Too much talk takes away from lifeI get up early in the morning and walk around the school campus all alone. It is right before the sunrise, so the earth is still quiet under the stars and the moon continues to twinkle over the sky.
Birds are chirping cheerfully, and dew covers the land. The trees lining the path are friends accompanying me on my religious journey.
If temples are sacred places, dawn is a sacred time when the world is still asleep. It is the hour of purity to forget about the busy memories of yesterday for a moment and face my own nature. Anyone can find an answer to his troubles by getting up before sunrise, taking a quiet walk and getting purified by the spirit of the morning.
Smartphones seem to have become part of our bodies, making life more convenient but taking away the quiet time to appreciate the trees, the moon and the dew.
We habitually check messages and e-mail as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and we check the phone more often than looking at the faces of family and friends sitting across the dinner table. Shamefully enough, I am no exception, and sometimes, I am not sure if I own the smartphone or the smartphone owns me.
Last month, I declared on Twitter and Facebook that I would remain silent to become free from the digital world for a while and face nature and myself.
This year, I keenly realized the teaching of Venerable Beobjeong, who said, “If you talk too much, little is meaningful.” While I began communicating with people on Twitter and Facebook to give them encouragement, advice and help, I felt like I was sinking in the flood of words. When confessions and requests for advice surged through not just social media but my personal e-mail, and when they demanded my immediate responses, I sometimes felt burdened.
Senior monks always say that religious practitioners should not be swayed by worldly boundaries.
If someone praises me, or criticizes me, I should not be shaken by mundane words. It is important to keep composed and calm no matter what happens, but I was swayed and influenced by those who confide in me and ask for advice. When I hear tragic family histories, I feel upset, and the sufferings of someone I didn’t even know make me gloomy all day. When I wake up in the morning and check social media and e-mail, all the writings seem to pull me right to the center of the swamp of words I had to say.
After the early morning walk, I return to my room and sit on the mat for meditation. As I keep movements minimal and stay calm, my thoughts become relaxed and my mind becomes clear. I pay attention to breathing.
As the breath filling my body leaves, an empty space is created inside me. And this empty space brings surprising peace and comfort. Although we are breathing constantly, we cannot feel this simple pleasure of emptiness because our minds are focused on the outside. This peace and coziness is not the outcome of my work but the healthy comfort already built in me. It is always waiting for us if we take our minds off the future, focus on the present and pay attention to the inside.
When I first heard the word “enlightenment” as a teenager, I wanted to achieve it no matter what.
While I didn’t know what it was about and where it would lead me, I wanted to find something transcending my body, thoughts and feelings. And I wanted to understand the reason why I was born not through someone’s teaching but through my enlightenment.
I asked many questions to senior monks. But as I grew older, I began listening to the agony of others and providing guidance.
It is humbling as I can still see my own anguish and my own enlightenment is long way to go.
The more I talk, the more I miss silence. My only wish is to go further down my religious journey to enlightenment.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a Harvard graduate who teaches religion at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.
by Venerable Haemin