Sunday, February 26, 2006

it nods off, coughs, and farts

Temple today. A large crowd. Obviously, word had gotten around that Hyeon-gak sunim would be doing the dharma talk. Because of the number of people, the temple's top floor felt a bit overstuffed, and when it was time for walking meditation, we walkers formed a truly enormous Zentipede. The Zentipede was a strange creature: at the crack of the monk's wooden ch'uk-p'i, the creature's components bowed while seated, rose from various cushions, then assembled themselves into the great macroorganism. The Zentipede then lumbered (or shuffled, or waddled, depending on the condition of its individual segments) about the room for ten minutes before breaking apart again, each part settling back onto its rightful cushion.

But the Zentipede was not the romantic picture of absolute tranquility. I, for example, have a ticklish throat; it's been with me ever since I recovered from my other illnesses. While I survived the first round of meditation with no coughing today, I had little choice but to cough a few times during the second and third rounds. So today's Zentipede was a bit noisy.

In between zazen sessions, walking meditation wasn't noiseless: one person close to me farted. The Zentipede, we gather, was a bit gassy. A woman in front and slightly to the right of me (almost directly in front of Sperwer) began nodding off during the first round of zazen. Perhaps "nodding off" is misleading: her entire upper body was like a time-lapse film of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, running forwards and backwards, oscillating dangerously. The woman's "nods" were rhythmic: strangely enough, they matched the pace of my breathing. The Zentipede was, along with being noisy and gassy, rather pooped.

In the end, the creature managed to survive the 110 minutes of seated and walking meditation; its pieces then waited patiently for the arrival of Hyeon-gak.

Hyeon-gak's dharma talk contained the two standard features of every Korean dharma talk I've seen, both here and in the States: swearing and stick-banging. It's how you know you're home, I guess, when a teacher's mannerisms become familiar to you. Various Zentipede segments asked questions of the master as we reviewed an English version of a text written by Huang P'o. Most of the questions were simply shot down, quite a few with a "Shut up!" or "Shut your mouth!" in both English and Korean-- answers meant to cut to the root of the asker's problems, not provide a discursive recipe to be followed and re-followed invariably forever.

In all, a good dharma talk. Hyeon-gak has a flair for the dramatic. Now I'm hungry, and I've got more work to do, so it's time to eat and work.


No comments: