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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
fall 2006| 62 |buddhadharma Glancing at these pages, you might get the impression that someone picked up a brush without knowing whether to write a poem or draw a drawing. A perpetual freshness permeates the atmosphere. Hand in hand with such immediacy and spon- taneity, you can freely glide through these poems like a fish unaware of the water – and suddenly be surprised by the taste of the entire ocean in just one drop: That shock of recognition. Words can point beyond words. To silence (which makes words possible). To the whole cosmos. To the luminos- ity of being. To the heart within the heart. And who, you might well ask, is the particular someone creating such universal art? Lawrence Ferlinghetti has hailed him as Korea’s greatest liv- ing Zen poet. U.S. poet laureate emeritus Robert Hass writes: “Ko Un is a remarkable poet and one of the heroes of human freedom in this half cen- tury, a religious poet who got tangled by accident in the terrible accidents of modern history. But he is somebody who has been equal to the task, a feat rare among human beings.” Ko Un came of age during the Korean War, during which he witnessed rape and murder by the Communists. On the other side, the South Korean Army executed anyone suspected of collaborat- ing with the Communists, including some of Ko Un’s family members, neighbors, friends, and his first love. He was ordered to exhume corpses from military dugouts and wells, and to transport them on his back for many days and nights. He then attempted suicide, pouring acid in both ears, the first of four suicide attempts in his life. The war was still on when, at age nineteen, he became a Buddhist monk. In the tradition of the first disciples of the Buddha, Ko Un later traveled the whole of postwar Korea as a mendicant pil- grim, living on alms. He recalls, “The path I fol- lowed was my own mind. ... As I walked through Korea’s ravaged countryside, I made that journey meaningful in the name of pilgrimage. The road is a parable for truth. Walking or following the road was a practice of truth. The road was my absolute present.” He became a disciple of Master Hyobong, who gave Ko Un the syllable mu to meditate on. Master Hyobong had been a judge during the Japanese occupation of Korea, when he sentenced a fellow ©Cho,seihon,jan.2006,seoul,Korea Pointing Beyond Words newly translated works by the renowned Korean poet Ko un offer powerful glimpses into the human condition and the paradoxes of the Buddhist path.