Hardly a Zen Buddhist revelation by any account, but it was the epiphany that a youngster arrived at from his experience at the Kil-sang Temple Zen Camp, where he participated for three nights and four days along with 74 other participants this summer. All 75 people had their wallets, accessories and cellular phones taken away during their stay at the camp. They changed into gray shirts and pants provided by the temple, and obeyed the code imposed by two words posted on the walls: "Mook-Uhn," or silence. The point of this silence was to rid of all needless things of the secular world, allowing for a search into a deeper self.
This sort of enlightenment is not easy to reach. Long days and complete bodily dedication to the cause can take their toll on the weak-willed. For anyone thinking otherwise, just read through a typical day"s chores:
The day starts at 4 a.m. with the attendance of the morning rite. Before breakfast, the participants have to bow down on their knees 108 times to the Buddha statue located in the main temple. People pant and their knees shudder. The party then leaves the main temple and prepares for breakfast.
Eating meals, known here as "Balwoo Gongyang," is done three times a day. The meals vary but are modest, consistently vegetarian. At the conclusion of a meal, water boiled with burned rice is distributed. Moving the water from one bowl to the other, one must clean the dishes with a piece of sweet radish using chopsticks. The rice water and sweet radish used in cleaning the bowls must be eaten as well, as cleaning reaches an end.
Rainwater from one of the bowls then serves to rinse the dishes. This time, however, instead of chopsticks and sweet radish, one uses one"s hand only. The remaining water is collected by rows. The monk inspects the water contained in the bucket and either passes it or rejects it.
A "no" sign falls when particles of food remain in the crystal-clean water inside the bucket. The not so clean water is redistributed among the people in the row that is disqualified. They drink it to the last drop. The lesson is learned: Respect the food given to you to the last morsel, in respect of the long process taken for the piece to be put on the table.
Following, a type of meditation called Zen, or Seon in Korean, is performed. It can be carried out in various positions, but is most commonly done in crossed leg position.
During this meditation, one has to empty one"s mind and ask the fundamental questions: "What am I?" and "What"s my purpose in life?" People who doze off are hit on the shoulder with a bamboo stick and they must thank the monk for clearing their minds with a thrash.
Attendance to the morning rite, three meals a day, and the meditation are regular activities in the camp. Aside from these set schedules, the monks prepare extra-curricular activities, such as writing wills and seminars on meditation and philosophy of life.
The highlight of the camp comes at dawn of the last day. At 1:30 a.m., people have their cushions spread on the floor with a towel covering them. The sound of the bamboo stick flap announces the start of the obligatory 1,080 bows. Despite the physical weariness, their minds are clear and calm. Maybe filled with one question: "Is the ultimate state of enlightenment anywhere close yet?"
During the closing ceremony people are given a Buddhist name as a memento of one"s endurance and one"s effort to seek the true values of life.
After the four days of training, 75 participants return to their homes with a renewed attitude towards life. When the busy and demanding secular world suffocates them, they will be reminded of their days at the Kil-sang Temple. They have gained peace of mind, for they can distinguish the true treasures of life and thus know to value them.