Grandmaster Joon Pyo Choi Biography: Dragon and Chicken, part 10

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     One summer, when I took off from school, I travelled the country to visit the masters, grand masters, and spiritual leaders I could find. In 1966 I visited one famous spiritual mountain, Gyeryongsan Mountain. Gye means "chicken" and Ryongson means "dragon". Thus the mountain was called Chicken and Dragon Mountain. On this famous mountain was a temple that had been there for 1000 years, called Kapsa. Kap was its name. Sa means "temple".

     This one temple produced many enlightened Zen masters. At the temple when I visited, 80 to 100 spiritual leaders living there, trying to receive their spiritual message, trying to reach enlightenment.

     If you got there at night, you would hear them shouting all over the mountain. They were seeking truth, and shouting out their beliefs as they searched. Up and down the mountain you could hear the shouting of holy men, seeking truth from their hiding gods.

     I visited the mountain during one summer. I had no money, so I walked, or begged a ride in a car, or snuck on a train or bus. When I arrived at the Chicken and Dragon Mountain, I saw that every other house was a temple. Some of the temples had many followers, some had just a few, and some had none. Some temples were just for family members. That was the atmosphere of the place.

     Since I had no money, I approached a house to ask for food and a place to sleep. I knocked and an old lady opened the door. She was in her 60s or 70s. She was small and stooped, but she looked up at me brightly. I bowed and gave my name. I told her why I was travelling, that I was seeking knowledge and enlightenment. I told her I was seeking some food or someplace to stay. It was an old traditional home, so I hoped she would be willing to give me something.

     She said, "I was waiting for you."

     I was shocked that she said it so sincerely.

     She continued, "I met my mother-in-law, and she said a very important guest was coming. She said to prepare food."

     I learned that her mother-in-law was a spiritual leader and had many followers. The woman I met – the daughter-in-law – was the main cook and she prepared food for all the followers who came from every part of the country.

     "Come in and eat. I have been waiting three days for you," she said. So I entered.

     "Aaa-eee-aaa-yaa-ooooo!"

     I jumped at the sound. What was it? It was the chanting of the spiritual leader's followers. Their method of finding enlightenment was through a system of making sounds with their mouths. The chanting focused their minds. In that way they merged harmoniously with nature.

     When they merged, they saw the appearance of spiritual beings in their subconscious mind. These spiritual beings provided them great understanding of their selves and nature. They saw this as a spiritual gift, the ability to see past lives, to heal the sick, and have extraordinary knowledge of the universe.

     I did not understand it well at the time. I thought it was just them seeing ghosts. But really they were unlocking their true essence from inside their souls. The ghosts they saw were themselves, representing nature, god, or other things happening on the mountain.

     After a few hours, after the woman had fed me, and the followers had chanted with me, I stood to leave. The woman bowed and said, "You are a great man, and you will be enlightened with great wisdom."

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     There were many tombs in the forest on the mountain. The temple there has tombs as well, just like Christian catacombs and tombs in a church. A family would build a large crypt next to their family home to house all their dead. So everywhere I walked on the mountain, there were tombs and crypts of the dead. It was at times scary.

     Besides the dead, there were the living as well. At night I heard the wolves, tigers, and other animals howling and hissing. I knew the animals were watching me because I could see their shiny eyes.

     But one of my goals was to develop guts, to overcome my fears. Fears that are only in the mind should be dispelled, so that you are ready to fight whenever necessary. Fear of the wolf doesn't help you fight the wolf when it comes.

     Most animals would not attack a human, except the tigers. But they only attacked if the human was weak, or sick, or angry. Otherwise, they would step aside when they saw you coming. There are many stories of monks and hermits living peacefully with tigers. Often murals of these things were painted on temple walls, of monk and tiger walking together like friends. In my mind, I wanted that respect and friendship with a tiger.

     In my early 20s, it was a bold move to spend the night in the woods on the mountain. I felt my fear and tension, though I tried to remove it from my mind. Even though it was summer time, it was cold in the woods at night. I could not sleep easily because of the cold and the fear. I had to stay awake listening to the sounds of the animals.

     Luckily no tigers came by that night!

     I spent my entire vacation time on the mountain. At the end, I went to the temple itself, Kapsa Temple. I met with the abbot, the temple master. I explained what I was doing, that I was studying on my own and searching for enlightenment. Having slept on the mountain the night before, my own fear had calmed me and he saw the calmness inside me. He invited me to stay and live with the monks for a week.

     I did so, waking with them each morning at four in the morning, chanting, praying, and meditating each day. It was during that time, that I realized that the mind had truth within it. Truth did not necessarily exist outside it. This was the small enlightenment I obtained on the mountain.

     Afterwards, I left and returned to school, ready to teach and learn again. Each summer, when I left, I returned having growth spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

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