A Good Question: What Are You Doing Now?
Written by Bwog Staff
Yesterday, Bwog visited the Manhattan Chogyesa Temple at 42 W. 96th Street, planning on interviewing the Abbess Myo Ji Sunim, whom students sometimes see in Riverside Park, noticing the world. However, by chance or design, the Abbess was busy, and at the meeting time a class was starting, so Bwog was invited to join. Ushered by Vice Abbot Myong Haeng Sunim into a welcoming group of six other students, Bwog took part in the 6:00 p.m. Chanting and Sitting Meditation, a beginner’s class.
Bwog entered in the middle of the first part—the chanting. Korean mantras and then English translations were repeated and sang. The process was very relaxing and focusing. The Vice Abbot said that suffering comes from thinking too much, from a disconnect between the five senses and the brain. He believes that our thoughts pass through our heads and are perceived by our mind. However, our mind is so natural and second hand to us that it is hard to perceive what is doing the perceiving, just as the eye cannot see the eye.
After the chanting, there was a five-minute break, followed by breathing exercises. The Vice Abbot explained that since the goal is to have a clear mind, but that one can never truly be thinking about nothing, focusing on breathing is very centering and head-clearing. Next, he explained the meditation. For twenty minutes the group sat, eyes half-closed, cross-legged, with the door to the city open. The goal was to listen to the sounds of the city, but without applying labels and without saying to oneself, “That is car.” The goal was to feel all feelings through every sense, to unite mind and body. For a rather swamped Bwog, the time seemed to pass in an instant.
Afterwards, there was a short discussion on letting go. The Vice Abbot holds that attachment breeds suffering—that attachment is insanity. Thus we are all a little bit insane, or very much insane. He asked the question, “What are you doing?” repeatedly. He expounded on New York being a place where people do not suffer physical starvation, but do have spiritual pains. He called the temple a hospital of the mind, where everyone is a patient and a doctor. Walking back through the concrete jungle to the 1 train, Bwog could not help but pay more attention to the sounds, smells, sights and feel of the city.
Bwog asked whether there was much interaction between Chogyesa and Columbia. The Vice Abbot said that there is a Thursday meditation group which meets at Columbia and that he also has informal relationships with teachers in the Buddhist Studies department. In fact, one of the other students was a Columbia College freshman, one of several who attend meetings. The Vice Abbot invites anyone and everyone to try the 6 p.m. beginner class. For more information, visit nychogyesa.org.
Photo by Conor Skelding