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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vipassana: Prelude

If you intend to read this, I suggest you first read the previous post, an overview of what Vipassana means, is, is supposed to achieve, and that sort of stuff.

Then you can read my post.

If you're not tired of reading about Vipassana by then, you can read secret MikeinDaegu fan (does this mean there might be others???) Stacia's take on Vipassana, which I still haven't read yet, since I didn't want it to affect me while going through the course. Nor do I want it to affect my writing here. But as soon as I'm done with this post, you know where I'm heading.

The following chronology is bound to be a little inexact, since we weren't allowed pens or diaries or anything. But it's more or less accurate.

Day 0: I took the bus to the subway station, subway to the big intercity bus station, bus to the other city, taxi to the village bus stand, and village bus out to the center. On the way, two mention-worthy things happened. First, when I got off at the intercity bus terminal in Geoch'ang, I was a little confused. This was the hardest part of the voyage: finding the bus stop for the bus going out to the boonies. I kind of meandered around the station looking for maps and info. An old guy was staring at me, in the awkward "I want to talk to you but I'm not sure if I can or should" way. Eventually he came up to me, but didn't say anything. So I just asked him if he knew where the bus stand was. He told me to take a taxi, but my directions said it was only a 10 minute walk and I didn't really want to use non-public transportation if I could help it. Then he opened up his wallet and stuffed a 10-dollar bill in my hand. I kept insisting that despite my unshaved state, vagabond hair, and backpack, I was not a traveler. I told him I was gainfully employed and appreciated but didn't want his money. He wasn't having any of it. He nudged me over to the taxis, told me to explain where I wanted to go, and saw me off.

I arrived at the bus stop. The fare was 2.20. I had to wait two hours for the next bus, so I walked around, couldn't find anywhere selling iced noodles, and settled for the standard vegan meal, stone-bowl bibimbap (rice, sesame oil, red pepper paste, and vegetables mixed up in a hot stone bowl, along with side dishes), no egg please. I paid with some of the old man's money (5 bucks), and still had some change left.

Before leaving, I had checked out the Geoch'ang Farm School website and had browsed some pictures, including this one of a family who lived nearby and often went to volunteer:

Well...guess who I wound up sitting next to at the bus stop, and again on the bus? I didn't recognize them immediately, but when I asked them if they knew how far it was to my stop, rather than answering, the guy (Dong-seok) said "Oh, are you going to meditate?" We wound up talking (in Korean, of course) for the whole 40 minute ride. He told me about how he worked in Busan in textiles but he and his family moved back to the country so as to "lead a fun life." They decided to skip their stop and take me all the way up to the school, since they went by to visit fairly often anyway. AND, they paid my bus fare, again, despite my telling them that I had money left over from that old guy at the bus station.

Part of the deal with Vipassana is that you don't pay for anything. Room, board, and instruction are all free. This serves two (maybe more purposes).

1) If you don't pay for anything, you're less likely to get upset by or complain about inconveniences. For instance, 15 of us slept in one (admittedly large) room on mats on the floor. You don't think about getting your money's worth in terms of food or help. In other words, you don't feel entitled to anything. This is helpful in practical terms, but also bears some relation to the idea of letting your ego dissolve over the course of the...course.

2) Good karmic opportunities. While you are there, you are being supported by money that some stranger donated, hoping that his money would help you towards eventual enlightenment despite having no idea who you were. When you leave, similarly, you have the opportunity to give as much as you'd like to help support the next group of students. This way, after you end the course and re-enter the real world, your first act is one of selflessness. Sets a good precedent. Plus, the last thing you learn in the course is metta-bhavana, a kind of meditation where you try to share your peace, equilibrium, and goodwill with all other living beings. It's kind of nice to have an opportunity to put that mentality into practice right away.

I mention this stuff only because I thought it was nifty how all day long I received goodwill from others, even before the official stuff started. The old man's money and the family's picking up my tab covered all the transportation costs from my house to the Farm School. Boded well, no?

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