We stayed in a Buddhist temple on Wednesday night, set on the wooded slopes of Dharma Mountain. The setting was spectacular, with the jagged peaks of the mountains to the east and views down to the sea and scattered islands to the west. The atmosphere was one of quiet calmness. Big black and yellow butterflies flapped around bold red flowers in the hot sunshine. It did seem like an idyll set apart from the rest of the world.
We were taught what to do in the temple, how to do a half bow (from the waist) and a full bow (kneeling with foreheads on the ground). We were taught how to sit for meditation – crossed legs, a straight back, fingers making an ‘O’ in front of abdomens, looking at a point on the floor in front of us – and how to breath in order to help forget all distracting thoughts, but I knew that when the time came the discomfort of sitting on the floor with crossed legs wasn’t going to allow me to take any steps towards enlightenment.
It being Chuseok, we joined the other temple guests and the monks and made songpyeon, traditional rice cakes with sweet fillings. They were then steamed and served covered with the pine needles we’d prepared earlier.
We were woken at 4:00AM the next morning for chanting and meditation. I can appreciate some aspects of Buddhism – putting aside of the cares of the world in order to find some inner peace – but other aspects make me suspicious. Why is it necessary to attribute all sorts of supernatural capabilities to various god-like figures? Why does it seem to attract such superstitions? Indeed, some of the precepts seem like an attempt to deny our humanity, throwing out the good with the bad.
After breakfast, we walked to the top of the mountain, with clear views across the hills to the sea to east and west. The lady who showed us how to start the climb told us to keep to the path – there are snakes and other creatures that bite in the forest.
Of course there are snakes, even in Paradise.