Reverse Psychology Reversed – Book Excerpt

Though I had been reading Thomas Merton’s books on Zen Buddhism and Carmelite spirituality, and had found them intriguing, I still had not seen the irony in reading books about Catholic mysticism to strengthen my resolve to shave my head and go to a Zen monastery as a monk.  And though Dr. Kim had read to us on the Dharma that a student should never rely on his master’s strength, the thought of committing myself to becoming a monk frightened me with a paralyzing anxiety.  At the same time, my rising anxiety pushed me to make a decision about becoming a Zen monk.  In truth, I was caught in a double bind; I had painted myself into a corner from which I could not escape, and this filled me with anger.

Having no way out of this catch-22, I decided I would make Dr. Kim make the decision for me.  On a Tuesday night in late October, I got in my white Phoenix and drove to Dr. Kim’s house.  He was all alone in his meditation hall and I sat in the zazen meditation pose across from him.  “Dr. Kim, I’m thinking of going back to my Catholic faith.”  My intention, was not to return to my faith, but to have him say to me something like, “Do Chun, it is time for you to shave your head and become a Zen monk,” thereby making the decision for me.

“Good idea, Do Chun.  It’s your path,” he said.

Though I nodded in agreement, inside I was in a state of absolute shock.  How could I leave my Zen practice with Dr. Kim after all the hours of meditation and martial arts that I had put in with him?  How could I go in a completely different direction, when I had really wanted to shave my head and become a Zen monk?   He had answered my question with agreement and I was not at all prepared for it.  I hadn’t even considered that he would agree!  Consciously, I had no desire to return to my childhood faith, but now I was trapped in my scheme.

“Do Chun, you will do a ‘Tuk Bul’, (a Korean word for pilgrimage) and visit Catholic monasteries across Canada.  You will find your way to Catholic monasteries and you will wait at the gate of the monastery for a monk to come to you.  When they ask you what you want, you will tell them you want God.  They will invite you in and you will stay with them until you know if you should stay.  You must pray very hard.” By the way he spilled out his instructions for me to return to Catholicism so suddenly, I understood that he had not just thought of it.  There were times over the two years of my learning from him that he said to me that I could become a priest (Catholic) or get married.  I dismissed the significance of the ‘Catholic’ part, implying a renunciation of Zen and a return to Catholicism.

Then he leaned in close to me and said with a most serious look: “Do Chun, when you are praying, one day Jesus Christ will come to you and say, ‘You are my son.’” He got the Jesus as brother part wrong, but he was a Buddhist, not a Christian.  “It will be very wonderful for you.  But, Do Chun, one day the devil will come, and it will be very hard for you. You must practice very hard.”  When he said “the devil will come,” he screwed up his brow and looked at me with great concern and compassion.

I nodded and squeaked out an okay.  I can’t remember if I said anything else; I mean, my entire world had just been turned inside out. Though my practice had become very hard and I was feeling out of sorts, I didn’t actually want to leave him, my Zen friends, the Canadian Rockies, and Canmore, but the finality of his instruction to leave was so definite, there was no changing his mind and saying, “actually, Dr. Kim, I want to be a Buddhist monk.” I had set myself up to leave, and leave I would.

Only 2 weeks later, on November 6, 1988, my room mate Don Peterkin dropped me off at the third exit to the Trans-Canada Highway in Canmore, and I would backpack my way to Ontario.  Dr. Kim’s prophecy about God and the devil would come true.

Categories Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Posted on December 1, 2016

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