By Choi, Kyung-a
The author was a 3rd grade student in Daegu when she wrote this. Her letter and the response by Junsok Park were originally posted on the Daegu Hanmaum Seon Center’s online bulletin board. The Korean version of this article appeared in the 2002 March/April issue of Hanmaum Journal. This translation was done by the Hanmaum International Culture Institute.
Have you heard the Korean saying that if you are out in the first falling snow of the year, and with someone you like, then true love will blossom between you? Well, not too long ago the first snow of the year fell. As soon as school let out, I started looking for a boy in the 5th grade that I really liked. I spent all afternoon playing with my friends while keeping an eye out for him. I stayed out until well after dark, but some reason on that day I couldn’t find him anywhere.
Junsok Park’s Response
That night I had a fever. I had a temperature the next day too, and my throat began to hurt. I didn’t think much of it, and figured that I would be fine in a few days. But my throat kept getting worse. My mother gave me some medicine, but the swelling and pain didn’t go away. Over the next few days it kept getting worse, until finally my mother had me admitted to the hospital. Being treated there, the swelling in my throat began to go down, but even after three days it still hadn’t returned to normal. Gradually my throat began swelling again until it hurt too much to even raise my head or eat solid food.
The doctors performed a lot of tests on me and finally told us that I had acute lymph node tuberculosis. They said there was a 2cm by 2cm area of swelling that would have to be surgically removed. What’s worse, they said that it could still reoccur and then they would have to operate again; if it still reoccurred, then they would have to operate yet again, and so on. Further, there was no way to be certain that the surgery would prevent it from spreading to other areas of my body.
I told my mother that I didn’t want to have surgery. She didn’t know what to do, because she too didn’t want me to undergo surgery, but there had also been no improvement in my throat. The operation sounded dangerous, but the thought of my throat getting worse was also quite scary.
We decided to get a second opinion, and if that doctor also thought surgery was necessary, then we would go ahead with it. My father went to Daegu to arrange for me to be admitted to Gyeongdae Hospital, and my mother and I slipped out of the hospital and went to the Seon Center. The laywomen there were happy to see me again, and as we talked, they remembered the story of a young man who had had a brain tumor.
He had always been easily frustrated and short-tempered. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and almost underwent a very dangerous operation. However, he realized that he needed to control his anger and learned to send feelings of love to the cells in the tumor. The ladies said that he’s been healthy for a long time now, and since this experience his life has become much more pleasant because he learned to let go of his anger, and instead view life with compassion and joy.
It seemed like I was sent to find this young man instead of the boy I liked in the 5th grade! My problems seemed so trivial when I heard how bravely he had faced a brain tumor and how, instead of hating it, he had sent it love. I wanted to try to follow his example and so after thinking about it carefully, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to have the operation.
I think I can understand what my mother was feeling. Although that young man might have turned out well, I wasn’t him, and she was still unsure about not having the operation. Adults seem to have a harder time with faith because they can feel the danger more strongly, whereas young people don’t feel the threat to their life as distinctly. But this makes it easier for children to have faith.
So I told my mother again, very strongly this time, that I wasn’t going to have the operation. Instead I was going to try to take care of my illness like the young man did. Although my mother wasn’t happy about it, she agreed to try it my way and see what happened. I ate an entire plateful of rice cake, and then my mother and I left the Seon Center and went home.
After we came home, I thought things over carefully and realized that I too was often short-tempered, and when playing with my friends I would often get angry or pout. It felt like, somehow, my anger over every little thing had turned into the lymph node tuberculosis. I began to feel sorry for all of the angry thoughts I had been directing towards the tuberculosis, and resolved that from now on I would give it love and warmth.
After I started behaving better and being loving and compassionate towards the tuberculosis, the swelling began to go down and completely disappeared within three days.
I think that if people are angry and stressed about everything, as I was, then the cells in the body become angry and confused. And in time, their confusion and anger will turn into a disease. I would like to tell everyone that even if there is something to be angry about, to try to reflect upon yourself and give love to Juingong. For it is love that makes Juingong grow.
Hi Kyung-a, do you still have your temper under control?! Although we have never met, the instant you say “Juingong,” we become one. It warmed my heart as I read your story, and I could feel how seriously you are working to learn about Juingong. Like me, I think you’ve seen that the worry and hardships you went through are what has enabled you to now have a joyous life. Kyung-a, I hope that as you learn about Juingong you’ll be able to guide those people around you who are angry and in pain, and help them to become true human beings.
(The following text is the story of Junsok Park’s experience, which he read to Daehaeng Kun Sunim during the Youth Group Dharma Talk on December 3, 2000.)
I used to feel very frustrated because there were so many difficult things in my life. I tried to do my best, but they seemed so important and few of them turned out well, or at least as I wanted them to turn out. I would often blame other people for the way things developed, and at the same time began to try to avoid those difficult things. I criticized myself constantly, and my life seemed to be without light. However, as I learned about this practice and about relying on my foundation, Juingong, then I began to be able to accept the difficulties and worries I encountered. Whereas most people continuously try to escape from those things and to avoid losing pleasant things. However, I learned that the more I tried to avoid those things, the worse my situation became. Now when some difficulty or hardship confronts me, I try to receive it nondually, that is, to let go of my feelings of like or dislike, and to just entrust that pain or situation to Juingong. For I can see now that even those things are manifestations of my foundation, and have appeared to help me be humble and to help me grow up. Those experiences have become a great source of strength for me and I know that through handling them like this, I am becoming wiser.
For about the last ten years, I’ve suffered from severe headaches. I had gone to the hospital last summer for more tests, and the results showed that I had a tumor on my pituitary gland. The doctors said that I needed to have immediate surgery because of the size of the tumor. I was stunned. I felt like I had been hit by a bolt of lightning. How does someone absorb news like this? It felt like everything had gone black before my eyes.
Hoping that the doctors had made a mistake, I went to a different specialist for a second opinion. But the results were the same: I needed immediate surgery. If the tumor’s size increased, it would start pressing on the optic nerve and I would go blind. Further, the headaches would get worse, and the operation would become more dangerous as the tumor grew closer to the artery. On top of this, the doctor told me that I would have to go to one of the big hospitals in Seoul to have the operation.
If I had heard this news before I had begun to learn about entrusting, I would have just done whatever the doctors suggested, and had the operation.
But now I wanted to seriously consider what options there were, and so while at the Seon Center, I told the sunim my story. She listened carefully to the whole story before speaking: “Your body and your mind are not two; your body is an expression of your mind.” She continued, “The disease they told you is just a label, just an attempt at a description. Your unhappiness and mental suffering didn’t just go away once you forgot it, it accumulated and this may be its manifestation.” I also remember the sunim saying, “Don’t let yourself be scared by the label that someone else puts on the situation. If you can understand the most fundamental cause, then what needs to be done will become clear. So think carefully about what happened.”
How was I going to interact with the events and feelings that confronted me? I returned home determined to think carefully about what might have caused my illness. As I looked over my relationships with my family and the other people in my life I saw that my behavior wasn’t very harmonious, and I usually tried to force my views on others. And solutions we tried were based upon my own ideas about how things should be. As a result, there were many times when things turned out badly. I felt frustrated and worthless, and would often criticize myself. I suspect that some of the cells within my body couldn’t withstand this assault: it confused and distorted them, and this was what the doctors had called cancer.
“Pituitary gland tumor” is just a name. Even if I had surgery and all of the physical
manifestations were removed, the underlying causes would still remain untouched. So I decided to take this situation as my hwadu (J. koan). Instead of thinking of it as suffering, I learned that the creative power of my mind is capable of manifesting in any form. Manifesting as the Bodhisattva of Medicine is also no problem.
By the way, when we were at the hospital, we asked the doctor in charge if he knew what had caused my tumor, and he said he didn’t know. We asked if the cancer would be cured once the tumor was removed, and again he said he had no idea. Although doctors try hard, most of them know about only the physical manifestation.
It was clear to me that I was the one who had to take charge of my life. No one else could manage it for me, so it was up to me to find the cause and work with it at a fundamental level. I explained this to my family and persuaded them to support my decision. If I hurt, then I would just be one with that pain and would know that even that was Juingong’s manifestation. I was determined that the days I had left would be rich and meaningful, and I would continuously experience for myself the truth that the disease and myself were not two.
It happened one day that my head had been aching terribly all day long. I tried not to reject the pain, saying to those cells, “Well, you’re hurting too,” and to just accept it. But that day I did request those lives to make it possible for me to get some sleep. I was able to fall asleep, but during the night my head hurt so much that I woke up and thought I would cry. I’m not sure if it was a dream or not, but at that moment I could see those cells that were hurting. They looked so pitiful. I felt sorry for having hated them and having tried to hurt them with all kinds of poisonous medicines. But now I understood them and wanted to become one with them. I really wanted to go up and give them a hug. I fell asleep again, and my sleep was so peaceful that I can’t remember ever having slept so well in my life.
Now, if a headache occurs I recognize the suffering of those lives, and I turn the whole thing over to Juingong. And then I peacefully go about my daily life.