When I was in high school, I took a world religions class that opened my mind to the study of Buddhism. I thought it was a great option for that time of my life and could offer me a fulfilling lifestyle to follow. It seemed like a good idea: seeking a mindful and peaceful existance with yourself and other people without too many rules to follow. Buddhism doesn't seek to expand it's following by attempting to crush out other religions or proclaim itself as the true way. I could live with that. Fast forward to university where I took an interest in Eastern religions courses during my undergrad years. I learned there was more to Buddhism than sitting peacefully in the lotus position and not killing the ants in your house for fear that they might be your deceased relatives. What I was most disappointed to learn is that ardent Buddhists seek to rid themselves of their desires in order to reach that level of emptiness we call Enlightenment
. I felt at odds with this perspective because desire is innate in humans. We want things, physical or non-physical, and I believe that to deny those desires is to deny what it means to be human. In general, we all want good things and to avoid the bad things: "I want that ice cream, but I don't want the extra calories". Life IS the good with the not so good: all that remains is how you choose to deal with that reality. I think everyone can see how wanting bad things can cause harm, but Buddhism advocates that even wanting good things can have the same harmful effects as wanting bad things. I don't believe it is a realistic goal to rid yourself of your desires and that aiming to do so is only setting yourself up for failure.
I believe in passions, finding what you love and doing it. I can't imagine my life without desires. I get excited about delving into my passions and I think there's no other way to live your life. I'm obviously not a good candidate for reaching Nirvana. I get what they are saying about not letting things like money rule your life, but who wants to live a life without spirit and feeling? If Buddhism tells me I should be strive to live a desire-free life, then "sayonara and thanks for the lesson!"
All that aside, I was still interested in doing a temple stay during my time here in Korea (see? here's where my desire
for experience steps up)
. *Sidenote* Korea is made up of four streams of spiritual influence: shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity.
Temple stays are offered for people who want to know what it's like to live the life of a Buddhist monk. They are usually held over a weekend and you eat, sleep and meditate like a monk. I had the opportunity to visit Hwagyesa Temple with Sam and her friend Stuart. Stuart has visited this temple a few times and led us to the introduction to meditation for foreigners: a three hour meditation at the temple. Yes, a three hour
meditation for beginners! We were given a brief explanation of how to empty your mind: breathe in, say "clear mind" in your head, breathe out, say "clear mind" in your head.
If you start thinking of something other than your presumed clear mind, you count to 10 and start over. We would have scheduled breaks every 30 minutes to walk around the room in silence and then sit down again to clear our minds. We were also warned that it takes a lot of practice to be able to clear our minds and to count to 10 and start again whenever we drifted to thoughts that shouldn't be there. Ok - I can do this. I love challenges.
I sit down crosslegged onto a thin mat on the third floor of the temple and begin clearing my mind. Easy. Breathe in. Clear mind
. Breathe out. Clear mind
. Breathe in. Breathe out. My mind is clear already. Not thinking about anything. Wait? Is acknowledgement that I am not thinking still thinking? Ok, count to 10 and start over. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Clear mind. Clear mind. Empty mind. Empty mind? How can it be empty if I can still think it? 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 ... mmm, I could really go for some lunch. I didn't know this thing was going to be three hours...1,2,3,4,5,6,7 ... THREE HOURS?! I can't sit here for three hours! 1,2,3,4,5,6 ... well, at least I have this nice window to look out of. Poor Sam has to stare at a wall. That tree looks nice. I'll bet I could get some cool photos looking through the leaves at the temple roof below...1,2,3,4,5 ... Oh good! It's time to get up and walk around. 1/6th of the way through. I hope i can make it through the next two and a half hours... what does that sign say? "For twenty-four hours don't make anything" That's ridiculous! How can a person not make anything for twenty-four hours? No sounds. No movement. No plans. Does a breath count as making something? This is asking too much. Oh, we're sitting again. Great. Ok, Clear mind. Clear mind. "Don't make anything" Pshaw! Setting us up for failure. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 ...Why does Buddhism make me so angry? An empty mind is not something that should be sought after. We work so hard to fill our minds. 1,2,3,4,5,6 ... Grrrrr! "Don't make anything" 1,2,3,4,5,6 ,7,8,9,10. Clear mind. Clear mind. My butt hurts. How can you be expected to sit and think of nothing when you're sitting on these uncomfortable mats. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 ... can't get comfortable. I'll just try to shift around without making any noise. Ooops, that was louder than I expected. 1,2,3,4,5,6 ... MONKS ARE MASOCHISTS!!!
It went on like that for the next two hours. Needless to say, I did not achieve a clear mind. My most important lesson from the day was that I don't need to waste an entire weekend doing a temple stay. I had more than enough during those three hours to last me a life time.