TWENTY SEVEN

It had been weeks since I had the yombul fever. Something in me had died. The break from Tae, putting down a life — I’d been through so much. It wasn’t normal, the weight I carried, the stress. My poor heart. I wasn’t going into an ecstatic state, I was a ball of pain. I had to come to terms with the fact that she’d sent a bomb in response to one of the finest pieces of literature I’d ever put down. It wasn’t something to discuss. I was to be dispatched. A turn of the heel, no words, bonds that wouldn’t break or heal, a series of detonations far above her.

 

It would be a month before I landed.

 

In the dark forest, the cry of the One, the insects, small creatures burrowed into the cracks, the white of the leaves; a typhoon. I could tell by the play of the wind. It was one of those moments our parents wanted us to have, like swimming in a wild pool, experiencing the deep forest, the wild things there — they knew it would be important later on. The experiences from deep meditation, how can we know their reach? The first time I tasted a huckleberry opened doors to what food could be. The same way allowing the One to flow through me, to fill the voids, to temper my emotions, to turn things incandescent.

 

In the cold of space I realized the grim process of giving my life was the precursor, what returned “in an unconditional space” again had to be broken. It had risen in the vacuum to monstrous proportions, though when the letter arrived I’d already been falling. The altitude was too great. I couldn’t remain elevated. The pieces that were left found again the bonds with Tae, this time not as proof of some sun-filled future but as an attempt to understand. We’d been together so much, was I just a reflex? Was I fulfilling a role? It just didn’t seem possible. The bond I felt with her began to appear before she’d entered the University, at Musangsa. In the photos from that time we were always together.

 

I watched a baby snake slither across the courtyard. Already free, it had just left the egg. Snakes don’t need even their own mother. Humans, we need so much. Whatever happened with Tae, it would’ve been interesting having a close relationship with her. She would’ve given everything for me. It would’ve been a spiritual partnership of monstrous proportions. It would’ve probably got us killed. A tiny flaw would’ve unraveled the whole damned thing: a love triangle, the gypsies next door… it was always hard. It would be impossible to maintain, a perfect moment in a sea of calamity. I found it easier to move away from her after seeing the snake. It triggered something, but I couldn’t let go of her until I knew her mind. It wasn’t possible to sever the bond while I remained in the dark. I took it as far into the abyss as mortally possible, still she remained. The love just wouldn’t die.


“Hope is written on the gates of hell.”


Things had definitely changed. There was a new life, a new layer that pressed down on the old. Everything seemed to be interconnected like a neural pattern. How did it work? So many connections and bonds, all I could see. Such a difficult architecture, fiery, looping filaments grown into a vast network. The bonds formed automatically, without knowledge or consent. It was at once spellbinding and ominous.

 

We think of ourselves as unique entities, but we are not. We are an amalgam of things, growing dynamically. Bonding is more than joining to another entity, it’s growing the network, adding connections and nodes. It becomes a new being — why it is so difficult to break. Maybe the person had things you needed. Maybe it was a multitude of bonds. To live without bonding is impossible. Humans will always be together. That’s how our brains work. But it’s possible to live without a partner. I’ve done it most of my life. It’s important to have relationships, to experience love and it’s terrible demise, but at what point does it become redundant information? It may be impossible to clear the emotional field, to put the life down if it involves someone else. You have to really travel light to go this way. Nothing really.

 

Sometimes I felt that I knew too much, I’d seen too much. I didn’t think I could live much longer. It was too intense. But there was no other way. All of us had devoted our lives to attaining truth, the great way, and helping this world. But no one knew where it would lead, what we would find.

 

I heard the crow in the trees, separate and distant. It had never been otherwise. Self and other continued as different occurrences far beyond any threshold I’d penetrated. The deep state had completely overtaken my life, filled it with a radiant, great peace, one that only increased. At the same time, my heart completely broken, I was a ghost.

TWENTY SIX

The last day of the month was the last day of waiting. I received an envelope from Tae. It contained a piece of stationery with Mount Fuji on it, and the words “happy summer kyolche 2015.” She’d sent letters to three other foreign monks, so it wasn’t personal. I was elated, at first.

 

One of the few surviving nuns, an American with a feminine preference, told us that she’d received a similar note during an ango, a similar situation, that it was the worst thing that had ever happened to her: the lack of information, the banal language, the abandonment; to be completely trapped until the end, three months with no way to resolve the emotional poison — deadly. But I’d read the situation early on. I knew what the gesture meant from the old story, so it was just an added insult. I was done. They could’ve feasted on my corpse. There was one bomb, a few detonations, and only because of the vacuum of information unique to the world, the ango.

 

The first detonation was that she’d used the American nun’s worst experience on me. It hit me right away. The second occurred later, when I realized that she’d been able to write all along. I thought there might have been some restriction. The delay was an act of cruelty. It was hard for me to grasp, that all the time we were together, all the things we shared, the joy I would see in her when she was near me — it meant nothing to her. That was the third detonation. Hidden, it took much longer to play out. She wasn’t what I thought, not the woman I knew. She was hiding from me. The decay of the Angel; her bright mind was not impenetrable. Darkness loomed, there. Well hidden, but it was there. What was she protecting so fiercely, that she would want to destroy me?

 

Kye Seon, when I met her she’d just gone through a divorce. It was a complete meltdown. I was often the target — immeasurable rage, the catalyst for two revolutions in practice: the furnace of Kye Seon, and Tae’s killing silence. Kye Seon wasn’t on the path, so there were no boundaries. She worked day and night to destroy me. I rose out of the slag pile on my own and died on the floor of the Kwanumjong.

 

I came back from the dead, and left the door open.

 

With Tae, everything was hidden. Still, it was there, directly influencing everything in our world like dark matter. It explained a lot. What attracts me to women is the quality of the weave, some quality of darkness. Like love and desire, these two have proven inseparable. But her violence was something new. I’d seen a glimpse of it before — I had no idea. To me she was still the girl who dreamed of rainbows and unicorns. Everyone had to wear a hat. There was glitter everywhere. I loved it on her face. I didn’t mind to be what she wanted, it was fun… I hadn’t noticed that the party was over. I was the only one still wearing a hat.

 

The bomb went off in stages, a midair collision designed to take me out before I got too close, a professional. I never made it to the reservoir. There was a sudden quiet, like the sad moment where all things die. It enveloped me in some kind of atmospheric haze. The old scenes, again, the future, how it would be. I wouldn’t be safe around the others. I’d have to hide, pretend everything was fine, find some excuse to get out of sight. I should’ve stayed in the woods like Molloy, but there were things I needed, and a man has to do things he doesn’t want to do, for the thing to move. And I had to look in her eyes, to understand her. It would only take a moment.

 

Miles above the surface, on the descent, I sank into a familiar despair. It was difficult to separate from what remained of her. I’d waited two months for a drawing of Mount Fuji.


“Hope is for the living.”


There was still a month left to the retreat. There was no more reason to count down the days, nowhere to go. Maybe I’d get lost in the city, write those scenes, just be no one; no stalker, no friends… But the forest, I’d made the transition to writing in some abandoned piece of wilderness no one would care to go to. It was more natural, the city was the surrogate. What I really needed wasn’t a whirling bus ride, but stool under a twisted oak.

 

The Koreans were scared of us, the foreigners. They thought we were doing occult practices, blocking their mantras. If anyone was consulting with the Devils, it was I, and I’ll admit to no such sweet, sweet deviltry. I did a fair bit of trembling on the seat. I definitely brought down some crazy shit, but it was just Tae. After the third detonation the ionosphere split in two. It created a substantial rift, a funnel cloud that pulled the frigid air down in a broken spiral, gusts coming from all directions, an ion storm. Those who worried that I was doing occult practices grew quite alarmed. Several monks ran into the forest. It was some kind of oral/spatial confusion. They were lucky. As fragmented as it was, the heavens should have come to pieces.

 

The practice rounds were a wild heat, far beyond my ability to describe. After all I’d been through I felt some kind of reverence for the girl, to be close to her world for a little while, to fall in love again, to be abandoned to the forest, the monsoon, to find a way to live without her. The love had become something tangible, a glowing presence that surrounded me. It lit the dark forest, slowly drifting through the rain and fog like an apparition.

 

In the morning I talked to one of my close friends who sat beside me. He was spooked. I told him about my intense struggle to disentangle from Tae. He nodded slowly. I wanted to say what they always say — I was happy to have found love. It was worth it to know her so well, but I didn’t know if he would understand. One of the unique problems we faced as foreigners, men and women were always together. I was with Tae for a year before we were separated. We never had any kind of contact, not one breach of etiquette, but my body attached to hers. It didn’t understand why she’d gone. It urged me to go and find her. What was I doing wasting time in the woods, so far away?  

The Koreans always separated the men and women. They never had a chance to bond, so when everyone was broken apart and sent to various monasteries, there was no separation anxiety, no reason to communicate with each other. It wasn’t usually a big problem, but in my case it was a daily struggle to survive. In that extreme of pressure and loss, anyone would die of longing. There were so many connections to break, it was awful. I should’ve never spent so much time with her. I thought I was impervious. I thought I was done with women. I was lucky to have a deep practice, and the wilderness; a familiar way to cope with intense suffering, to stay in the woods for hours letting my body absorb, sense, react to all of the ancient cues. It was a good cure, as much relief as could be had.

 

With Tae, as devoted as we were to the practice, I devolved to pure animal behavior. Being forced to give my life, again, to alleviate the suffering was a great moment in my life. I matured a great deal. I understood why men and women were often separated in practice communities. It is some kind of death to sever a connection. Most move from one to the next like vampires, never going without blood. But to die completely and remain among the living, to run the gamut… only love or the lack of it could convince you to give your life. What’s a life anyway?

 

I could see it dwindling. I could feel the change, but it was hard. Not only did I have to digest that the person I loved had refused me, I also had a stalker bringing the fear and anger. There was no way to avoid him. Maybe he’d helped get my mind off Tae, but it was a toxic environment. Sometimes my heart would seize, or my body lurch like I was going down.

 

I saw Tae in a white dress with a cone headpiece. At first I thought it some kind of pagan bonding ritual, later I realized it was a funeral dress, but this was only on reflection, long after I’d decided to put down my life.

TWENTY FIVE

Day 17 down

 

We had a free day because we’d shaved each others’ heads in the morning with single-bladed razors, guards removed. It was a ritual, every two weeks. We’d all received a bag of snacks and fruit after and wander the mountains, or sleep, or whatever. I couldn’t lay down because of the stalker. He’d always bother me, pretending to do things around me so he could watch me. If I caught him, he’d sit still and wait for me to fall asleep. Completely out of his mind. I walked for an hour and found a granite slab to lay on. I just needed the space to rest. The stalker, of course… violent and sad and true to the mark.

 

I talked to a few good friends that I found in the forest. I told them about giving my life, putting it down to survive my entanglement with Tae. I didn’t tell them who it was. Of course everyone knew each other. I couldn’t mention anything about her until I had her approval. The stalker made me nervous about my behavior toward her – always someone crapping on the floor of my life. My friends listened quietly. They didn’t know what I was going on about, but they could tell it was important to me, enough that I would abandoned my life.

 

It was good being with them, sharing some of the things I was going through. I mentioned the crazy things that were occurring on the cushion. It baffled them. The deep practice mode was completely invisible. They didn’t know about it. Nobody knows. Why should they have believed me? But, if they thought I was crazy, it was a good crazy. It was all right with them.

 

Day 16 down

 

A difficult start, I worked all the way through the morning rounds to again shoulder the dissolution of the bond with Tae. The day-off had let some of the darkness back in. It hung on me like the inclement weather. The only way was through the One, where the great peace continuously flowed. In the One Mind I could live without her, without anyone: no teacher, no art, no music. If I hadn’t had the breakthrough in the desert, impossible! No one could do it without developing a deep practice… but without it, my bond with Tae never would’ve occurred. To the amount, the degree.

 

A difficult day: sultry hot confused let-down love sickness mental noise. The day-off had scrambled the circuitry, a resurgence of what commonly ruins empires and lives. It wasn’t fair to be both human and inhuman. There were parts of me that were never affected by Tae’s killing silence, and parts that had long since fallen to the ground. I couldn’t remain with either. It was painful to be broken apart, not knowing which way to heal. It would make a big scar if things turned bad. I imagined how she would be when I saw her again. Probably she wouldn’t care so much. She’d be mystified by my emotional outpouring, angry. I’d have a few moments to express impossible things. It wouldn’t work. Whatever was said, the sound would be muffled. The tears would come, waves of grief. She would leave.

 

The darkness that waited, it would be something profound. I’d be broken, again, into shitty pieces of a lifetime of unfortunate turns. But she was very close to me. Some things she would understand. She had a way of operating beyond her experience. She could sense when something was needed, when the need was not her own.

 

It was a bad day, still, the mood began to lift by the afternoon. I found a big straw hat and covered my face with it. Collapsed on the floor, I enjoyed the first real nap in a month. No weirdo stalker vibes. Living with a stalker provides many unique challenges. The weight of aggression, which consumes the lives of many Zen worthies – I had to carefully look at how things were aligning to remain impervious. But Jibul was back. I’d picked him up at the airport just before the ango. He was doing three more months is a haengja at a small monastery in Incheon, then he would transfer to Musangsa and ordain through mysterious means. A wizard might help balance out the opposing forces.

 

Day 15 down

 

A day of clearing the emotional field. Today I understood that the great love, great peace of the One Mind was the true emotion. Our attachment and desire for heightened states created closed loops, which couldn’t sustain themselves. The systems we’d developed to cope with these closed-loop emotional crises didn’t address the fundamental problem. But it was very difficult to connect to the One Mind. It required a deep sacrifice, a whole life. Nobody could do it, as this putting down a life had to be supported by a framework of long practice. Really it was beyond my abilities. I had to die and come back from the dead. Though I turned radioactive, and things were coming to pieces around me, some part of me remained impervious.

TWENTY FOUR

Day 20 down

 

It would calm down over the days, after I’d given up the world. She was still on my mind, some kind of sub-desperation that fell off only with the distraction of the training forms and the practice. It was just too hot.

 

I was tumbling into something unavoidable, that would tear my life apart. Not blindly, I realized the dangers and began winnowing down to minimize the damage. I gave not only my own soul, but my identity, my whole being, again and again. I could not have pressed farther into the unknown. There was no reason to hold back. I’d never been so wild. Every sitting I gave my life to it. My body would seize with the intensity. I changed. I didn’t have the view anymore that my higher self was communicating with me through the work. There was no other self to communicate with. All the pieces were gone: the higher self, the writer, the Great Ones — no more need of them. Only my entity, the process, the One Mind space. No prayers, no religion. Gone! That was Tae’s gift. She didn’t know, of course. Probably she never would.

 

A good morning meant it was easy to disconnect from the night’s dreams and fill the space with the One Mind. It became a practice to give away the fragments of my life that came to me, to create more space. It developed naturally after resolving Tae. Much of the practice I’d never heard described. Certainly I was on my own. Meditation could be wonderful the whole hour through, an unbelievable space to exist in. All the things that surfaced had some value, the experience of life. Why? Why is it possible? Why is there delight? The rapture at the core, what is it???

 

Tae continued to occupy my mind. It took a lot of effort to sort her out. Why she hadn’t responded, how she’d reacted to the letter, what would she have to say, how would she be when I saw her again? What if she didn’t contact me from Musangsa, when she was free? That I knew — let it go. Don’t talk to her again. Let it find a place in the outer zone with Sangmi and nearly everyone else. It would mean the world had nothing for me, not a single person I could connect to. Only in passing, or to perform some task. Why had I spent so much time with her? She was like a force of nature, a typhoon. It was stupid. It only drove me deeper. I had no idea how she was doing. She probably wasn’t thinking of me at all, the way things go. There was nothing to do but burn to the core, to be one with it, to not hold anything, to not cease to exist, but to see it through, to be the human this world made.

 

In Zen there’s a basic understanding of the meaninglessness of existence. The One, without us it had nothing. It must exist through us, or else begin again, from nothing. For us to question our existence, the One recognizing itself, is both terrifying and banal — for there is no meaning, no reason to exist beyond bounds. That’s why we live the way we do, why we practice: to become liberated, to see it through, to be human beings.

 

Tae became more beautiful with the passing of time, like a work of art. The one that I know now wouldn’t be the same. Maybe I wouldn’t recognize her in a crowd. New friends, a new life, connections lost…

 

The problem with the stalker persisted. The worst was the day we shaved our heads. I couldn’t get him off of me. He was completely lost, and no one believed me. They thought it was a cultural problem. I asked to be moved away from the him. We had to share a table for meals together. I saw him all day. It was a crime, countless ruined moments, rising bile, fear. But it wasn’t just him. I thought I’d discovered something priceless, and it was, but it came out to be something I couldn’t have. There was no greater meaning — we were the existence of the One. Anything that happened, the same tone, only that we keep moving. It was up to us to align ourselves with it and live in peace — no reason to exert ourselves, to be something, to have something.

 

The teachings made new sense: only reflect, only go straight, human life has no meaning. Zen Master Seung Sahn was teaching us how to be in the flow, to align with the One, not to become enmeshed in human concerns. What was the point? It threw all of religion in a shitty new light. Pray, for what? The kingdom of heaven? What about the old science of Eastern philosophies: reincarnation and karma? Both had serious flaws, if they hadn’t been rendered completely irrelevant. When the conditions were right, it appeared, according to the size of the container. Always.

 

Day 19 down

 

Since I wasn’t seated next to the stalker anymore, I was far enough to the side that he had to completely turn to see me. It made his behavior more conspicuous. An elder of my group pulled me aside. “We’re watching him. We’ve noticed his behavior. He has some mental problem, but you need to control your emotions. It’s not helping your case.”

 

I got this from a few people, that I was somehow creating the problem, or exacerbating it. Standing in line, that’s when he would grope me, lying down to rest, reading a book, exiting a building. The only way I could get him off of me was by making a lot of noise. It was a daily event. The problem of being in Korea, everyone just said it was a cultural difference — they touched each other more, and so on. It made it hard to figure out what was going on. He got away with it for a while. How could anyone be so destructive? He was ruining his life for nothing — he felt my ass. That was the best he would do. And we had to live together for another 3 1/2 years.

 

Day 18 down

 

Tae. I could only feel the thing coming apart. I would fall to the ground. There was darkness – no email, no letter, no connection. She wanted me to disappear. I imagined crawling to the reservoir and slowly dying. I worried about the work. All of the careful writing, turning a fearsome ordeal into a piece of literature, what for? I had to keep alive, to beg for the future just one more day. I saw the hot asphalt, the road to the café. I could feel the pain, my heart; a mortal pain like sudden blood loss, a pain in the eyes, staggering alone down to the reservoir, death throes on the cold bank.


Before enlightenment

After enlightenment

One time to die, to the point of dying

Peak of crisis

Painful hour

Turning point

To pass, to leave behind

-Zen Master Man Gong (translated from the Korean by Won Qong Sunim)


I’d already given up, not only her, but my whole life. It came back to me because I was only useful if I was turning the wheel. We must press forward to the end. So maybe on that cold bank I would begin writing Season Three — The Return To Darkness. I had to remember to bring a notepad, in case. I could write so well when I was beaten-down. It was some kind of reflex.

 

That afternoon, the sweet flowing of deep meditation, its wonderful pull and draft through every moment that wasn’t taken. What a wonderful life! Would I have time to transcribe all the wondrous things before the next crushing blow? I had to make peace with that, that I may not live to get the work out. It could well only be an illegible journal buried in the leaves, and so my life…

TWENTY THREE

The stalker, magnificent, sat next to me for a two-hour class on etiquette. Shaking with revulsion and anger, my mind developed fissures I’d never seen. I wasn’t sure I could hold it together.

 

He hid behind our “cultural differences,” but his groping and stalking behavior was hard to dismiss. He never talked straight. Whatever was said, he continued his attempts. I knocked him back further each time, but it took four months before the group began to work on him. They were mortified because we all had to live together, and they’d been allowing it to continue for so long, and they don’t have gay people in Korea.

 

The day filtered down to a few quiet moments. I walked by the stream for some time, talking to myself, writing things out. We’d sat as far apart as we could, for different reasons, mine a mix of fear and revulsion, his to protest my disgust, to reflect my behavior. Every possible opportunity he seized like a madman. He didn’t touch me, usually, but he was always trying to. He followed from the garden. I was distracted talking to the elder monks. I couldn’t do that. I had to remember to stop and check the perimeter, always.

 

It was Sunday. No mail, but I wasn’t waiting anymore. It had been too long. If she sent something then it would be peculiar. I was going on the assumption that she wasn’t able to send mail from the monastery. I may have been dead wrong, but what else did I have? Love anguish, the sound of the river. It would be a miracle if things turned out okay. How could I work with that? It would be different than what I’d imagined, better or worse. There was no helping me.

 

Day 21 down

 

Meditation was a constant soothing balm, infinite peace in a world where there was none. It came to me in every quiet moment. It had grown deeply into me, all through me. I didn’t hold back, not anything, not since Tae. The days were passing so quickly. The only marker was the journal entries, or else there would’ve been no trace, solely my own experience. If it was never brought into a public space, would it contribute in some way, internally? I had my doubts, but contributions aside, my feeling that the Tae situation would fail in spectacular fashion continued. I was having those practice conversations with the forest, where I’d attempt to explain all I’d gone through, what became Of Human Bonding. I realized that if she wasn’t receptive to me she wouldn’t care to read it. It wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t save the world.

 

During this process Tae transformed from a deity to some quality of light, seeing and caring in unforeseen ways. When my mind understood why it was soothed — there was some relief that I’d never experienced before — it ceased, broke open, cool water ran down through the cracks; the constant stream that was Tae. I bathed in her light as I slowly came to my senses, infused with her brightness, her Dharma. She knew how to flow with me without disrupting the process. That was how she developed a deep trust in me. The boundaries, the defenses, fell. There was no hesitation from either of us, to clear the way.

 

A letter to the Zen Master:


 


“I’ve been working with the One Mind for about 10 years now, since I had the first deep experience at Taegosa in 2004. I say it’s the One Mind but actually have no idea, for convenience. These days it’s either a strong presence in the background or it completely takes over, usually toward the end, every time I sit. The mind states I’m experiencing now are incredible, but there appears to be some limitation — the need for space. That’s the way I understand it. During this time I was trying to resolve a deep connection with a woman that I couldn’t simply abandon. She’d grown into me too deeply. I didn’t feel strong enough for the emotional disintegration, so I turned to the One Mind, and gave my life. I didn’t want it anymore. After a few days I began to feel better, but always things appear. Everything I gave to the One, still do, anything that appears, I give away.


It occurred to me this morning that I’m living in two worlds. What am I to do? The first thing that came to me, which I thought kind of funny, was to be in the moment. But if you’re manifesting the true self, it makes sense. Is living in the moment the way for the One Mind to exist in the world?”


 

Zen Master Seung Sahn only taught not knowing, as a rule. He never explained anything. All the things I was experiencing weren’t part of the official Buddhist doctrine, which, to me, was beginning to look more and more like old science. What could I do? I had to remain open, to wait, to let the experience teach me. I waited a whole lifetime to know the One Mind space. I had to live it, to be it. There was no other way.


“Only meditation practice can give you this experience (One Mind) directly. When this experience becomes completely yours, you attain your wisdom.” -Zen Master Seung Sahn.

TWENTY TWO

Day 24 down

 

In the afternoon I was gripped with something like terror. I came out of a blank state, peculiar for how dense, how formless it was, holding this:


“Consciousness is a living thing.”


The thing that animates us was itself alive? How many layers were there? If it was true, if the life-force was an entity, everything made sense. Chaos theory, the press forward. It all made sense… It made my troubles with Tae seem trivial. How two people can love each other, given the complexity, is mind-boggling. For sure it’s only a moment in time. Conversely, why don’t we all share the love? Love at a fast clip, the True One doesn’t wait on anything. It manifests through infinite worlds, uncountable lives were lost before she returned the glance. I was through. The dark and the light, the flight of the moth, the twinkle of starlight; people moving quickly past, a flood of images that couldn’t be resolved; too busy to develop itself, the structure constantly overflowed. When would I learn?

 

The existential conundrum suddenly made sense. If our existence was an expression of the One Mind, of course there was no meaning. It couldn’t be resolved. If you saw this thing as alive and we its process then life fundamentally changed, because there would be no measure, no other meaning, no point or purpose. Then what becomes important is to align yourself with the One, to put your concerns to rest — they amount to nothing, and, being an expression of the One, there’s no thing that’s ours, no state that remains unchanging. Fundamentally, we don’t exist.

 

Day 23 down

 

I had a hard day with the stalker. I couldn’t get him off of me, even after yesterday’s meeting. He’d told our section leader, “I don’t have desire. I only keep the hwadu.” I cursed at him across the room, a full, bustling room of monks. He complained that I shouldn’t speak about it in public. What recourse did I have? Of course everyone knew. There wasn’t anything else going on. It was very difficult to control him in the Korean system. On some level I wanted to finish the goddamn dance, but I would’ve been thrown out if I hit him. I had to watch every door, every blind spot. He knew my habits, would lunge toward me whenever I tried to navigate a choke-point. He was insidious. I’d never encountered anything like it.

 

In the woods, I paced the minutes before the next round of meditation. Too much stalker in the room, I lived in the woods, on the trail, in the cleft, on the river of boulders. It was hard for me to listen to him joking around. It drove me out. I was the one hiding. Was he somehow normal, the pervert? Did he lead a normal life, like in a David Lynch movie, or did he know it was all shit?

 

Tae, the only safe place in a world of fear and anger, was very difficult to believe in. Instead the stalker and the beautiful sea of tranquil One Mind samadhi love and the flowing river and a few abysmal daydreams I couldn’t flesh out; the sultry heat clinging mist dying light of the forest. The wonderful part of waiting for her, it drove me to do impossible things. I learned so much — another revolution in practice. My life could never return to what it was. And, since there was no communication, only her spirit remained with me — a new archetype, a new kind of love.

 

Day 22 down

 

Stalker revulsion, saved in the end by the pure thing in her that the world could not touch. She was a giant figure in my new mythology. She revealed the One. It was easy to comprehend through her, and so my struggle to put down my life resolved finally into a new way to live in deep accord with the One. The One became visible through her, and the way shown for the future, how to align a human love with the divine.

 

The rain came in heavy. A wave of deep meditation pulled me in. I was glad for the deluge because I could not keep quiet, such ecstasy. Tae, intertwined all through it, seemed to represent my connection to the world, the One Mind through her. She magnified, stirred in curling waves what would be invisible, the thing in motion interacting with the world, like an instrument that measured the ceaseless activity of the one as it flowed through her. Tae.

TWENTY ONE

I wrote to the Zen Master and told him about Tae, that I couldn’t live anymore as it was. I was abandoning my life. I’d never heard this teaching before. I wondered how he would react. He responded with a kongan, as he will do. Basically he wanted to know if it had helped me. I told him it was the only way I could survive this world.

 

After abandoning my life, I couldn’t imagine seeing Tae again. I was sure we’d be embedded in amber or the black, slower than life, a word would take too long, not even a single word. Neither of us would blink. She would be upset. There would be crying, my soul would be lost, again, maybe for good – the last moment of sunshine before the sky fell, the darkness so complete, so final… I trained constantly to live without a soul, to be only a space for the One to know the world. I would learn to live again as a Zen monk. I would disappear from the world.

 

She would be happy to see me. She would laugh. 1000 other things. She was a good person. She always tried to work things out, thought ahead to make things easier. Her Japanese manners, her hard life in Mexico, her 10 years of marriage, she was always on the team. It was the first time I’d been around someone like that. Everyone else only wanted to destroy what I was doing, while I was doing it, all negative pressure. I’d just stopped interacting with people on that level. Tae had a bite to her, but it was always directed somewhere else, not against the work. She wasn’t a romantic, not interested, but still a woman. I could tell the way she reacted to things. We paired up every time we went anywhere. She always found me, stood close to me. I wish I could replay some of those scenes, as subliminal as they were. It felt like I was in another dimension, watching her interact with the world.

 

A slow death, everything flowing back to the source. When all was exhausted maybe I would live in peace. Though the great peace of the One Mind filled my days, I was often sad. Above all I wanted to know Tae’s mind, how she’d reacted to the letter. It would be another month before the first possible contact, when she’d be back at Musangsa. Time had frozen, locked-tight to the last communication we’d had. We were gone from the world, gone from each other. I was concerned she would fade into black, like Sangmi, like everyone.

 

The rains of summer, the monsoon, had everyone strange. I couldn’t lay down without the stalker hovering nearby, so I stood the rain, a leaky umbrella in the forest, cold, hardly moving.

 

Day 25 down…

 

…to the point where I’d be able to establish contact with Tae. She dominated my morning, but the One, the flames burned through. The stalker figured out that I’d changed routines to avoid him, so he changed his. Now he followed me to the shower room first, before the bathroom. I changed again. I would have to be more erratic, or just deal with him trying to trap me somewhere so he could force contact. This too, the One ignited. It wasn’t easy to live in that environment. I was constantly being challenged. Everyone was stressed, for their own reasons. I wanted to give control to the One, but it wasn’t like that. Like any relationship, we were connected through the course of events, bonding. All the things that happened between me and Tae – on the surface not anything extraordinary, we were just surviving a difficult situation together, helping each other – the process was the same. We grew together. The problem was I fell in love. It couldn’t be. To survive the love anguish I turned to the One. Naturally I began to function the same way, giving myself to it, sharing all the moments of my life, but I could only give them away. It needed my experiences to form my Dharma. All of my experiences, past, current, future, were the depth and degree of its power, its articulation through me. Otherwise it had no particular quality. My suffering was the thing that found the color, found the word.

 


An ancient master said, “Even if the entire universe were destroyed, it wouldn’t change a single thing.”

TWENTY

As my mood lifted, I felt that the situation with Tae wasn’t so dire. It was a natural process of falling in love with someone and being separated from them for a prolonged period, with a profound lack of communication. As a monastic, I wasn’t trying to possess her, but to work out a way to love a person that I found a great harmony with, to develop a life of helping each other, learning, growing — the human ideal. We were autonomous.

 

Except for having children and raising them, men and women functioned independently quite well, the male and female an outward manifestation of the ceaseless work to bond, increase connections and nodes: friendships, parenting, mentoring. Maybe I shouldn’t have put any of this down, but Tae was so integrated. She enabled things to process easily, she trusted the process, and the material, so it became wider, enough to encompass her. There was an interplay. She needed to know, her mind drew it out of me, but it wasn’t me. I was like a conduit between her and the other. It included me, but more as an analogy. It was what she needed. Of course she never asked me directly. I’m referring to her as one of the elemental forces of writing, as a muse.

 

But I also understood that people don’t want to be bothered. Anything that obstructed the flow, any movement, gesture, eye contact, all had to be abandoned. What was the act of meditation? Of writing? The One Mind worked through us to reveal the world in untold depths, to refine our movements, the flow/expression. It was possible to live in an awareness of it, to propagate the way of life, the way a mother instructs her child — to instill the things we needed to live well, to move forward. Not everyone could dedicate their lives to looking into this. The connections I’d made as a writer, it was an unbelievable way to reveal the world.

 

At Baekdamsa, the practice was perfect. It glowed and burned, completely overwhelming my abilities. It rose from the background, a ringing wave of One Mind presence. It beckoned and shone, melted everything into plasma waves. My whole body raised up in a convection, breathless moments lost, lost in her. As soon as there was a drop she’d appear — an opening in the thought mass, the fluttering thoughts before falling asleep; she always came then. The way to welcome her was to give her everything, allow her anything, absolute control, to the point of giving up the thread of life. There was no reason to continue beyond her. I gave my life whenever she appeared. I conditioned myself to allow the space, what she wanted.

 

To become a Zen monk is to be an empty container for the One to utilize, but it’s never empty, the expression is constant. It doesn’t mean to become useless, though my interactions with others became less and less. Only Tae had any meaningful dialogue with me. She understood what I was doing. She could sense it. She’d opened the door. It was quickly filling every corner with its ringing brilliance. It was spectacular, like watching the river suddenly rise from a tinkling stream to a 100 meter deluge. All it took was a good day of rain. The process, I didn’t want to disturb it. I didn’t want to hear from Tae. It would probably have been negative, destructive, or God forbid positive – then my mind would’ve been even more occupied with her. I needed the time in-between. I was locked in, no chance for any release for another month. There wouldn’t be much left of me by then. It was hard for me to turn away from Tae the first time. I dreaded what would be the second.

 

I love that the avalanche that occurred came directly from the situation with Tae, resolving the love. To survive I had to give everything away. She’d grown into me too deeply. I was at the point where I couldn’t bear another emotional disintegration. I was willing to die. I gave the One everything: the longing, the sad songs, the pain and regret. It wasn’t so much a practice as a mode of survival. I had no defense against the dissolution of self. I didn’t want it anymore. The connection through to the One became a constant, a cosmic union initiated through the love for a woman with an established practice of her own. She became a conduit, a mirror, an expression of pure love, an eye to an eye, mind to mind. I was burning with her, a fire that could not be put out. I became incandescent. If I was still for a moment the flames would rise.

 

The One was soon flooded with all the imagery running through my mind. I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. There was only one stream, one channel — either it was playing old loops with something rising behind it, or it was the One. It was exhausting work redirecting the flow, or recognizing when I was playing a loop and giving it up. It was a very slow death. Every piece of the thing I stood on, the thing I regarded as myself, was falling away. It was some kind of existential crisis, though it was positive. I didn’t want to be those things anymore. After 10 years living with the One Mind in varying degrees, I’d come to prefer it to my own crude, sad affairs.

NINETEEN

There was a brief moment of contact before the ango began. It was Tae’s first break from the Kangwon, on a visa run. She’d sent one email. She hadn’t read SOB yet because she’d been off-line. She’d send a letter.

 

Though she knew of my struggle with Sangmi — she didn’t know how I would write her, the things boiling in me. I felt completely vulnerable allowing her to see so much, caring so deeply about her.

 

I had to trust in the Dharma light, that she could see it in me: the flow, the way I moved. She was drawn to it. She needed the example of a deep practice mind encountering the world, but I wasn’t impervious. It was impossible for me not to fall in love with her, not as much as we were together.

 

I didn’t receive another email before I was forced off-line. I had to live with the uncertainty. I wrote everything, allowed everything. I wrote Sangmi as a cosmos. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever done. It changed the way that I felt about her. The material on Tae destroyed everything. It came from a continuum, where minutes lasted for years, Gods rose and fell, Aeon’s; all obliterated in an energy field: the decay of the atom, the blankness of nothing, unrecoverable, from there. How far I had to go! I was glad to be rid of all the human things. I became more human. I was an alien. The only thing left me was the One, so bright, so compelling. And when I’d received no letter, a cold, unforgiving fear. My wonderful friend, had she turned away?

 

The forest kept me alive. I was raised in her, always alone. She was the God of my youth, a communication unbroken still, such a beautiful language. I’ve told her so many things, heartbreaking things. Ahhhhh!

 

When I could stand no more, I hove in, collapsed completely, everything down like it was the end. I wanted no more from the world but to cease. The pain became more vivid as it ignited other things in me. I should not have survived the weekend, but after it passed I was surprised to find some relief, that by Monday I was thinking well of her again. Through the morning rounds I looked it over. I found that it didn’t matter anymore what the future would be. I loved Tae completely. It didn’t require anything. Once I’d put it down, the whole of it now revolved in infinite space, not the distance between us.

 

In the realm of the One Mind, time and space were removed. From there. It was the way, as I understood it, to live as a human being, how to love unconditionally. It came from Tae, our lives crashing into one another’s. The precepts, the practice life, her not-responding to my need — all of it together pushed me into a new realization. If you’ve established a deep connection with the One, all of it can flow from the source. Zen Master Seung Sahn would say, “I have no mind, so no problem.” He left out a few details…

 

But we were not made to stare into the Void. There were always fires to put out. The stalker wouldn’t stop peering at me from behind poles, clothes racks, doors. He was insidious. He would bum rush me when I tried to go to my locker, or exit any door, any blind spot, several times a day. I couldn’t get him off of me. Nobody cared. And that I couldn’t communicate, I was the foreigner. It was funny to them. I don’t know. I couldn’t lie down in the common room because he would hover nearby. I stayed out in the forest. It was an outward manifestation of my inner process. I couldn’t find a place to sit and write — always a disturbance. You understand, I had to disappear. There were 60 of us. Many had already made their spot, every available bench and clump of trees and stream real estate were taken. I found a cliff difficult to access, but the crows had it first, and they were nesting. I was attacked by two of them. They circled and squawked and dove at me until I made it out of there. I tried a number of times before calling it off. They knew who I was. When I tried to establish a new place on the other side of the stream, they found me again and continued the attack. I went further down the road, to the second bridge. It was far enough that the crows gave up on me, but I was escorted back by the upperclassman, who were mad that I was at their hangout. I went behind the Zen Hall, found a spot down a rugged trail, but every day someone would poke out of the brush, walking through. I followed the network of trails to the very end, but there a line of monks came through, even more than before. At that point I was told to stay off the mountain entirely, as they were investigating a recent fire. I had three different notebooks in Ziploc bags hidden in three different places, and couldn’t access any of them. I went the other way, with the fourth notebook, upstream. Before I’d made it to the first bend in the road, I found a dried-up stream bed covered in leaves and underbrush. I followed it around a few bends and finally found a place no one would likely go.

 

The practice had a similar baseless quality, that I allowed the focus to move on its own, without trying to hold it. I went in and out of many different states. It didn’t concern me. It was natural, both the cascading thoughts that built and receded, and the undulating states of deep meditation. They often co-existed, always did, just that the awareness could not encompass everything at once.

 

One of the great teachings I received was to do nothing, to allow the natural process to do the work, not to exert myself ahead of it, needlessly. In the case of the stalker, I had to call him out, publicly, then the group could exert its influence, scattered as it was, to press him toward normalcy. I had to do this a number of times. He quieted considerably, but I could not still his heart. What a miserable task. What little contact he forced, how could it be enough? What kind of life was it? It cheapened my situation with Tae. Was I bothering her in some way? It really made me feel bad about myself. Why do we make the world so difficult to live in?

 

I understood in the afternoon, the first ray of hope after surviving the weekend, that I couldn’t keep anything personal anymore. It all had to pass to the One Mind. The One accepted all unequivocally and gave back perfect things, symmetries out of time, a larger pattern I was unable to see. The path is this act alone.

 

I felt that my life could go in different directions: with Tae there would be more color and joy, excitement, stimulation, a partnership; or the Void, a return to a familiar darkness, to the end. It wasn’t likely that I’d connect with a woman to the degree that I did with her. We were together so much. We knew each other so well, so many connections, bonds. But the future, I couldn’t see her in it anymore. I moved quickly through the meditation rounds, an ecstatic state lit with darkness – the immense suffering of the world. She fell farther away. It became hard to remember her features, but as she pulled away the madness receded.

 

The One Mind expected, understood everything. It was the only place left for me to turn. I entered with the weight of the world. Her world. The static rose, the heat. Tae.

EIGHTEEN

After the letter my feelings for Tae became more defined, more reckless. My soul came apart. I had nowhere to go but inward. Sometimes the world was too painful for me to endure. I needed to bond with Tae like I needed to breathe. It would pass. It would leave me in darkness. My life was void from the start. There was nothing anywhere to hold to that had any meaning. I waited for the letter to arrive. I could not avoid it, being human, though I should’ve remained in the realm of the Gods, they had no use for me. I was supposed to suffer, to dredge up all of the black. It was what Gods were made of.

 

After a terrible weekend I moved with more freedom through the misery of waiting. It didn’t matter as much what she would do. I knew her heart. Endless flowing, whatever her determination, but, when she didn’t respond for two weeks, I began to sink into a new reality that didn’t include her. I feared to remain connected. It was lethal, what nature had worked so hard to grow between us had to be yanked out by the roots and allowed to die, and there were always parts that remained. With Tae it was especially difficult, as it had gone so deep, into my deep practice and through to the eternal. I was playing with elemental forces that no one knew anything about, burning with a person who wasn’t aware of it! It was unstoppable. She was with me all through the rounds of sitting, all types of scenes, real and imagined. At the height of the swell of love I realized that human love was only a single wave in an infinite sea – a human love, but I was human, and human things, though tiny in scale, were important.

 

There was something wrong. The love between us, it wasn’t mutual. After all we’d been through together… I didn’t understand. Maybe there was some other reason she didn’t write but I couldn’t grasp it. I could write 100 letters a day.


“The One Mind doesn’t wait on anything.”


The only way to live was by the flame, the One. There was no other flame that would last the night. The connections were vast. Each one created a forest of connections in front of it. It was truly buried. Tae’s decision had the immediate effect of drawing the color from my world, causing me to discard all that was so precious to me, all of it turned worthless. I was reduced to a pile of jelly. I could hardly function. Why do women have so much power over us? I tore out what I could and fell to my knees, to the forest floor, like Molloy, like nothing.

 

Through endless rounds of meditation I begged again and again to be consumed, “take me, please, take me…” It was absurd, this staring into the mouth of creation begging for it to cease. I gave all of my life, everything that appeared – Tae, everything about her, she was insidious, grown into me to me so deeply. Finally I paced the hall like some dark Angel, caring only for others because there was no way to continue. It was too bleak. I could only work to make use of the life I was born into — not for me. It was over for me.

 

The letter was misconceived. I had no right to interfere with her life. I should’ve remained quiet and hid in the forest. The only love I had was the perverted love of my gay stalker, who made every attempt to force contact with me, like some kind of evil destiny. He’d move my shoes next to his, mix up our bedding, lurk around me while I was trying to rest, run to his locker when I went to mine. He was always plotting to have some meaningless contact. I absolutely hated it. It made my situation with Tae seem cheap and calculated. The pain and misery of this world!

 

During the ango I was having a meltdown because she didn’t respond when I needed her. She denied me, so there was a part of her that was closed off. She absolutely didn’t care. This part I couldn’t understand, because she was so happy to be around me. Was it only on the surface? How can things exist in only part of a person? Is a woman divided into separate selves?

 

I couldn’t develop a spiritual love that was one-sided. No deity, no shaman drum beating our union, no bond, no life. I was to return to darkness. I was to write the story of despair, the story of my life. Only a moment could be pulled out of the darkness that wasn’t ruined. Terrible world. The practice was progressing flawlessly. I was hurt and abandoned and weak, malnourished, on the wrong side of love.

 

The afternoon meditation was aflame with all of this. I was caught between rapture and despair, pleading for my release. Why had I spent so much time with her? It was so intense. I had no choice but to fall into the deep well, and no way out. I would’ve given my own life, but it remained the same as I’d left it, nothing that could be determined. My life wasn’t mine. It was some miracle of time and too many wrong choices. A dead end, it still had to play out inexorably. The DNA would not combine, the work alone would survive, it was all that I had.

 

Tae and Sangmi, I loved both. There was no question the love remained, but it could not flower into bloom. Sangmi, one of the greatest things produced by this world, was separated from me by multiple barriers: culture, language, teacher/student, religion. There was no physical contact, nothing was ever said. It existed only through symbols, gestures, through the eyes. With Tae, we were together constantly. We had no romantic intentions but she was so compelling, it was impossible not to love her. Anybody would: man or woman, plants, crystalline structures, swimming creatures, fowl, surely anything with legs. You don’t want to spend too much time with a person like that. You’ll lose yourself to her swirling currents even as you deny them, and there’s no way to survive her. It becomes her, the world of things: the buzz of the insects, the rustle of leaves.

Slogging through the mire, sad, lonely color of dusk, no physical contact; the only things said were inadvertent: stories of our childhood, scenes from our lives, and the other would realize how closely we matched. “Oh no…” We knew it was dangerous.


“It’s always like that.”


I was the one to fall. It was the separation that brought her into focus, and the realization that Sangmi was impossible. Tae was radiant when we were together. What could I do? In the long months apart she grew into me to such a degree that when I realized she wasn’t with me, I couldn’t extricate her. I had to kill everything, myself included. It was another end of the world, a world so terribly made, that came apart so easily.