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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 55 scores of precious creatures. By preserving the com- mon ground between them, the two Koreas would not only save many irreplaceable species, but also earn immense international goodwill. I asked my companions if they thought this would happen. “We’ll never stop trying.” But three days later I realized the challenge they faced, when one of them took me to a Buddhist tem- ple in the mountains north of Seoul. This was one of the oldest Zen monasteries in Korea, a site that monks and environmentalists alike were fighting to exclude from a plan to ring the swelling capital city with new eight-lane highways—one of which would tunnel directly under this ancient sacred ground. Outrageous, surely. And yet, I asked the head monk, did their struggle to save this sanctuary con- flict with Buddhist principles of non-attachment to material things? For that matter, might the ethos of an environmental activist like my companion, clinging for dear life to the planet he courageously defended, actually be an impediment to his spiritual progress? If Buddhism teaches impermanence, is the impulse to preserve the environment—or anything, for that matter—therefore pointless? It is true, the monk replied, that our world is im- permanent. Yet, he added, just as we need to keep our bodies healthy and pure as we seek enlighten- ment, while we dwell on this planet we have a duty to cherish and protect it. I sensed an intricate lesson in this paradox. Before leaving, I had another question for the monk. In a large hall below his quarters where we sat drinking tea, disciples seated on a wooden floor were chant- ing. I’d glanced in when we arrived: it was adorned with carved dragons and gilded bodhisattvas. For a while, I’d lingered and listened, not understanding, yet something within me stirred. “What are they singing?” I asked. “That is the Diamond Sutra.” “What does it mean?” He explained that what appears as form is really emptiness, but that emptiness also has form. I didn’t quite understand. the world. Paradoxically, both lead to great peace. ➢ page 103 RIJKSMUSEUMAMSTERDAM Cranes, by Ohara Koson SEPT 48-55.indd 55 SEPT 48-55.indd 55 7/3/08 1:31:31 PM 7/3/08 1:31:31 PM