The people you meet on retreat are so interesting. A friend told me that the people you meet on retreat are some of your truest friends and I certainly found that to be the case while I was in Korea. The retreat at Hwa Gye Sa was different than other retreats I’ve done in that we were not keeping silence and that there were no interviews with a teacher. The thing I found is that being able to talk to each other took the place, in a different way, of talking to a teacher. In essence, we were each other’s teachers. This was particularly helpful on the day that I always have at the beginning of a retreat. It is the day I refer to as the “screw this, I’m going home” day. One of the people who got to deal with me that day were the kind and ever-cheerful Hwa Kwang Soo who is the Seoul International Zen Center’s office manager. She’s not actually on retreat but she was around a lot and was very kind and patient with me when I was incredibly grouchy.
The other was Chee Seng who is a man full of the Dharma (really zonked him with the flash when taking this picture but he was an awful good sport about it) and gave very helpful advice on my grouchy day. After I get the grouchy day out of the way, I’m fine and actually can’t figure out why I was so upset. It’s weird but I’m getting better at seeing it coming. It’s like being able to tell when I’m getting dehydrated when a string of profanity starts running through my mind. I hear **&%$##@$% in my head and go “Oops! Time to drink some water!”
This is Jamie. She’s a little camera-shy, which is amazing to me. If I were as cute as she is, I’d pay people to take my picture. Jamie is Korean but is actually a resident of the Cambridge Zen Center. It was so wonderful to come all that way and see a familiar face! She was such a help to me in so many ways. She translated for me. She taught me to say “hello” and “thank you” in Korean then flagged over another Korean lady and made me practice on her until I got it. She got me the Seoul Metro equivalent of a Charlie Card. And she was just there being her sweet self. What a doll!
This is Lee Joo Ok. She speaks no English and I speak almost no Korean and yet we seemed to bond. We talked a bit through Jamie but mostly just were present together. I was surprised and flattered when she gave me a book. It is the dharma talks of a Hungarian teacher. The first half of the book is in Korean and the second half is the English translation. I’d actually like to use it to start learning Korean!
Here we have Kim. He’s from Israel via Greece where he lives at a residential Zen center led by another student of Zen Master Seung Sahn. One thing I noticed is that Hwa Gye Sa brought up a lot of karma for a lot of people when they arrived. This poor guy started out with the worst case of jet lag I’ve ever seen which then morphed into a cold that then turned into bronchitis. He stuck it out, though, and was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by the time I left.
Being a monastery, there were a lot of monks and nuns around.
Here I am with the Head Monk, O Kwang Sunim (on the left) and another monk whose name I forgot to write down. The other monk we sat with was Jo Bul Sunim, the Assistant Head Monk, whom I never got a picture of. He was a great big Polish guy with whom I shared a lot of good-natured ribbing. You may be saying, “So, these guys aren’t Korean. What’s up with that?” Well, actually, the Seoul International Zen Center is sort of separate from Hwa Gye Sa proper. Hwa Gye Sa is still Korean but SIZC is run along side it by people who came to the center through the Kwan Um School. It’s complicated but what it essentially means is that the Western Sunims and the Korean Sunims do some stuff together and some stuff separately and there are separate hierarchies in both groups. The group of us sitting Kyol Che there was a separate small group inside of the greater Hwa Gye Sa scene, and some scene it is! There are hundreds of people in the Sangha and most of them show up on Sunday. I remember the first Sunday I was there. I came downstairs from morning practice and the Buddha Hall was jammed with people. There were people cooking stuff in the parking lot and kids running around everywhere. Hwa Gye Sa is a tremendously active temple that has lay people in and out of it all day, every day. It was really something to see.
In my next post (I won't say tomorrow because you know I lie), I will tell you all about my trips into Seoul where I got chased out of a shop, saw a palace and found knitters!