a piece of kimchi in your soup and set it to the side of your rice bowl.  After finishing your meal (we were told not to eat faster than 5 minutes, but under no circumstances to take longer than 10), you are responsible for making sure not a single grain of food is left in any of the three bowls.  At the end of the meal, a monk comes around to pour hot water into your rice bowl.  You the use the kimchi as a rag to clean it then you transfer the water and kimchi to the soup bowl and repeat.  When you finish this process you drink the liquid containing the remaining food tidbits.  Finally, you transfer the “pure water” into the rice bowl, then soup bowl, then accompaniment bowl and perform a final rinsing using your fingers.  The monk collects this water in a bucket when everyone finishes.  If anyone pours water containing food into the bucket, the contents of the entire bucket are redistributed to everyone for drinking: an etiquette point for which the monks were forgiving.  When the Spaniard next to Juan poured his dirty ass water into the bucket the shocked monk unsuccessfully tried to stop him, then shamefacedly presented it to the head monk who laughed and permitted him to throw it away.  Funny (and lucky for us) we didn’t have to sip people’s backwash…
We really enjoyed our four days here, but it was a cruel wake-up call.  Our bodies are not in great shape and the month of kung fu training we’ve signed up for in May might be rough.

*Speaking of which, he knew a lot of different ways to say “flex your butt” for someone whose first language isn’t English (e.g. “contract your anus”, “tighten your rectum”).

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