Guest Post by Pat Penny:
During our temple stay at the beautiful Daeheongsa (Temple) we had the chance to visit two hermitages. The monks at these hermitages harvested and processed there own tea from the wild tea trees growing in the temples land. The first hermitage we visited was ilchiam (1 bough hermitage). We started our trek up to the the hermitage around 6:30 pm. The path was steep and rain beat down on our faces as we climbed the mountain path to reach the hermitage. even though it was a rough climb the land surrounding us was a lush green, bamboo and wild tea trees were interspersed between the pines. We followed a path along a river until we finally poked through the clouds to reach ilchiam. Ilchiam was cho-ui’s original hermitage for over 40 years so having tea there was a very special honor for me. The hermitage was rustic with a deep understated beauty and from it I had a great view of the surrounding mountains. We walked in and bow to the monk who resided within the hermitage, his name was yeon deung and he had lived there for only a few years. The tea we had with him was produced on the 24th of April so it was quite fresh and pleasant. After the climb up the mountain the tea and the entire ceremony felt like a sweet reward. Drinking tea with a monk has a very profound feeling to it, it sweeps me away to earlier dynasties and really gave me an insight on how monks use tea in there daily lives and meditations. I treked back down the mountain in the dark, relaxed and awaiting the next hermitage trek.
The next day we woke up at 3:30 to go to morning chants (after which we napped) and then had breakfast at 6. Around 9:30 am we got ready for our next hike up to jinbulam (true Buddha hermitage) to have tea with the monk Jiyun. The hike was about an hour, and somehow even steeper than the last. The scenery made it impossible to be dismayed by the steep climb, we crossed rivers and trekked ancient paths all the while picking a bit of wild tea on our way. The morning air was cool and refreshing, a great start to our day. When we reached jinbulam we were greeted with another beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and yet again another rustic hermitage. Jinbulam was smaller and much more simple than the previous hermitage. It’s walls were lined with Jiyun’s masterfully crafted calligraphy, and tea ware’s were scattered about. Jiyun had been practicing Buddhism for 35 years, and has lived at Jinbulam and produced his own tea for 15 years. Jiyun had a deep and powerful gaze, a sign of his high level of zen practice. He brewed a nokcha that he had produced just a few days before, Its flavor was wonderful and the body was light but present with good throat characteristics. The tea’s qi lifted me up to another dimension, and the cool breeze from the hermitage’s open sliding door, as well as the mountain view, brought an otherworldly calmness. We departed after finishing the tea, we took a different path down which was a bit more challenging including a couple of rope swings across rocky crags.
Tea with monks has given me a deeper understanding into the ways others use tea. Climbing a mountain to receive some words of wisdom and a humbly prepared cup of tea alone has made this trip worth doing. Reaching the top of the mountains and entering these old hermitages gives the tea an oceanic depth, and an everlasting sweetness. Some say its the journey and not its end point that matters, in this case both were in and of themselves a fulfilling reward.