Ruby Ramblings

More pics from Geumsansa – Thursday Thirteen
February 25, 2010, 5:19 am
Filed under: Korea, Travel

Here are more pics from my temple stay last weekend at Geumsansa Temple, South Korea. I have long neglected the Thursday Thirteen folks. Hope you enjoy.

The ancient Buddhist symbol for the wheel of life.

The cabins we stayed in.  The black lid covers our "heater" for the building.

Geumsansa Temple
February 22, 2010, 12:01 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Korea, Travel | Tags: ,

After nine months, I finally did one of the first things I intended to do in Korea – go on a temple stay.  I wasn’t the only one in this boat, several of the folks I talked to on the trip (of 33 people, I think), were doing the same thing.  Some were on their way out within the next couple of weeks, and were finally getting around to doing the stay.  It is less of a meditation retreat, and more of an introduction to Buddhist temple life turned craft camp. Overall it left me feeling better about being in Korea, was relaxing, and was a great chance to hang out with like-minded foreigners and some cool Korean folks.

For me, the highlight of going to temples is the art.  Besides finding it inspiring, it is a relaxing dose of color compared to the concrete jungle with neon signs that is the rest of Korea.

Gemsansa is made up of many buildings holding a different main Bodhisattva, but this one is particularly spectacular. It is three stories high, and on the inside holds a statue that takes up every bit of that three stories. We were allowed to take pictures, which is very rare inside temples.

Temple Housing Maitreya Buddha.

Close up of the artwork on the building.

Our monk host and translator describing how it is unique to Korean temples to use the natural shape of the tree as pillars to the the buildings. He was a wonderful host, extremely open, friendly, and excited to share. He said the first time he was given the temple stay for foreigners as an assignment, but ever since 2004 he’s volunteered to be the person to be in charge of leading them.

The warriors: mean, scary-looking, but ultimately fighting for compassion against the evils of greed, hatred, and ignorance.

Inside. I think it’s hard to tell from the pictures, but keep in mind that these statues are three stories tall.

At the base rubbing the wishing rock and looking up.

In our monastic wear.

After a meditation session, and lengthy Q&A with the monk we settled in for the arts and crafts part of our sleep-over. Some grandmas came in to show us how to make tissue paper lotus lanterns. It was great to see that out of all the people, no two were exactly the same. People came up with some pretty clever designs.
At first the grandmas seemed a little unsettled by our creative license, but they warmed up to it after a while.

Lotus Lanterns

I asked the same question that I asked a monk in Yeosu a while back to our monk here and got a completely different answer. “What do you think about the turn in your own culture away from Buddhist principles to completely embracing capitolism to the point of extreme materialism, and a huge focus of physical appearnce and material success?”

Since I’ve come to Korea, I’ve had this question in my mind. Although the people here have every right to develop their culture and society however they want, it has been a personal disappointment to me that a country that used to be Buddhist has become so extremely consumerist. This question had been burning in my mind even more the last couple weeks after a great project I did with some of the students at school. They were asked to create a new superhero, and had to list the three top qualities a hero should have. Almost all the groups put being handsome/beautiful as the top quality because, “No one can trust someone who isn’t beautiful.” This was hugely disheartening to me, especially in light of the western concept of heroes where they are often the underdog and end up having an inner quality that puts them above the rest.

The monk in Yeosu basically said that people are going to do what they are going to do, and that monks live in a realm above that. It almost seemed like he didn’t care. It was an unusual temple were it appeared, to me, that the monk had completely surrounded himself with quite expensive looking material comforts, and although he was kind and informative, he seemed to be the ruler of his domain.

The response I got at Geumsansa was much different. This monk went into a lengthy description of Korean history, and how the materialism we see today is born of a desire to fight their way out of extreme poverty and the devastation left by Japanese occupation and the war. He kind of described it as the natural projection of that success, but that he sincerely hopes that Korea is going to enter a new cultural age. He ended by saying that Korea is going to need a lot of encouragement from foreigners who are interested in actual culture. There are some of us interested in more than just the new cell phone technology.

The next morning we were up at 3am to observe the monks’ daily morning prayers in the main temple hall. It is a gorgeous temple with statues representing several of the main Buddhas – medicine, shakyamuni. I wish I had written down the list when they were doing the tour because I can’t remember them all, and some are specific to Korean Buddhism. One thing I’ve noticed in almost all the Korean temples I’ve visited is a lack of the Taras – the 24 female Buddhas.

Later in the day, our second craft project entailed making our own set of prayer beads. I have several sets from various travels, and the set I use the most was a gift from a guitar player friend in Nashville, but these ones are particularly special, in that I really had to work to earn them. Instead of just stringing the beads, we had to pick a temple to go into (I have to admit to being selfish here – I picked the main hall because it had heaters and it was freezing outside), and then between stringing each bead we had to do a full prostration. The classic 108. I made it, and feel all the better, if sore, for it.

I would highly recommend this temple stay. I’ve heard some of the other’s described as “being a straight jacket for the weekend” or “we were like slave labor for the temple for the weekend.” This temple stay was beautiful, informative, and busy – but with enough time to collect yourself. Everyone on the trip was a good sport as well, which made for a much smoother weekend. I went with Adventure Korea, which is doing the same tour again the end of March.

Teaser Tuesday – In the Land of Invisible Women
February 17, 2010, 2:20 am
Filed under: Books, Travel

I’m not into that many memes online, but I haven’t been participating lately in the few that I did use. A day late, but not a quote short.

Hosted by Should Be Reading

Here is my random two sentence quote from page 31:

In the Land of Invisible Women by Quanta Ahmed

“As I spent time in the Kingdom, I was to see just how far removed the state-enforced theocracy was from the truth which is Islam and also how conflicted the Saudis around me, both men and women, had themselves become. Their state no longer represented their personal beliefs.”

February 4, 2010, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel

A heavy military town for both Korean and American troops about a half hour north of Seoul on the Subway, this town was the base of MASH 4077 for folks who watched the show.

Now, it’s a new, active city with both modern shopping and a traditional Korean market surrounded by gorgeous mountains.

The central street has been closed down and turned into a kind of European style shopping street with public art and a nice little “nature” walk complete with mushroom seats.

The street is called Rodeo street, but with this guy holding down the fort at the front, I don’t know if rodeo is the connotation they were really looking for.

January 2010 Reads

I’ve come full circle, for a year of blogging, reading, and moving half-way around the world. This month may have been a little too eventful, but it was a robust reading month.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

I was surprised to see this on NPR’s 100 best beach books list. To me a beach book is something you could recommend to anyone – non-offensive, delightful, and easy to read. This is none of those. The only reason I can think of that it would be on a beach books list is because it is relatively short. Although I thought this was an extremely well written book, and I will seek out more Coetzee just for his prose, this is one of those books that I would only recommend to people who I know to have some fortitude in digesting harsh subject matter, and who are “true” readers.

by Amy Bloom

Now this could be a beach read. Even though it does have some interesting moments, I think you could read it with your toes in the sand without it ruining your day. It was decent, but not great, a Russian immigrant to the US in NYC decides to travel across the country by foot when she hears that her daughter may still be alive and living in Russia.

by Amanda Eyre Ward
Kindle Version

Another book about a family member searching for someone who is lost. A girl goes missing, and years later her sister thinks she finds her in Montana. Another light but decent read.

by Ian Baker
Kindle Version

A travel narrative of Baker’s slog through the heart of Tibet to the rarely seen Tsangpo river, which is believed to be a sacred place where people can achieve enlightenment on earth. I enjoyed the book, although due to the nature of his journey, it is quite repetitive. His knowledge of Tibetan folk lore and history is extensive and added interest, for me, to the book. Overall, I think he does fall into the trap of writers such as Micheal Palin where he is a western man out to “acquire” the piece of the world his heart and mind desires.

This video is unrelated to the book, but it gives you a good idea of the area:

by Miriam Toews
I picked up this book in Beijing at the Emperor Guest House for my friend Bybee who is collecting Canadian authors. I enjoyed this story of a sweet neurotic mayor of the “smallest town in Canada” as he tries to convince the Prime Minister (who he believes is his illegitimate father) to come for a visit. The book is full of great, quirky characters – like the four year old named Summer Feeling, and reminded me a little bit of the writing of Fanny Flagg.

by Pietra Rivoli
Kindle Version

What a book of this type should be – informative, yet conversational and engaging. Rivoli travels around the world from cotton farms in Texas, to T-Shirt factories in China, to second hand clothes shops of discarded American clothes in Africa.

by Adeline Yeh Mah
Kindle Version

When Adeline’s mother dies after having her, her father marries a Chinese-French woman who abuses her stepchildren and turns the family away from the unwanted girls. What was most surprising about this book is what an amazing sense of humor Yeh Mah has. Even though this was a tragic story, she found many places to add absurdity and humor.

Lockpick Pornography
by Joey Comeau
This is a free PDF version of this short fiction by a Canadian author depicting a young man’s anger at feeling dejected by the heterosexual majority. He gets back at the mainstream by stealing from middle class houses that appear to have “typical” families in them. A group of young friends devises a way to make a big public statement challenging the gender paradigm.

by Peter Matthiessen
I like Matthiessen, but I often find him to be quite male-centric and arrogant. In this book he lays aside his usual macho-ness to describe the death of his wife and his transition (because of her interest) into Zen Buddhism. I’m not surprised that he is attracted to this particular branch of Buddhism since I’ve found it to be also very male-centered, hierarchical, and controlling. Unfortunately after the initial personal aspects of the book are finished, I think it was rather dry and uninteresting.