Haein Temple to the Jiri Mountains

Haein Temple

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. 

Standing Buddha on the mountain behind Haein Temple

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. 

The meditation hall at Sudo Hermitage. Photo by Chang, Dong Yeon

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!”

11 thoughts on “Haein Temple to the Jiri Mountains”

  1. Thanks for this wonderful story, Sunim.

    Haeinsa must generate travel stories, because I also have a travel story involving that temple.

    I was traveling on my own (along with my 15 words of Korean) and had spent the night at a small town just down the road from Hwaeomsa. (This was about 1995.) The next morning I went to the local bus station and tried to purchase a ticket for Haeinsa – but couldn’t figure out how to do it at the machine.

    So I went to the window and said, “Haeinsa,” and the clerk responded and I didn’t have a clue what he said. So I showed him the word “Haeinsa” in Hangul in my guidebook and he responded, waving his hand.

    There were only a few people in the terminal and soon they were all crowded around me talking and I wasn’t understanding a word of it. After about 10 minutes of discussion, a man took me over to the ticket machine and made me purchase a ticket. I didn’t have a clue…

    Then he took me outside and put me on one of the buses that was waiting at the terminal. Soon the bus took off. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew that it couldn’t be Haeinsa, because “you can’t get there from here.”

    About an hour later, the bus came to a highway tollbooth and stopped. The driver came back and got me and my bag and made me get off the bus and stand in the middle of the highway on the tollbooth platform.

    So, here I am – in the middle of somewhere, standing on a platform, with a clerk inside who has not acknowledged my presence. Cars, trucks and buses are coming and going, coming and going, paying their tolls.

    After a while, a bus comes, going the opposite direction from the one in which I had been traveling, and it stops to pay its toll. The tollbooth clerk comes out of this booth, takes me by the arm, and walks me over to the bus. The door opens and the clerks pushes me up the stairs, into the bus.

    It’s a Korean tour group! Singing a song!

    Duh?

    So I work my way back in the bus and find an empty seat. A fellow in front of me turns around and asks in pretty good English if I knew the name of some Korean baseball player who played for the L.A. Dodgers. Of course I said, “Yes!” even though I had never heard of the man.

    Then I asked him where the bus was headed and he said, “Haeinsa!” And soon I was enjoying a tour of the temple in the company of the very nice people on the bus.

    Talk about trusting Buddha-nature! Without any intention on my part, a collection of strangers had come together to make my wish a reality. I just had to follow along – “just do it!” as Zen Master Seung Sahn often said.

    Later that day, I traveled to Chikchisa, which was a whole ‘nother story about the kindness of strangers…

    Thank you again!

    1. That’s hilarious, Barry! And exactly Korea! In the rural areas people are a lot more friendly and laid-back, and also not too hung up on fixed rules. 😉

      Sometimes one really has to let go plans and “why”s and just go with the flow, trusting that things will work out.

    2. Hi Barry,

      Great story:). Thanks for sharing it. I would love to hear the one about your travels to Chikchisa and the kindness of strangers, if you would like to share?

      I love a good story!

      With Curiosity,
      Rachael

  2. Thank you Chong Go Sunim for your wonderful story of traveling around to various temples. I really enjoyed reading it. The story and photos speak deeply.

    As far as your anger goes, you are only human and to feel that way given the circumstances seems very normal — thank goodness your practice brought you back to your center — that’s a living lesson for everyone.

    Lastly, thanks for the moral of the story, and the truth of entrusting everything as we go to our true nature.

      1. That new background was an experiment, a little too much for everyday use I think, plus it loaded slowly. I have reverted to a plain, yet comfortable, look.

  3. What a fabulous story – and what dedicated practice! I would have jumped off that bus and caught the nearest flight home… Thank you for the teachings on anger. It is very appreciated!

    Genju

  4. really enjoyed reading your story. I don’t think it was much about anger, but it seems to me that your foundation was pulling your attention inward, so instead of enjoying outside things like temple or flowers or lanterns, it turned you more inward. Bad treatment in the temple – turned you towards temple within you, policeman with little intelligence – turned you towards relying on your intuition and foundation, drunk bus driver – invoked compassion.

  5. and as for airplane crash “if at least one person would practice…” very similar thing is mentioned in the Bible

  6. Thank You, Chong Go:).

    Yes, “anger really makes a fool out of me”!

    Deep Heartfelt Gratitude for this as it is what I needed…

    I wish you great love, health and happiness,
    Rachael

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