“There are lots of gates to reach the truth”

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Interview: Korean monk Moomun, Gateless gate

To seek balance and to have contentment; to ponder the meaning of life, and to give solace to the world. To be a channel for peace, and a medium of understanding, in the middle of noises in this world of uncertainty. Each of us strive to achieve that perfect state, whatever you may call it – heaven, nirvana, rapture, paradise. Taking that path while traveling for a totally different mission was not only an accidental diversion, but a most welcome detour.

It was one of the most pleasant surprises in my recent trip to South Korea with the Asia Journalists Association (AJA). Accompanied by my journalist companions, Mr. Lee (founder of AJA), and Pakistani photojournalist Rahul Aijaz on what was a three day trip, I had never dreamed in my entire life that one day, I will be meeting one of the most respected Buddhist monk leaders in South Korea. The most memorable thing about meeting him was to be honored in a solemn tea ceremony. It was a very warm welcome to the Naksansa Temple in Yangyang County.

With the image of a meditative monk, he was the personification of peace and solidity. There was something enigmatic about the tall man wearing the grey garment in its splendor. The shaved head and the piercing eyes behind the eyeglasses were like the calm guarding eyes of a loving father looking after a lost daughter. His hands were cool and the smile was sincere when he asked us to come in and leave the cold weather outside. He introduced himself as “Moomun” and he promised a good story to explain the name.

He said that we were just in time as he was preparing tea. The calm lingering voice was slowly thawing away any cold feeling, literally and figuratively, in our group as we sat down. Each move during the ceremony was both graceful and calculated, each ingredient in its proper place, being touched and mixed in the exact time it needed to be.

Tea was astonishing. There were tinges of herbs and fruits with the aroma of a fresh-cut grass. And there was both a silence and calmness inside you when you took a sip. While words were left hanging in the pleasantries, Moomun took out and offered everyone fresh tomatoes and strawberries. And then it suddenly occurred to me. We were being served by a holy man, and we were blessed. I was savoring the purity of the ceremony and the sacredness of the hospitality.

“Gateless Gate” – that was his response to my question, when I asked him what his name meant. A simple smile was there and I knew that there was a deeper, more profound explanation coming.
He tells a story of a journey – one that has many paths, and there are many ways to enter and from where, there are many directions to exit or depart. He compares the tale of a journey to that of achieving a pure heart and soul – one that is long and tiresome. He says this is just like our faith. There are many ways (religions) to practice our faith but the destination is the same. But there are also many ways to get distracted from the right path. The challenge is how to go back on the track.

He is the ‘Gateless Gate’, one who can be a guide during that arduous journey, and be the welcoming soul to anyone who is in search of peace.

According to Mr. Mun, he used to be a dedicated martial arts student, melding the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of martial arts. His journey to become the head monk is another story, but the more important part is his devotion to Buddhism. Just like the martial art, inner peace is necessary to being a Buddhist.

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Prayers, blessings and souvenirs
Moomun tells the tale of Buddhism. More than 300 million Buddhists around the world look forward to a peaceful afterlife, as they spend mortal life in meditation, charity, and following Lord Buddha’s teachings. Like the Catholic faith, the general tenet is that one must be just and truthful and avoid evil ways in order to evolve into a higher being.

After the tea ceremony, Moomun educates us of the chants recited on 108 beads of the rosary. One of the chant way was “Guanseum Busar” which means, “to watch the sound of the world, return to myself, return to God himself”, which is interestingly similar to Catholic prayers.

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A short tour of the temple followed. The serenity of the place filled us, as we breathed in the fresh, cool air breezing through the giant old trees surrounding the place. Each step was a peaceful pace, each smell a powerful spiritual experience. People arriving at the temple started to approach Moomun asking for his blessings. We witnessed how his holiness was literally glowing around people, showering them with blessings and spreading peace. It was as if time stood still.

And just then, it was time to go. He embraced and gave each one of us a bracelet-charm. It looks like a souvenir, but he said it was more than that. It was to be our guide towards our journey of the many paths. For me, it is going to be one of my moral compass in life and a memory of that momentous meeting with the holy and wise Moomun.

What started as an excursion, eventually turned into a pilgrimage. I pray that my soul will be eternally guided to the right path, where I will be welcomed in the gateless gate.

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