On Glory and Failure

Every village has its idiot, and yesterday – that was me.

I traveled to the small Javanese Sultanate of Yogyakarta to spend a weekend away from Jakarta, after working on a new product there the week before. What was I expecting to find in a small Javanese Sultanate? No idea! A few people said it was beautiful and that I should go, so taking the advice of a few locals, I went.

After an 8 hour train ride through the mountains of interior Java, I arrived late my first night and chowed down on the local fried rice cooked street-side over a wood burning stove.

The next day, bright and early, I decided to rent a motorcycle. I’ve ridden before all over Nepal and Taiwan (multiple times! and I’ve been saved more than once!), so I figured, how hard could this be?

It was actually really easy going at first. The roads are in much better shape than Nepal (it’s a legitimate question, in Nepal, if you can count a slow moving river bed as a road…) and the drivers are much less aggressive than Taiwan. That is actually one of the strangest things about driving in Indonesia – the traffic is quite heavy, but there’s no aggression to it at all.

I rode about two hours out to Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple, considered the largest in the world. I rode through roads cutting across rice fields and tropical forests. I rode as if the wind carried me, birds flying alongside me, farmers shouting “hello mister” to the odd feigner on a motorcycle in rural Java.

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2017 Summer in Japan and Korea: Onggi Ceramics with Master Anshi Sung

You might remember Anshii Sung, the Onggi Master, from this Guest post way back in 2012

Anshi Sung and Mr Hong

Anshi Sung makes his own clay, hand throws all of his pieces on a kick wheel, and wood fires them in a 250 year old climbing kiln built by the Jesuits.  His work is some of the highest quality ceramic I’ve used and he truly elevates functional onngi pieces into an art-form.

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2017 Summer in Japan and Korea: Tea and art with Mogu Sunim, Seonamsa Temple

Did I mention that I love having tea with monks?

Mogu Sunim is a professor of Buddhist Theology at Seonamsa temple, one of he most respected schools of Korean Buddhism and one of the few temples to send their students abroad to practice other forms of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma.

In addition to teaching, he is a tea-maker and an artist. We shared and enjoyed endless cups of tea made by Mogu and other monks, starting with green and end with padiocha.

As ever – the most striking thing about meeting a monk is the way they look into you;
the way some monks can read you.

In between tea sessions, I took a walk around the temple grounds. Relaxed and enjoying the mountain air, the feeling of the tea, and the sense of freedom that only long travel can bring, I received an email (heresy, I know) that caused me great concern. The topic isn’t important so much so as the emotion that it evoked – it tore me out of the moment, stole away the serenity of the tea and the monks and the mountains.

But Mogu knew. On returning to the tea room, showing no outwards signs of the concern, we had more tea, some rice snacks, and a melon. And then Mogu began to paint. Starting on paper, and then moving to fans. He turned to me and gave me a calligraphic fan that he had painted a tea cup with a lotus, and the Chinese characters for: “One cup of tea makes 100 problems float away”.

Pure joy with Mogu Sunim

And with that, I was OK. Mogu could see through my Façade and broke through it and re-centered me. Reminded me of where I was and that my worry doesn’t change a situation. It was my own small satori guided by a my very own bodhisattva.

I love having tea with monks.