Welcome to Mihwangsa
> > > My time at Mi Hwang Sa > > Yoonjin Ha > > When my mother registered our family for the eight-day silent retreat at Mi Hwang Sa, my first reaction was of indifference. It would be another ordinary week, I thought—just so happens to be in silence. As soon as I arrived, however, a glance at the daily schedule proved to be anything but ordinary. Our days were filled to the brim, beginning at 4 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. We totaled six hours of grueling meditation everyday; in addition to Monk Kumgang’s two-hour lectures, there were hour-long question periods after our final evening meditation session; instead of dinner, we had yoga and drank carrot juice. The retreat was a rigorous physical, mental, and emotional detoxification and realignment. Accordingly, most of my colleagues were middle-aged adults who had come to take time to “figure it all out”—to refocus their lives. > 36 hours of meditation, eight hours of tea with our monk, seven bowls of morning porridge, seven hours of Buddhist chanting and prostrations, and six cups of carrot juice later, I completed the eight days and seven nights of a truly life-changing experience. There were four important lessons I got out of this silent retreat. > First, I eat too much meat. During our stay at the monastery, we follow a lot of a Buddhist monk’s regimen, including the vegetarian diet. I cannot remember a week of my life in which I didn’t eat meat. Come to think of it, I usually eat meat three times a day. After a week of getting protein solely from my tofu, I realized how much I actually did not need meat. I haven’t become a vegetarian, but rather a conscientious meat-eater. I will still eat meat occasionally (only organic, of course) because it tastes delicious and is very filling; but the less meat I consume, the lighter my body feels and the less strain I place on my digestive system. My body is all that I have—my temple, if you will—and, although it is an efficient self-regulator already, I have an immense conscious responsibility to maintain its resilience by monitoring what I eat. > Second, Buddhist monks have a point with their well-known serenity and tranquility. Aside from our muteness, the monks consistently reminded us to make the least disturbance with everything we did, especially during our noon “baru” meals. By the end of the week, pouring any liquid down the inside wall of a pot to make the least noise became second nature to us. At first, the monks’ constant remarks about making less noise seemed like bickering, but I realized that there is nothing to lose in treating all you do with composure. The extra inch of effort required placing your cup on a table quietly as opposed to dropping it with a thud is insignificant, but the calm atmosphere you radiate from peacefully controlled motions has a great influence on your mind and on the people around you. > Third, there are many things in my life that I don’t appreciate enough. One piece of etiquette that we learned upon arrival was bowing before picking anything up—our books, our bowls for eating—or before entering our lecture hall. It was such a minute detail, but repeatedly bowing to inanimate objects provoked my appreciation for them. Before every lecture, by bowing to my books, I was reminding myself of how important they were to me and how fortunate I was to have them readily available from which to learn. I had never thought to attach so much credit to lifeless items such as my room or plates for food, but by giving them the respect they “deserve”, I begin to treat the objects with better care. An existential feeling of mutual understanding and trust slowly builds between the things that benefit our lives and us. > The fourth lesson was my most important. I learned how to live happily, as cliché as that may sound. I discovered that I had been living my life backwards, thinking that one’s exterior actions were more crucial than one’s inner thoughts. If you kept an enthusiastic and happy image, I thought, your heart would eventually come around because you have control over your actions. Little did I know that while I had been maintaining a cheerful exterior, I was in fact harboring a lot of anger inside. During my week at Mi Hwang Sa, however, I learned that the condition of my heart, soul, and mind was the top priority. Once I convince my heart to be happy, my actions become a second thought and naturally reflect my inner tone. What’s more, there is always, always a reason to smile. In every moment of our lives, there exists a reason to be happy. To be alive in itself is reason enough to smile. > Hearing the distant knocking of the wooden “moktak”, surrounded by the gorgeous Dalma Mountains, and being able to see the southern most tip of South Korea from the temples, it was never hard to find a reason to smile at the monastery. I would often think to myself, “When will I ever be able to relive this moment?” During meditation, my knees and ankles may be aching and I may be struggling against drowsiness, but I remind myself, “Despite the discomfort and frustrations, Yoonjin, when will you ever again be in a room with twenty other people and two monks meditating together? Next to a gorgeous mountain range? With the ocean in front of you? And the sound of monks chanting in the temples behind you?” This is a very rare and remarkable moment, I realize. I smile. > Our inability to speak helped me to discover how to live happily. Speech for us is instantaneous. If a person says something offensive to me, without thinking I might snap back angrily. Once you expose your anger and send the negative energy out, you can’t take it back; and the heated situation only fuels itself. Being unable to speak, however, when somebody irritated me during the retreat, instead of immediately responding in anger, I was forced to let the emotion linger inside. And, as sand in a stirred glass of water eventually settles to the bottom, so would my anger. I would convince myself that there wasn’t any reason worth staying angry. It would only attract more negativity and stress. Why let anything ruin my precious time at the monastery? I smile. The anger evaporates. Life is so much easier, I discovered, when led happily. And thanks to my time at Mi Hwang Sa, I learned how to live happily and that I could do it. It takes constant effort on my part, which can be very difficult at times, but knowing how it feels to be without anger, I know the hard work is worth it. > I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in the silent retreat at Mi Hwang Sa, and my experience changed my outlook on life. I cannot imagine that I would have been able to make the discoveries and learn the lessons I did at the monastery had I not been a part of this retreat. So I decided to stay at the monastery for another week! All of the office, residence, and kitchen staff were very considerate and could not have made my stay more comfortable. I am thankful especially to the residing monks for providing me with such an interesting and eye-opening temple stay. One monk in particular, Monk Dukhwa, astounded me with his great taste in modern music! When I was having tea with him one day, he showed me his vast collection of jazz, soul, blues, and acoustic guitar CD’s. Monk Dukhwa, to my surprise, went further to explain how he realized that his decades of Seon study went hand-in-hand with the music he loved. It blew my mind to hear a conventionally ordained monk share my enthusiasm for contemporary jazz and blues music! Before I left, I made Monk Dukhwa a CD of my favorite jazz and blues hits, and we listened to it together while drinking tea in his room; something I would have never guessed to be doing a week before. > As I departed Mi Hwang Sa after two unbelievable weeks, the words that stayed with me were “This is the first day of the rest of your life”. And I couldn’t be more excited. >
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