A Bald Head And A Strawberry - Hyung Jin Moon
Part I - The Attic
Going up to the cobweb filled attic is always a daunting task. One has to muster the will to venture into that place. Standing here, looking up at the seemingly endless cedar steps that lead to that dark portal in the ceiling. Is enough to make even the most fearless cower. The attic squeaks, you know. It twitches, and makes little, almost imperceptible noises. It seems to be so distant, but all too close. "I don't really have to go up right now" we tell ourselves. "I can take a look tomorrow" we say. So, we go to bed and sleep.
In the morning, the alarm rings. The usual complaints of "it's too early," "I couldn't get any rest," "I'm too old to be walking up at this hour," flutter through the air. Luminescent pearly particles float aimlessly in strips of morning's sunshine, as we squint our eyes and hobble over to empty our bladders. We go to bush our teeth, yawning and groggy. "Brush, brush, brush, clean the teeth, fight gingivitis," we repeat.
The familiar sound of the sweeping of the teeth and that "minty" fresh breath; oh yes, preparing us to tackle a new day. We are ready. We are young, healthy, have our whole lives ahead of us. "The sky is the limit," we say, looking up to our radiant reflection in the mirror. But there, staring back in the mirror is an aged and hoary countenance rotting with filth. "Who is that?" we ask, startled by the intruders gaze. "The mirrors foggy," we proclaim in disbelief, rubbing at the mirror for a "clearer look," and rubbing even harder at our face.
A once vibrant youth, full of life, is replaced by a grim visage of deteriorating, sagging skin hanging sadly over gaunt, protruding bones. We hear a little voice say, "You shouldn't have wasted your life." Turning around we see a hospital room with that all too familiar "hospital smell." You know the one, with that lingering, omnipresent, sterile odor painfully darts up your nose. "Did I just hear something?" we ask. But the silence begins to mount and oddly morphs into a pervasive ring.
We sit down on the bed, feelings the chill of the flickering fluorescent light and shuddering at its noisy hums and clicks. Wallowing in disbelief, we sit and regret. After that we get up, sit and regret a little more, and after that we sit and regret just to drive the point home. "I should have gone up those stairs." "I shouldn't have gone to bed." These and other "should haves" accompany a lucid image, almost movie-like, of that attic door.
Getting up to the attic that houses our Original Mind is unfortunately only the first step.3 The incessant back pains will undoubtedly flair up when the treasure chest is located and is pulled out from the dark corners. That chest with that huge lock on it? You bet. That's it. That's the one. The one with your soul in it. Hear that knocking? Well that's you. From inside the trunk, or outside? Where is the key?...
In my relationship with Abba I have come to tremendous enlightenments that have resulted in a deeper satisfaction and appreciation for life. Society conditions our perceptions, tingeing them with the undesirable grime, that we grow, ineluctably, to accept as our own filth. Its inculcation and imprisonment of our mind is imperceptibly gradual; like a tumor that slowly gathers in silence only to emerge with potent shrills. We accept what it deems to be good / bad, success / failure, normal / abnormal and the list goes on and on. Your name it we have it, as well as it's opposite.
I was the youngest boy of the family and probably the most nutty. You know how the youngest boy is usually starving for attention and trying to get as much attention as possible. Well, you guessed it, that was me. You know, I was comfortable to approach Parents and stay a few minutes whenever they were home from traveling. I was equally at ease talking, one on one, with Umma.4 But Abba was always too busy or thinking or something like that. I couldn't possibly bother him with my superficial questions. He was too high and I too low. (Back then and especially now I admit this to be the case, in terms of his being incomparably higher than I). I casually accepted that which I was told about Abba, and at times, I would find myself blaming him to be an uncaring father. But I realized that the real reason why I never got to talk meaningfully to Abba was simply because I never tried.
Once I did though I found the exact antithesis of what all my negative expectations were telling me I would, without a doubt, find. I found an extremely caring and concerned parent. I found one, with oceans of wisdom, loving-compassion, and sincere, genuine interest. But I still found some elements of our interaction to be, how can I say this? A little annoying. For example, he would belch while speaking to me and continue as if it was completely natural, all the while blowing the spew directly in my face. However, these idiosyncrasies, I convinced myself, should not bother me enough as to shift the focus from learning from Abba. I agreed, although grudgingly (after all nobody likes to inhale a belch).
After I began to grow closer to Abba there was an amazing moment of clarity, in which something hit me like I've never been hit. Strangely enough, it was when parents were away when I received this moment of insight that would forever change my relationship with Abba, Umma, and all those close to me.
When they were away, I didn't miss the hours of Hoon Dok Hae, or the sea of people that tailed Abba.5 I missed, something quite different. I missed the way he nodded his head and walnuted his chin in serious contemplation. I missed the way he cleared his throat and the way his tongue darted out when he coughed. I missed the way he passed gas, free of shame, as he watched Korean videos in the presence of people he met for the first time. I missed the way he could turn to Umma whenever scenes of affection were being played out in the Korean dramas, with a velvety, suave grin as if to say "Umma, you are the most beautiful woman in all creation." I missed the way he picked his nose and yanked out straggling nose hairs, his whole body jolting from the sting. I missed the way he got upset at us. I missed the way he called us incompetent in from of members. I missed the way he told us that we would all be chased out of the property. I missed him when he was in a good mood. I missed him when he was in a bad mood. I missed the way he walked off into his room, his hands cupped and closing and opening shut as he exited. I missed talking with Abba and I guess what, even missed the way he belched while talking to me.
Yes, I know this seems strange, but when I realized this I realized something else much more profound. I realized what liberation truly was. It dawned on me that liberation was the ability to remain grateful for every and anything Hananim allows us to experience, whether or not we judge it as good or bad -- to fully and unconditionally accepted the other. All of the good and all the bad is ultimately what makes life, life. It is the range of emotions, thought, sentiment, will, tribulation, vicissitudes, trails, trails, effort, experience, sadness, happiness, grief, anger, contentment, depression, compassion, forgiveness, suffering, love, joy, bliss, and so on that enriches life, and makes it life.
Once upon a time there lived a humble farmer that toiled in the rice fields throughout the day. One day, he took a nap and as he awoke, night had already fallen. He got up and immediately started home. Attempting to expedite his return, the farmer decided to cut through the forest. As he walked, the sounds of midnight stood still as a lone owl could be heard in the distance. There was something in the air.
The farmer quickened his pace, as his breath began to pick up. He could hear something -- something tracking him, following him to make a kill. So he began to run. Undoubtedly, the farmer now heard heavy strides quickening their pace from behind -- something was coming. He could hear its breath, dripping with hunger. Fearful for his life the farmer began to sprint with all his might.
But suddenly a cliff emerged in front and the beast was closing in from behind. He leaped. He tumbled through the air as his and fortuitously grabbed hold of a single vine that now suspended him from his doom. From above, the beast emerged peering over the cliff -- it was a monstrous tiger. It said, "Come up and I shall devour you." At that very moment, the man peered down and from the blackness emerged yet another tiger saying, "fall down and I shall devour you." But it didn't stop there. As he looked up he noticed one black and one white mouse gnawing on the very vine that sustained his life -- the life vine. At that precise moment he gazed in front and beheld a luscious strawberry. He picked it and ate it -- how delicious it was.
Now what is this story supposed to meant? Didn't it seem like a rather abrupt and ostensibly unfitting conclusion? Well, the story is supposed to represent us all -- our human condition, so to speak. We are all hanging on that life vine. The black mouse and white mouse symbolizing night and day propel us towards the inevitability of death or suffering -- which ever comes first. We are all going to die (the one thing we can be sure of), or experience a desperate moment.
But as we hang there the message of the story is to recognize the "strawberries" in our lives, like a sunset on a Sunday walk in the park, or even an argument with a friend, you fill in the blanks. Our lives are filed with wonderful, rich, aromatic strawberries, if we are willing to pay attention to the moment here and now. Our lives are filled with moments that are more wondrous than wonder itself and all its synonyms combined, if we pay attention.
But something remarkable happened as I told this story to Abba. He immediately said, "Yes, my son, but then you must give the strawberries to the mice and to the tigers"! Upon hearing this I fainted! Here was a response that was not a thought-out rejoinder, but a reflection of Abba's being, as he just blurted it out. He, without pause for thought, blew me away with this profound elevation of compassion -- to have the heart of giving ones life "strawberries" to the very beings that are trying to bring about your demise -- to completely love even your worst enemy! I fainted. When I awoke, I was bald.
Only after this life shaking experience could I honestly consider myself to be a, "Unificationist."6 Prior to this, Abba was just my father whom I respected for what he accomplished. But at that moment, Abonim became my spiritual master / guide.7 He was not one who only spoke about compassion, but one who embodied it so fully that he simply responded with an effortless reply reflecting his being, his essence, his spiritual make-up. This is what was so staggering.
Growing up, I heard the Divine Principle, what seemed like thousands of times, in those long lectures during humid summer workshops that we had to attend.8 I heard the explanations of love, Hananim's heart and suffering, etc., but never felt it had any real relevance to my life. It was all some theology that I didn't necessarily reject, but that I also necessarily didn't connect with. I participated and went to our gatherings more out of duty than out of a sense of excitement of what was being taught.
It was during the recent past years while studying religious traditions that I stumbled upon this ancient parable, coming from the Zen tradition of Buddhism. I already believed this strawberry story to be profound, from real Zen masters that inspired me. However, my real relationship with Abonim truly began after he responded the way that he did.
Even though he was my father, I never really felt close, as do many with their parents. We grew up many times seeing Parents one or two weeks, combined over various visits, out of the year, and even then just greeted them in the mornings.9 they were never a real and interesting part of my life as a young person. I, many times felt scared, abandoned, and neglected. I never connected to Father whenever he taught.10 I found myself saying, "this stuff is for old, un-cool people," being indifferent, angry, or resentful.
But I was at a very critical point in my life when I told Abba this strawberry story. I myself was dealing with many issues in my life that were leading me to value religious traditions and the spiritual life. But when he responded the way he did to that strawberry story, I realized that it was not all theology to Abba. I, for the first time, realized that what he said was such an intimate part of his existence that he didn't have to think about it, it just naturally was the obvious response. He was a Zen master's master.
After this, I began to pay more attention at gatherings, during speeches, and in conversations. I began to become interested in Abonim as a religious/spiritual teacher. I began a reading through the Hoon Dok Hae series books and discovered a side to the teaching that I never even heard, let alone connected with. I read Abonim's words about, "If there is a person who feels that the leaves are as his / her children and speaks to them, that person is close to being a saint. Do you understand? That person is not crazy."11 I realized that what I thought to be the entirety of Abonim's teaching, the Divine Principle, was merely scratching the surface. Here is where I began to develop a scholarly interest in Unificationism and its founder's extensive teachings.12
Who are you?
Being the youngest son of Father, I had the unique opportunity to ask very probing questions, as an attempt to deeply discover Abba's heart for myself. I learned to not have expectations, to not judge, or get stuck to some resentment, but to truly try to objectively listen, like a scholar, analyzing, studying a particular religious tradition. This focus allowed me to minimize any potential emotional or experimental biases that I could have or hold.
This allowed me to closely compare the teachings with other religious traditions and to appreciate them more fully. It allowed me to see the many parallels and points of union and convergence with all the worlds' religions, and gave me hope in the movement as one with the potential to substantially manifest peace. It is through this kind of study and curiosity, that I began to truly believe that Abonim's message and mission could truly engender inter-religious, national, racial appreciation, tolerance and respect (cho-jong-gyo, Cho-gook-ga, Cho-in-jong).
You see, after Young Jin hyung passed away, I took care of his books, and as he was studying East Asian Studies at Columbia University at the time of his passing, I found myself newly and deeply interested in the ancient religious wisdom of the East. I began to study, Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism and was deeply inspired by these profound religious and philosophical schools of thought.
When we used to argue, Young Jin hyung, used to always say to me, "the worst thing to be is a hypocrite! Stop being a hypocrite! You better serve Parents. You better be filial pious, you better do it! You can't ask Abonim to change, He's eighty plus years old! That is totally unrealistic! It is more realistic that you change." I was resistant when he said these things before he passed, but strangely these words ring in my ears till this day, and it brings me back to being honest with myself when I am a hypocrite, as we all are at times. It makes me more aware of my weaknesses, and inadequacies, and because it does so I am more aware that change is a process of continual choices. I am so grateful for these words of wisdom that have carried me through many difficult, trying times.
In the end, I realized that in real and deep relationships, it is the little idiosyncrasies, subtleties -- what many call imperfections, quirks, or oddities -- that are the really, really precious things. That's the stuff you miss. That's what you remember. That's what makes that person so special, because only you (and maybe a few others) know these secrets.
You are allowed to enter into that secret little world of that person. To be free, and enter that little crazy place that most don't let the world see is true freedom -- it is running, unencumbered into the attic and eagerly toiling to open the chest! It is the joy and satisfaction that that treasure chest, after opened, sets free. It is the spirit soaring, with wind blowing through the hair, and flying towards glorious new worlds of closeness and full appreciation.
You know, sometimes even now, I think of that attic with all that baggage. But I don't see light coming out and all that anymore. I don't imagine different endings and scenes anymore either. And I don't sit and regret anymore. I am interested in doing something else now -- something different. I am now more interested in noticing the strawberries, then giving them to the mice and tigers, so to speak.
I know I cannot rewrite the past. Nor can I write the future. But I can write about now -- the now that is unfolding as I lick my finger to turn the sandy pages of the book called life. I am still breathing and still have the privilege of being here, on this earth -- but what about that key? You know, the one to the treasure chest in the attic -- the one that we all seek to find, in some way or another. Well, I realized what the key is that sets the spirit free. It is us. Because the key doesn't lead to the treasure; the key is the treasure.
Treasure those around you now, for only then will you realize, that you are the treasure.