Traveling towards the Jiri Mountains, I had spent the last few nights at Haein Temple, but was down to my last six or seven thousand Won. (It would have been about eight US dollars in those days.) I’d wanted to travel like the monks of old, going where circumstances took me. So I left without taking any extra money, determined to rely upon the kindness of the sunims at the temples I visited. Normally this isn’t a problem; visiting monks are traditionally given traveling money to take them to their next destination. In practice, it’s always more than enough, usually at least 30,000 Won (about thirty U.S. dollars), and often more.
However, upon leaving Haein Temple, I had been given nothing. In addition, while staying there, I’d been put in a dark, dirty room behind the kitchen and told to be careful that none of my personal belongings were stolen. (After thoroughly cleaning the room) I spent a few days at Haein Temple, paying my respects to the great wood-block collection of the Buddhist canon and attending most of the daily ceremonies. After the morning cleaning, I would hike the mountains behind the temple, and meditate before the huge rock carvings of Buddha. (This photo is from here, with thanks to the photographer.)
But for some reason, the wonju sunim (the monk in charge of guests and shopping) seemed to take a strong dislike to me. On top of this, when I left, I was given no traveling money. It was such a contrast to my previous visits to Haein Temple that I was in foul mood as I headed for the valley’s entrance. With almost nothing in my pocket, I barely noticed the lotus lanterns stretching for miles along the road, or the beautiful spring flowers on the fruit trees. Anger really makes a fool out of me.
Arriving at the bus stop on the main road, I went over to the small police station to ask for directions to a major temple in the Jiri Mountains called Hwaeom Temple. I suspected there might not be a direct bus, but I would be able to take a connecting bus from the nearest city. Bus fare in Korea is very cheap, and with what money I had, I might just make it if I stuck to the local buses.
Strangely enough, the policeman didn’t know which city I needed to go to, nor did he even have a road map of Korea. I had started out the morning irritated and was rapidly progressing to downright angry. “How could this be?! A policeman who doesn’t know the cities in the area or even have a road map?! And what’s with that jerk at the temple treating visiting sunims so badly?!” Anger really makes a fool out of me.
I knew I needed a bus going west, so as I stewed, I sat and waited. But part of me knew this anger was wrong. No matter how reasonable all of those justifications and descriptions, there was something fundamentally wrong with that anger and self-righteousness. I tried to let go of it, but I just couldn’t shake it. Finally I remembered what my teacher often said about aggressively entrusting the things that confront us. Determined to experiment with what she told us, I said “Okay Juingong, you’re taking care of all things, so take care of this anger too! I don’t want to carry this around any longer.” (“Juingong” is synonymous with true nature or Buddha-nature, and literally means the one that is truly doing things, but which has no fixed form.) I was still grumpy, but it seemed to help a bit.
A few minutes later the bus came, but flew right past the bus stop. My body bolted up and I found myself shaking my fist at the bus. The driver, seeing me in the side mirror I suppose, hit the brakes and came to a squealing stop about 50 meters past the bus stop.
I was still pretty hot, but managed to grunt thanks as I paid my fare and found a seat. A few kilometers further on, the road passed through some rice fields. Here the road bed was raised about two meters above the fields, with only about 30 centimeters of grassy shoulder on each side. Just ahead of us, a farmer had parked his car in our lane while he checked on something in a field. The only way around was for the bus to go into the oncoming lane. But as the bus barreled ahead towards the parked car, there was a car coming towards us in the oncoming lane. It was as if our driver didn’t realize that the car ahead was parked, and that he wouldn’t be able to go around it because of the oncoming car. We were closing fast on the car blocking our lane, and the oncoming car wasn’t slowing down either. In a moment two cars and a bus would be trying to occupy the same time and place. At the last instant, the oncoming driver seemed to realize that our bus had no intention of stopping behind the parked car. He slammed on his brakes as our driver wrenched the bus into the oncoming lane, passed the parked car, and then veered back again.
It took me a minute to remember to breathe, but as I did, I noticed that our driver’s head was rolling from side to side. Now his left ear would almost be touching his left shoulder, now with a violent jerk his head would swing up, and a moment later be almost on his right shoulder, and then back again. Seeing his bright red face in the mirror, I realized that he was drunk. Not just tipsy, but a full three sheets to the wind drunk.
My first thought was to get off at the next stop. But before I had a chance to, I remembered something I’d heard Daehaeng Sunim say about a plane crash, “This may be hard to believe, but if even one person on that plane had been practicing, it wouldn’t have crashed.” Ugh.
I stayed on the bus, and focused on entrusting the situation, and my fear(!), to this Buddha-nature that connects and guides all things. Finally the bus reached the terminal in the city of Geochang, and the driver got off. As I watched him head for the break room to sleep it off, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. He was living at a large meditation hall, Sudo Hermitage, about an hour away, and invited me to stay there. Later that night, as I settled in and prepared to spend a few days, I suddenly remembered about having been angry earlier in the day.
I couldn’t help laughing out loud, because with that terrifying bus ride, all of the anger I’d felt earlier in the day was utterly forgotten. I had raised the thought that I wanted to be free of that anger, and it had worked! By the time I got off that bus I had completely forgotten about being angry. I laughed again and thought to myself, “Be careful what you ask for!”