Sunday, August 29, 2004

mountain stream

My buddy Jang-woong and I did dinner near Gwanak-san ("san" means "mountain") this evening, then hiked a wee bit up one of the trails before it got too dark. We stopped by a stream and simply listened to the water's murmur. Tonight's kong-an, then: What is the stream saying?

I've been thinking that I'll spend some vacation days over at Haein-sa, preferably in the fall and spring. EC allots us ten paid vacation days per year, and we can't take them all at once: the maximum is five at a time. There are two monks I'm hoping to meet again at Haein-sa, if they're still there: Gak-an sunim and Dae-oh sunim.

Gak-an sunim reminded me a bit of photos of Thich Nhat Hanh when I met him, but one evening he spewed out some truly filthy language while castigating a temple worker who'd tried to argue religion with my interpreter, a Korean Presbyterian named Park. This endeared Gak-an sunim to me; it was nice to see he was human.

Dae-oh sunim remains, to my mind, the most spiritually intense person I've met of any religion. If I remember correctly, he's one of Haein-sa's scholars-in-residence, and though he wasn't the temple's Zen master, he certainly talked like one. When I think of Dae-oh sunim, I think of two things: an Army drill sergeant, and Mark Salzman's depiction of an ancient Carmelite nun known as a Living Rule in his short novel Lying Awake.

The notion of a Living Rule isn't hard to translate across religions: this bent old woman was, in Salzman's imagination, an incarnation of dharma-- law, rule, function, nature, truth. Dae-oh sunim, though by no means old, is easily her nonfictional counterpart. So I'm happy to say I've met a Living Rule, and I'd like to see him again.

What is the stream saying?


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