Life as seen by a young, aspiring monkThe sound of a wooden gong ends my daily bowing ritual to Buddha in the morning. This is the happiest moment of the day for me, when I look up to Buddha drenched in sweat after bowing 108 times in a row. Then I deeply inhale the fragrance of incense.
Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Kim Gi-beom, 10 years old, living with my mom at the foot of Mount Jiri. My hobby is to listen to the sutras, and I’m very good at riding up the mountain on a bicycle.
My dream is to be a Buddhist monk. I made up my mind after seeing the Buddha last year for the first time. I was so attracted by the Buddha’s peaceful face. That’s why I still do the morning ritual of 108 bows every day.
In the meantime, my mom climbs the mountain. She was a famous mountaineer when she was young, the first woman in the world to conquer Annapurna of the Himalayas. Her name is Nam Nan-hee; she gave birth to me at the age of 37.
“Sweetie, time for breakfast.”
Here comes mom, with a pack of wild vegetables in one hand, which will be my yummy breakfast. On my family’s table, there’s nothing that was bought with money. We raise vegetables in our backyard. My friends say I’m strange because I don’t like pizza, but well, I guess my mom is right. She always says, “The best comes from the earth.”
How does my family get by? Mom keeps a small green tea field in one corner of the backyard, whose crop she sells to her friends. If you wonder if it’s enough, I should let you know that our monthly budget is 30,000 won ― 10,000 for electricity and 20,000 for health insurance. No television and no washing machine, no boiler, nothing that costs money.
Oops, one thing I forgot to mention is 90,000 won per month for my English tutoring. My mom didn’t get me lessons so that I can go to a university 10 years later. When I saw many blue-eyed foreigners visiting the temple, I thought I should learn English to be able to deliver Buddha’s words correctly when I grow up to be a monk. That’s why I asked mom for the English tutoring.
My mom seems to be different from my friends’ mothers, for she’s never told me to study hard. When I told mom that I’m going to be a Buddhist monk, she just smiled and said, “You’ve learned to think deeply.”
She does tell me “to live without greed” and “there’s no greater teacher than Nature.” No wonder I wander about the mountain on my bike, playing with birds on the trees, when my friends are studying at a cram school.
After I get back home, I find mom reading with a cup of green tea by her side. Then I sit by her side, getting ready for school the next day.
“Time to wash, my dear,” she says.
“I did swim, though, in the afternoon.”
“That does not mean that you don’t have to clean yourself, darling. At least wash your hands and feet.”
“Mom, you once told me that there’s a mountain on the Himalayas named ‘The Mountain of the Buddha,’ right?”
“Sure I did.”
“When I grow up to be a monk and climb that mountain, can I just wear my habit only?”
“No sweetie, it’s too cold up there. You must wear the proper mountain-climbing outfit on top of your robe.”
Now I hear frogs singing. Time to go to bed. Tonight, I want to see the Himalayas in my dream.
by Shin Eun-jin