In the Korean Mountains
Christian and I took a trip to a small quiet place in the mountains on the east coast of Korea about two hours away from Seoul. The Sorak Mountain is a national park and is one of the most beautiful places to see the foliage in the fall in Korea.
The purpose of our trip was to meet the Buddhist monk who taught me a form of lying meditation some years ago, a form of spiritual practice that has a long history and exists in many traditions.
The monk whose Buddhist name is Yeon Dam had just completed three years and three months of solitary training in the tradition of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. He built a small wooden hut high up in the mountains with a rope tied around a small area around the hut. The rope acted as the symbolic boundary outside of which he was not allowed to leave during his time of solitary spiritual practice. With no electricity and no heating, Yeon Dam lived in this hut through three freezing winters. When Christian saw the hut, he appeared impressed and somewhat moved.
I was happy to be reconnected with Yeon Dam. Many years ago, his practice helped me to become sensitively aware of the energy in my body and how it works, probably one of the most powerful experiences I've had on my spiritual journey. Prior to settling into his solitary retreat he was in India for many years, so it had been some time since I had seen him in person.
Yeon Dam was busy preparing for the ceremony celebrating the completion of his solitary training. His master, the Tibentan Ripoche Sey had come with two other Tibetan monks to perform the ritual. But in the evenings, he took the time to sit with me and Christian to have long and deep conversations about Buddhist wisdom. To me, he seemed even more peaceful and knowing than the person I remembered as he spoke about the deep sense of joy that comes from spiritual practice. I asked him what had changed as the result of his long practice. He said, everything.
On the day of the ceremony, Yeon Dam was given a new Tibetan Buddhist name by the Rinpoche. The ceremony was conducted in a simple wooden structure next to Yeon Dam's hut with makeshift vinyl walls to keep the cold winds out. Sitting in that humble shack, I could imagine the harsh natural conditions that Yeon Dam must have endured during his three and half years of solitary practice. For that one day, all of us who were there became participants in the life of a monk, so removed from the basic luxuries of life and yet so rich and overflowing in his earnest will to seek what the Buddha understood about the meaning of our existence.
Christian and I had originally planned to stay only two days to say our hellos and congratulations, but we very much enjoyed spending time with the group of people who were there for the occasion. They were people who had long been on their own spiritual paths and had gone through many different types of practice including ancient forms of Korean martial arts, Zen meditation and yoga. Interestingly enough, they had all been to India. One man had even trained for some time at an ashram in Rishkeshi under the late Swami Veda Bharati who, we were told, loved Korea and had many followers in Korea. This ashram also happens to be one that Christian had supported for various causes in the past. We were amazed by the happy coincidences or rather the invisible web that connected us to so many interests and people in common. The simple cabin where we gathered every day for meals and evening tea parties was imbued with an atmosphere of earnestness, authenticity, and such fun friendship that Christian and I both felt quite happy. Every day we postponed our departure and ended up staying for four nights and five days, and even then, we were sorry to leave. It was indeed a heartfelt and happy occasion to be among kindred spirits on their own journeys.