Sunday, January 05, 2014

third trip to the temple

[NB: Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption. Click each image to enlarge.]

I visited Hyangrim-sa a third time today. On my first trip, I had encountered and spoken with two nuns. On my second trip, I had come on a rainy day, was greeted by no one, and used the dharma hall to meditate for a short while before quietly returning home. Today, I was determined to flesh out the temple's kido (prayer, bowing, chanting, incense) schedule so as to be able to avoid the kido time for my personal cham-seon (zazen, seated meditation). The nun had given me the schedule last time, but I'd neglected to write it down. This time, I was armed with the notepad on my cell phone. I also wanted to know the names of the nuns I had met last time; I'd been kicking myself for not having been more attentive two visits ago.

I'm happy to report mission accomplished. I now know the Sunday kido schedule: kido occurs at 3AM, 10AM, and 6PM. I saw a flower-delivery truck pull up around 2:30PM, and the nuns and one bosal (literally bodhisattva, but referring, in the context of Korean Buddhism, to lay temple workers) began bustling around, helping the flower-delivery guy unload his heavy pots of living bouquets* from his truck. I spoke with both of the same nuns again, and even learned their dharma names this time: the older nun is Myeo Hyae sunim; the younger nun is Chong Mu sunim. Myeo Hyae sunim is the juji-sunim of the temple, something like an abbess. I asked her whether I should address her as "Juji-sunim," and she nodded slowly and gracefully, pleased. Juji-sunim told me (as she had last time) that she had been with this temple for forty years, and had helped build the place up. She had done a good job: I like Hyangrim-sa; it's small and cozy, but full of educational symbols and iconography. A person could learn much about the basic geography of Buddhist temples from a visit here.**

Myeo Hyae juji-sunim roped me into helping carry the heavy flower pots inside the dharma hall; I helped place the potted plants on the altar. All the while, she chirped about my ability to write in hangeul (I took notes this time, noting her name and title, and the name of the other nun, in Korean, then showed my phone's screen to the abbess to confirm I had spelled everything correctly) and my ability to speak Korean. She asked me how long I had been in Korea; I told her I'd lived in Seoul for eight years. She looked at me shrewdly and asked whether I was married; I said no. She asked me how old I was; I said "Forty-four in American age, maybe forty-five in Korean age." I headed off a possible jibe by saying, "Yeah—old bachelor." I've heard other Koreans describe me that way. The term no-chong-gak, "old bachelor," refers to the male version of a spinster; it's not a very flattering designation. I also mentioned that I should exercise more; she agreed, nodding.

Later on, after all the potted plants had been carefully placed on the long altar and rotated to offer the best view, Juji-sunim turned to me and declared that I needed to get married next year. "Don't find a girl who's too pretty," she advised with a sly smile, implying that overly pretty girls can be real bitches. I could tell that Juji-sunim thought of me as a cute, adorable, and potentially wayward pet. Strangely enough, I didn't find this embarrassing or humiliating; if anything, such infantilization made me feel refreshingly young.

Before I left the temple, Juji-sunim gave me three gifts: a solar/lunar calendar, a little notepad, and a huge plastic bag full of fresh, homemade, hand-made ddeok, or chewy rice cakes. She knew me well, even after having seen me only twice: the amount of ddeok she gave me was huge.

I had gone to the temple, today, to ask about the kido schedule because I'm planning to bring two Canadian colleagues along for a bout of seated meditation. I think they've both already experienced this type meditation, or something similar, so this shouldn't be too foreign to them. In any case, it was good to go back and see the nuns again, especially Juji-sunim.

*This is a Buddhist temple! What, you expect them to use cut flowers in bouquets? When possible, do not harm the living! The last thing you need is a bunch of flower-ghosts haunting you for the rest of your days. OK, I made that last part up. That's not Buddhist.

**Alas, one crucial feature missing from this temple is a big old ilju-mun, or one-pillar gate. The name is misleading: most ilju-mun are dangerously top-heavy structures that actually stand on two or more pillars, and are generally the first major threshold a person crosses when entering the temple grounds. See here.



Charles said...

Beware the flower ghosts!

The juji-sunim sounds like one cool lady.

Bratfink said...

Flower ghosts?


(Do dandelions count? I mean, you know, when you're mowing the lawn?)