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Winter Retreat at Musangsa
“Rubber Shoes are White and Tennis Shoes are White.”
After three months of intensive retreat, the doors to the meditation temples open again. Three days before the last day of winter retreat (Haeje, February 25), I visited Musangsa Temple on Gyeryongsan Mountain . The disciples of the great propagator of dharma Seon master Seung Sahn live here.
Musangsa Temple was established in March, 2000. From that summer, they’ve had intensive retreats. This winter retreat, they had 11 monks and nuns. What make this retreat unique are the nearly 70 lay retreatants (lay people can participate for one week to three months) in the course of the retreat. Very diverse nations are represented here, from , , and , to , , and . However, all the retreatants share one thing in common. They were all influenced by Seon master Seung Sahn in one way or another. Some met him in person and others through books or his disciples. They’ve all come here from great distances by the immense inspiration and influence of Seon master Seung Sahn. It’s been more than six years since his passing, but his impact remains great.
In many ways, Musangsa’s retreat is not much different from other Korean temples. Just as in Korean temples, walking and sitting meditation alternate, and there is the traditional board listing the jobs for monks. One obvious difference at Musangsa is that the language used is English. Dharma talks and kongan interviews are in English with translations into Russian, Chinese, and other languages as needed. The style of the kongan interview is to encourage and help those who burst out crying or get angry during the interview. It resembles a psychotherapy session. Practitioners can cleanse their delusion by bringing up concealed sorrow or grudge in the interviews with the spiritual director, Ven. Dae Bong.
Musangsa abbot Ven. Dae Jin and spiritual director Ven. Dae Bong are the elders of the group. They are both from
Philadelphia . They are both college graduates. They are both men of talent. And they have both traveled the world spreading the dharma of their teacher, Seon master Seung Sahn. Ven. Dae Bong first met Seon master Seung Sahn in 1977 at a lecture at the
Center . That time someone asked the master, “What is crazy and what is not crazy?” The Seon master Seung Sahn replied “If you are very attached to something, you are very crazy. If you are a little attached to something, you are a little crazy. If you are not attached to anything, you are not crazy.”
Ven. Dae Bong thought that answer resolved all the questions that couldn’t be resolved in all his years of studying psychology. Seon master Seung Sahn’s main teaching was “only don’t’ know.” He said, “Thinking makes suffering. You must throw them all in the garbage.” “Only don’t know. Just do it.”
I asked what the meaning of retreat was. Ven. Dae Bong replied, “When hungry, eat; when sleepy, sleep.” This was a very familiar answer common in the Seon tradition. However, he added a new depth to this well-worn expression. “In addition, if someone is hungry give them food. If someone is suffering, help them.” Ven. Dae Bong received transmission (recognition of the realization of Seon) from Seon master Seung Sahn in 1992. This resolved the questions of legitimacy and the background for the transmission in one fell swoop.
Ven. Dae Bong said, “Rubber shoes are white and tennis shoes are white.”
Ven. Dae Jin who became a JDPS (guiding teacher) in 1997, clarified this statement, “Whether it’s rubber shoes or tennis shoes, the important thing is how well they preserve the feet. Therefore the function and role are important. The color is not significant.” This means the proof is in the pudding. In other words, it’s not that we live well because we become enlightened. Rather, by living well, we become enlightened.