Beomeosa Temple; Busan, South Korea

Beomeosa Temple, built on the outskirts of Geumjeongsan aka Mount Geumjeong aka Geumjeong Mountain, is so large that I'm pretty sure I missed much of it (or maybe even most of it) when I failed to hike high enough into the hills. The temple used to be even larger until the Japanese burned it to the ground during one of their two invasions of the peninsula during the late sixteenth century. Throughout its history, Korea has spent an unfortunate amount of time defending itself against invaders interested in the strategic location of their peninsula.

While at Beomeosa, I met a Polish monk whose name translates as Sky Gate. He is in the first photo below, approaching me for our chance conversation. In the second photo, look closely and you'll notice one of the many swastikas on display at Beomeosa. The swastika is not stigmatized as it is in the Western world. It is a common symbol in Buddhism. You will see it frequently — daily if you pay attention — in South Korea. The third photo is nothing more than a wooden bridge and some frozen water on the grounds of Beomeosa.

I asked Sky Gate many questions about Buddhism and Beomeosa. He told me about his own life, and also a brief narrative about Buddha's life, including Buddha's privileged upbringing as royalty, during which time he could "screw any girl he wanted," and yes, those were the exact (or nearly exact) words Sky Gate used. This (i.e. the screwing of the girls) was before Buddha took it upon himself to leave his family's palace and explore the world and its suffering, as opposed to sticking around and inheriting the throne.

What stuck out most in my mind was Sky Gate's comment that, in the English language, we always capitalize the letter "I" in reference to ourselves, yet we spend so little time thinking about, "What is the I?" He was not isolating English speakers as being selfishly unaware; he was simply using the only common language between us to make his point.

In departing, he asked me to avoid expectations: for life in general, and especially for my upcoming journey across Russia. He seemed pleased that I would venture alone into Russia during its famously cold winter.