[FOUNTAIN]Truth knows no ageEntering the Buddhist priesthood is called "leaving home." Another expression is "shaving one's head." If "leaving home" is a Buddhist metaphor for "severing ties with the secular life," shaving one's head is the most symbolic act of such a decision.
At Buddhist temples, hair is called mumyeongcho, meaning literally grass without light. Mumyeong means "without light," but in Buddhism, it also means stupidity, not seeing objects as they are. Mumyeong, in other words, is the starting point for the Buddhist view of life and the theory of existence and the first key to the expansive Buddhist philosophy. So the head shaving signifies shaking off ignorance and taking the first step into ascetic training.
Of course, simple shaving does not mean one has severed ties with secular life. The determination for a spiritual awakening is imperative, for as Buddhist monks in the old days said: "Buddhist monks need resolution that they will attain enlightenment even though they die on the rice fields."
This is called the mindset of a starter. Buddhism teaches that a mind shaped by entering the priesthood is how the truth seeker finds enlightenment. The mindset of a beginner must be resolute, lofty and sublime.
Recent reports say that the training center of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order is jammed with wannabes. Forty-two percent of the applicants are older than 40, which is very unusual. The increase in older applicants stems from the decision of the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea, not to accept applicants older than 40 from 2004. The reason: in the wake of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, middle-aged people, whose livelihoods deteriorated during the turmoil, increasingly have sought shelter in temples, without firm resolution to endure the spiritual hardships to find truth. The result was a secularized atmosphere that hindered the more devout.
But it is unreasonable to put a cap on the age of truth seekers. Sabudaejung, the word in Buddhism that indicates apprentices of Buddha, does not differentiate between those who left the secular world and those who still live in it. Although Buddhism has words for those who entered the priesthood and those who did not, they are all the same in front of Buddha's teachings. The real seekers of truth are those who sincerely follow the teachings of Buddha and his commandments.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.