Update from the trail: Pilgrimage closing ceremony

Blog Sept. 25

Pilgrimage closing ceremony

By Tony MacGregor

We walked up the mountain again today –six of us – to visit Wonhyo’s cave and listen to the words of Master Kim, a Taoist teacher, who is also a follower of Wonhyo.

Wonhyo (617 – 686), one of Korea’s most beloved and unconventional monks, reached enlightenment after walking across the Korean peninsula with his friend and fellow monk Uisang. The pair were on their way to China when somewhere near present-day Pyeongtaek they were caught in a storm and sought shelter in what they thought was a cave.

During the night Wonhyo woke up with a compelling thirst. He felt around on the floor for a container of water, found what he thought was a gourd, lifted it to his lips and drank deeply of its sweet, refreshing contents.

In the morning he found that he wasn’t in a cave at all. It was a tomb, and what he had thought to be a gourd full of water was actually a human skull filled with foul, brackish water a what he had and rotting human flesh. He was so overcome with revulsion about what he had drunk during the night that he fell on his knees and vomited. The question came to him,” Why? Why did the water taste so sweet and refreshing during the night and yet was so revolting during the day?” The answer came to him that it was the mind – truth exists in the mind. At that moment he reached enlightenment and his life was changed. He decided not to continue on to China but to return to Shilla and chart his own course. He called himself “Muoae Geusa” (unhindered practitioner).

We sat just below the cave in a rough circle around a plastic bowl and a bottle of spring water as we listened to Master Kim, a professor of natural health management at Hanseo University, talk about Wonhyo. He said Wonhyo was important and we should remember him as a person not as a myth or legend, but as a man who lived his life fully in his era. In an earlier talk, Master Kim had told me that Wonhyo emphasized that everything in the world is interconnected and that in Wonhyo’s view the whole and the part exist as one. As a result, Wonhyo’s position embraced all viewpoints, not only within Buddhism but outside of Buddhism as well. Master Kim believes Wonhyo’s teachings have a message for world today.

To commemorate Wonhyo’s enlightenment we each drank spring water from the plastic dish and focused on his experience of enlightenment. We then ate a late lunch of kimbap, a role of rice and vegetables wrapped up in green seaweed that looks somewhat lie sushi before heading back down to the base of the mountain.

Earlier on our hike up the mountain Master Kim led us to a spectacular view of the surrounding valleys and mountains. We sat on huge slabs of rock looking at the view while Miss Kim Jiyun prepared fruit for us – crispy slices of Korean pear, apple slices, kiwi fruit, bananas. While we were eating the fruit Doug Tignor, a visiting American from near Philadelphia, played haunting melodies on the daegeum, a Korean bamboo flute. It was a precious moment, ideal for stopping time and experiencing the moment.

As we left the viewpoint and continued our walk, I was humbled and gratified as I thought of all the help and generosity that had gone into making the pilgrimage a success, and also how important it was for the pilgrims to stop their habitual ways of thinking and look inside during their journey.

One Response to “Update from the trail: Pilgrimage closing ceremony”
  1. rangzen says:

    Hello, do you remember frow where this picture comes from? Thank you.

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