Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thank You Korea

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(From the upcoming book: Lessons from the Monk I Married)

I can’t forget Korea….I am reminded of Korea every time I look at my husband’s smiling face. Korea is a part of me. I never expected that. I never planned to go to Korea. I graduated from college with a degree in Professional Writing and a minor in Spanish. I lived and spent time in Spain, Mexico, and South America, but didn’t have much of an interest in Korea.

I remember when I was working in a health club in Seattle, Washington after college. I was desperately seeking some kind of peace and silence. I spent all my free time at the club reading books on Buddhism and meditation. I have no idea why. I would go to the break room and turn out all the lights and just sit in there in silence. One evening, right before closing, I was sitting alone in the towel area reading the last couple pages of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Japanese monk, Shunryu Suzuki. It was late and there weren’t any people left on my floor of the club. Suddenly, a woman came up to my floor from the pool area (The club is actually a multi-story building in Seattle). It felt like we were the last two people left on earth. She said, “Bye Kathy, today is my last day, I’m going to Korea with my boyfriend.” I said, “Korea?” and she explained that she wanted to travel and her husband is an English teacher in America and got offered a job in a university in Korea, so they planned to leave soon. We chatted a bit and then she left. There was a silent eeriness when she left. I was the only one in the club. I just kept repeating “Korea.” There was something familiar about that.

It was summer 1994 when I first heard the woman from the pool talk about going to Korea. A year later, I was there. A couple friends from college were teaching English in Kyoungju, a historical city located in southeastern Korea, an hour from Pusan. One of them called me and told me about a teaching opportunity there. I knew I had to go. Kyoungju is located close to a large Buddhist University called Dongguk University. It wasn’t unusual for me to have Buddhist monks and nuns in my classes. At the time, I was fascinated by monks because I had been reading so many books about Buddhism and had such a strong interest in meditation. Shortly after my arrival in Korea, I traveled alone for hours by bus to a remote temple called Songkwangsa.

It sounded very interesting and is one of three famous temples in Korea that represent the Triple Gem in Buddhism. The Triple Gem includes: Buddha (Enlightened One), Dhamma (Enlightened One’s Teaching) and Sangha (The Community of Monks or Lay People who practice this Teaching). Songkwangsa is the temple that represents the Sangha. There is an international training center there and you can see Korean monks as well as monks from other countries. I went because I believed I would meet an important monk there. I never did…at least not at that time. I did take a picture of a procession of monks coming out of a large temple door. After, I took the picture…I got on the bus for the long journey back to Kyoungju.

Months later, a monk showed up at my English school where I was teaching. He was unusual. He wore his hat, but not on his head. He had it lying across the top of his head. I knew right then that this monk was different. He ended up signing up for my friend’s English class. He could tell she was interested in learning about monk life, so he invited her out for noodle soup. Knowing my interest in Buddhism and meditation, my friend also invited me to come along. We went to a noodle shop on the edge of town near a slow, meandering river. We sat there slurping our noodles while the monk recounted his adventures in India during a pilgrimage to the sacred places of the Buddha. He smiled and laughed and sometimes he was silent for long periods. We all became friends rather quickly. My friend and I would wake up at the wee hours of the morning and ride our bicycles through the city to a meditation room above a little teashop where we joined other Koreans for meditation led by this monk.

Later, after we became good friends, I discovered that I had known this monk all along. He was in the picture I took of the procession of monks coming out of the temple door at Songkwangsa temple. He was the only monk facing me directly. Here we were, miles from that temple, meeting again. We had no previous connection, other than this photograph.

Seven years after I met this monk, we got married. The journey between then and now is one I am retelling in a book entitled, Lessons from the Monk I Married. There was a reason I went to Korea….these days I feel there is a reason for everything I do. I am thankful to have gone to Korea to meet my husband and I am thankful for finding a wonderful blogger who lives in Korea and has asked me to blog here. Sometimes the road we didn’t plan to take, take us exactly where we need to be. Korea, I thank you for that!

By Katherine Jenkins


Anonymous said...

i look forward to your sound fascinating!!Life can just be such an unexplainable journey with so many intricate tapestry.
Thanks for sharing this, I am always interested in hearing others stories of their journey.

Katherine Jenkins said...

Thanks Cat! Yes, I agree life is an unexplainable journey with so many mysteries...I think for everyone! I have been so intrigued by so many people's stories, that I thought I'd share my own here. Thanks for reading! Peace to you, Kathy

Beth Dunn said...

I think traveling is one of the best things you can do for your mind/spirit and it always changes your life. xoxo


Katherine Jenkins said...

Yes, it does always change your life. When you travel, you can be anything you want and I think we forget that in regular life. We forget that we can be and do anything if we put our minds to it. All the best to you Beth and your book looks interesting!
Peace to you,

Lia said...

I've been really interested in Buddhism lately myself. I spend a lot of my free time reading and trying to figure things out too. I think its awesome that you have such a beautiful story! I look forward to the book :)

Katherine Jenkins said...

Thanks Lia, so glad to meet and connect with you here again!!! Lots of peace, love and happiness to you!