Experiencing a Formal Zen Meal (Baru Gongyang)

no. 36 and no. 37

Watching this video, you may think this process is peaceful. But for someone new, it can be quite stressful, especially when there are 4o other people involved. It’s all about figuring our strategies. With the silent help of my neighbor — I was assigned bowl no. 37, I assume she was no.36 — it took me about three days to adopt the skills for eating faster and cleaning my bowl on time. A process testing your ability to stay in the moment.

If you don’t have your strategies down, you could be the person everyone is left waiting for. When they say, “Make sure not to take too much food”, it’s because if you do, you could be the last one eating. Although monks and meditators should be pretty cool about waiting, being the last one cleaning your bowl still isn’t a fun feeling.

And that bowl must be clean! Once you quietly pour your bowl cleaning water into the pot, it must be clear. The water goes to the hungry ghosts, and their necks are too thin to accept even the smallest kimchi chilli flake. We don’t want to choke them.

by Timothy Wright (http://timothyssketchpad.blogspot.com)

Minus the murder investigation, while at Musangsa, I often imagined I was in a surreal movie. The formal meal truly added to the surrealism.

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My 7 Day Meditation Retreat at MuSangSa

The Saturday I arrived at MuSangSa (Kyeryongsan International Zen Center), marked the last week of Kyol Che (Tight Dharma). This meant I was going to be spending my time with people who had been silent for up to 3 months: silent and unplugged from all things tech. My adventures into the “don’t know” mind began. Here is a basic run down of our daily schedule:

Mornings started off at 3:25am with 108 bows in Meditation Hall (see pictures below), followed by Kido chanting at 4am at the Buddha Hall. We then would walk back down to the Meditation Hall to start sitting meditation at 4:40am until 6am, when we would head to Dinning Hall for our formal breakfast. Then it’s time for working meditation until 7:40am. We break until 9am, where we meet in silence for 2 hours of meditation. Remember, except for the chanting, this is all done in silence. Then it’s a formal lunch. Then break. Then meditation from 1:30 until 4:30. Then a silent informal dinner. Break. Our final chanting of the day begins at 6pm. Once this is over, we return to meditate until 9pm in the Meditation Hall. Lights are out at 9:20pm.

We do it again the next day.

The regiment, the order, the silence, and the community has a fascinating impact on ones thoughts. For once, I got a glimpse into what real clarity might be like.

What did I learn or at least glean from this time? Scroll to the end of the photo gallery to find out.

Learnings to hold on to

– “One of the greatest delusions we have, is the delusion that we think we make decisions.” – Won San Sunim

– We take audio and visual silence for granted. It’s amazing how much one word or one image can trigger the ego.

DanJeon (Tantien) breathing techniques helped keep me focused when meditation got hard.

– Zen sticks are necessary for rigorous meditation. I couldn’t have done without those courteous wake up calls.

Zen Masters are pretty darn cool to talk to in Kong-an interviews or simply over tea.

– “Decide and do.” – Bo Haeng Sunim

– “Have a ‘don’t know’ mind” – Seung Sahn Haeng Won Sunim

– 41.5 hours of meditation in 7 days taught me that I need to meditate a whole lot more.