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In a Buddist Temple

Who believes in himself knows his own heart. The life is loneliness. At the beginning we don't like to recognize it and we keep ourself busy with hobbys, study and work
I wanted to escape the life in a buddist temple in Korea, but I just came closer towards the fundamental human needs, namely food and sex.

Songkwang-sa is one of the last temples in Korea that still teach a real Zen meditation. Zen literally means "to sit", sitting and meditating.
The tempel is built like a typical farmhouse: each single building stands on a rock foundation and the curved roof protects the exposed parts of the foundation against rain. The most interesting building is the main hall. Red-coloured wooden pillars carry the roof, which is made of several layers of beams, with the outside walls decorated with pictures. They show us different stages of development: the first picture shows man discovering an ox - a symbol of the self; the ox becomes lighter and lighter in colour until he is completely white - the man has totally discovered himself. In the next picture he rides on the back of the ox - he has learned to follow himself; then another picture, in which the ox is not present any more - man threw away his "self", or "I". The final picture contains only a circle - all contradictions are gone, there is no "you" and "me", "we" and "them" any more - man has entered paradise.

I spent three months as a Buddist monk in this temple.
Three o'clock in the morning we were woken up by a morning chanting accomponied by the rhythmic beating of the woodclappers (Mogthak). We prepared for the first morning service, which started at four o'clock.
When we entered the temple hall we lightly bowed with raised folded hands and gathered in several rows. The chanting of the prayers accomponied by the beating of the woodclappers (Mogtak) left no room for digression of thoughts. Each time the gong sounded, we bowed gracefully to the floor, neither too slowly nor too quickly. As we stood next to each other in a row, the monks on the ends wanted to change the direction of the bowing towards the statue of Buddha. But it was clear to them that the direction was not important, because Buddha exists in their own hearts, not in a wooden statue. Buddha resembles a sun which radiates out of one's heart once the clouds of ignorance have disappeared. Every temple is a symbol of one's own heart or of what exists there, namely God.

After the morning ceremony we had to bow behind the main temple, specifically in front of the steeple of the most recently enlightened monk. This monk was actually a judge by profession who, after unrightfully sentencing someone to death, gave up his profession and became a monk. From then on he meditated in the temple where he voluntarily locked himself up, receiving his food through a small window. A steeple is only built for a dead monk only if stones remain after cremation, thus proving his holiness. (The monks think that the stones came from the head or the testicles, because a saint had no sexual interaction.)

The special holiday in the temple took place every fourteen days, each time there was a full moon and a new moon. On this days we ate more than the usual radish soup and the daily kim-chee. The rice was steamed and mixed with peanuts, raisins, dates and sesame oil, the taste of soups, vegetables and tofu was enhanced with wild sesame and a mushroom sauce and the traditional rice cakes were baked.
Once a while, in addition to the fourteen-day cycle, there were festival days, on which not only the food was good, but we foreigners were allowed to speak with the most prominent monk, Ku-san-sunim (Nine-mountains-monk). On this occasion, we dressed in our best clothes. After the bowing to show honour he gave lessons. Some of us asked him questions about meditation. But what he seemed say repeatedly was the following: "You should think about what the heart is, and during the meditation think only about feelings and perceptions that come from the heart". Nobody asked why he should only think about the heart - now it would be too late to ask him, because he has passed away in Dec, 1983.

Most of the monks had previously led secular lives. Some of them had been married. One had worked as a tennis instructor and had had hundreds of girlfriends. Another had lived earlier in the mountains like an animal, surviving from pine needles, which he crushed in a mortar before his meals. One monk threw his weapon away during his military duty, for which he was imprisoned; he showed me scars from the mistreatment he had suffered there. There were even monks who entered the temple during their childhood and perhaps regretted never having touched a woman.

A few monks advised me not to stay in the temple in order to learn more in the society and get married. One monk even suggested that I should believe in Jesus, not in Buddha.
At that time Buddhism was for me the religion of eating, through which the strict life in the temple, the desire to eat, and the longing for women was repressed. I took the monks advice and returned to society.


I concentrated myself again on learning the language and took a course at the Seoul University.
Several times I met Myong-Hi who helped me to read out loud from my language book to me sentence by sentence, so I could practice the pronunciation. She was in the 12th grade and wanted to be a journalist. Her parents would have liked it better if she had chosen medicine. She was almost as large as I was and had a pretty face. What attracted me even more were here narrow, black eyes, through which she always intently looked at me. There was no motion in her eyes. She once gave me a poem, in which she expressed her desire to be a stone, so that her feelings could never get hurt. And then we met for the first time, in the evening, at the entrance to a university near where she lived. It was already getting dark as we took the path to the sports stadium. Our bodies seemed to coincidentally touch, and as we walked down the steps, I took her hands. But in the next moment, I let them go. I felt I was being watched, or was I just unsure of whether or not I did the right thing? Who could be watching us in the dark? I overcame my shyness, grabbed her hands again, and pulled her body towards me.

I am in the room with my older brother. My gaze remains on the window, which collects the light in a way that forms a cross. Suddenly a dog comes to my side and will not go away. I try to chase him away; I hit him. But it is no use. Then I take a bottle to try to kill him. But the window with the light irritates me. With full force, I throw the bottle at it, so that the glass shatters. In the same moment I have the feeling that all the windows in the room will shatter, because the broken pieces are pattering down. My brother stares at me. I am shocked at what I have done.

I had this dream one day before Myong-hi visited me at home. All the other students had gone to their lectures. And it was like a moment we had long awaited - alone in a room. Greedily, we hugged one another, and she led my hands to her small, beautiful breasts, which I touched over and over. We lay peacefully upon one another. I sensed how her breathing lowered from her chest into her stomach. As I stroked my hand over her jeans, she lost all her inhibitions. She told me that I could do what I wanted. I stripped off her jeans, and my mouth kissed her everywhere I liked. I could not fulfill her last wish that I put my penis into her, because I was afraid of the possible consequences. Although she lay there motionless, I sensed the twitching of her climax.
Then I seemed to become unconscious - and again it screamed out of me - the animal that I had already experienced in the dream and during the primal scream: "Uuaaaahh!" and with that came my ejaculation. Afterwards my voice changed into the voice of absolute self-assuredness, cold as ice, which ordered Myong-hi to leave the room. I became filled with disgust, because my heart could not decide to marry her.

I come to a fenced-in piece of land on a moutainside. It is in the woods. A creature with the face of a bear comes towards me. Although the face is that of a bear, the eyes are the asian eyes of an old man. He has a long rod in his hand, with which he wards me off. Earlier, this piece of land was a beautiful garden. I am not allowed in. For the first time, I am shocked by the creature that is half person, half animal. It has a helper with it. I have to go around the land on the outside.

I dreamt this after I was with a prostitute. A creature appeared stronger than me, and represented my own conscience. It doesn't allow me to go to a strange woman because the fruits which I want to enjoy are not meant for me.

There are many prostitutes in Korea who often first go astray after the breakup of a long relationship. It perhaps begins with the girl working as a waitress in one of the countless cafe's, moreso when she serves as a hostess in one of the drinking houses and »eats up« the men who she likes, until she finally gives in to the sweet addiction and makes herself available to every man. The customer gets so spoiled, as if he were her husband, who could be dead the next minute.
Why couldn't I wait long enough to find a wife who would do that for me? Did I feel somewhat drawn to their pretty faces? Possible - but it was surely more my loneliness, which I sought to fill. The loneliness and sadness was actually a form of inner emptiness which came about at the time of my primal scream experiments and became stronger ever since I lived alone. I had merely tried to allow myself to be distracted, so that I would not feel this emptiness. It was filled by eating and studying. I missed no opportunity to improve my Korean.

Now as I write these lines it is money that distracts me from this inner emptiness. We think when we get rich we can lean back and calm down, but the opposite happens. Money is like opium that occupies our thoughts all the time.


A interesting link from the author with the experiences of life 40 years later: