3:00 am comes really quickly, even if you are sleeping on the floor. And by 3:18 both the Intrepid traveller and I were up and listening to the 4 gongs being rung to wake all sentient beings. Not sure about everyone else – but I was awake – trust me.
We then walked – two columns, extremely slowly – into the prayer hall and following our leader, respected Buddha (that’s 3 full bows), respected the past, the present and the future (waist bows to the East, the North, and the West), and prayed with the Monks. None of them looked very sleepy – but I can’t say the same for our team.
We then walked – again in 2 columns, again very slowly – back to the 2nd prayer room – to do our 108 bows to Buddha. Why 108? It’s an important number to Buddhists – as our Monk explained, because there are 6 senses (the normal 5 plus time), there are 6 feelings (like, enjoy, etc.) and 6 * 6 is 36. And there is the Past, the Current, and the future – and 3 * 36 = 108.
So 108 bows. These are not at the waist bows – these are done starting from a standing position, dropping to a kneeling position, putting your head against the mat, raising palms to the level of your ears, pushing forward on to your knees, and finally standing again. Try it. Not easy. Now do 108 of those while the Monk claps a stick to keep time. One of our group was in charge of a rope of prayer beads – she moved one with each bow to keep track. I had decided the night before that if I could do 54 (1/2 the required number) – I’d be impressed.
But surprisingly – I did all 108. Later on one of the group commented that its very hard to do 108 bows alone – but in a group, it’s easier. You gain mental and physical energy from the group. I think he might be on to something there – surely a 65-year-old – not in the best shape – old lady doing 108 bows is pretty incredible. I was impressed with me I’ll tell you.
And now it’s time to do the really hard thing – the sitting mediation. Our Monk had told us that the Monks actually do 7 days of mediation – no sleeping. They eat, they pray and they meditate – And if they come 20 minutes late to any of the mediation sessions – they are banished from Haein-sa for 3 years. 3 Years!
But I’m still worried. First off – no talking. Ok – I can survive an hour of no talking. 2nd – no fidgeting – no scratching your nose, no moving your knees, no moving your hands. That doesn’t sound much like me. And third – you have to keep your legs bent in the lotus position the entire time. This is going to be tough. He did give us some hints. One – concentrate on your breathing – one breathe at a time. Think about who knows you are breathing. And when something begins to bother you – think about it not hurting you. And when stray thoughts come into your mind – think about them, and then go back to thinking about your breathing. My favorite hint – keep both knees touching the mat. And fold the mat double.
I asked during our ‘Tea’ what was wrong with thinking – and was told – it’s not thinking that the problem – it’s flighty thinking – this and that and that and this – no pattern, no control. Try to control how you think. Ouch – that’s a huge challenge. I can’t even control my thinking when I’m typing… Even when I’m writing my blog I’m also listening to the people talking in Korean on the floor below me, and hearing the sounds of the birds and the traffic.
But I’m willing to give this a chance. So we go into the meditation hall, I struggle into the lotus position and shut my eyes. All is going ok when I hear the first ‘Crack’. The Monk has struck one of our group for falling asleep. Well nothing wakes you up faster than that I’ll tell you. The struck individual, as instructed, thanks the Monk for reminding him to mediate, not sleep, and we all go back to meditating. Twice more there are ‘Crack’s’ – but not once was it me. And then just as quickly as it began – it is over.
An hour passed so fast – I couldn’t believe it.
Next on the schedule is lying down mediation – and they tell us we can sleep. I think I slept – Jill says so anyway. Next is breakfast (lots worse than dinner – and dinner was pretty bad) – then its time to do our share of work. In our case its pretty easy – clean up our living quarters. I was hoping we’d help with farming – but no such luck. Guess they didn’t need inexpert farmers today.
We then get an escorted tour of the grounds of Haein-sa – which includes a walk around the comtemplation maze – again slowly – and in Hapjong position.
Eventually we re-group with our Monk to discuss our Temple Stay.
When we first met – we introduced our selves – our names, and countries of origin. This time the Monk challenges us to introduce ourselves – but without using our names, our jobs, our countries. To in fact – introduce ourselves by saying something important and unique about us. Not surprisingly – we learn a lot more about our fellows this time – information I’ll remember long after I’ve forgotten their names. Examples: “I lack judgement”, “My best friends are my sister and brother”, “I don’t like myself very much”, “I talk more than I listen”, etc., etc. Some in our group use this opportunity to explain what was most surprising to them – and beside the Noble Silence – many comment on how hard it was to walk slowly.
The general feeling is that we live life to fast to enjoy it – that taking time to slow down and just think – meditate – isn’t as wasteful as it first seems. Most of us agree to try to think a bit more slowly in the future.
At the end, our Monk encourages us to consider the current as most important – the past shaped us – brought us to where we are today – but can not change and has no power over us. The future is driven by the current – so knowing where you are today is key to your future. He gives us some gifts, a booklet about Buddhism, and a wooden bead bracelet with Chinese lettering. He explains to me that the bracelet says – “Your dreams and wishes can come true”. I wear it with pride.
The intrepid traveller and I leave Haein-sa – glad we came.