What’s it like being in the presence of a holy man?
Exhilarating yet humbling. Emptying while also fulfilling. Joyful but just a little bit sad. Most of all, however, it is loving. Loving from that person both through him and in him. Loving for yourself and for those fortunate enough like me to be in the individual’s presence.
I got a good taste of what it’s like to be near someone who emits joy and loving compassion. And it happened twice. Once today and once yesterday. And I’m still feeling the afterglow of a bliss that I find it hard to put into words.
It started Wednesday in Seoul while sitting in the congregation of a temple where the Dharma Master greeted visitors from around the world taking part in the one hundredth anniversary of WON Buddhism. It was 100 years since the first master, Sot’aesan, reached enlightenment on April 28th, 1916, and shared his experience with nine disciples who helped create a new form of Buddhism in the small Korean village of Iksan.
The most recent master, Kyungsan, smiled broadly as he sat at the front of the gathering. Sitting in pews, more than 100 of us sat with keen attention – some might call it mindful attentiveness — as he spoke in Korean followed by an English-speaking translator.
I needed no interpretation for the signal I received. It went straight to my heart. I couldn’t believe how much my very soul was opening to him and how much joy filled me! I felt tears welling up. Tears of happiness and giddiness. I wanted everyone in the world to experience what I felt and would have given the world to package this and send it air-mail to every address near and far. Including North Korea with whom these loving people hope one day to reconnect and join as one big family again.
I can’t explain how something like this could be happening. I’m no medium or someone who can channel the spirits from the nether lands. I’m a red-blooded American who fought in war, wrote as a newspaper reporter and tried to help poor mostly black youths get through the criminal justice system as a Philadelphia public defender.
Yet, I felt chosen. I felt unique and charged with an energy reserved only for those marching into battle for some heavenly cause. That cause of course was and will always be the cause of love. Divine love if you will. The stuff that dreams are made of and really do come true when you’re faithful to its calling.
Bliss filled me. I closed my eyes and thanked creation for bringing such a divine feeling. I didn’t deserve it, but I wasn’t going to reject it.
Today I felt the same charge run through me. About fifty of us toured the farmlands where the first master became enlightened and we met the immediate past dharma master, Chawsan. He wore the same vestments as his successor, but covered his head with a small cap. It looked like a yamaka to me. He was dressed in white with what I call a “sash” over his shoulders with a large symbol of “WON.” That is the circle of WON. In this case, it was in gold.
He spoke little English, but I felt the warm exhilaration start to spread as soon as he addressed us and seemed to be looking directly into my soul. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. Why was I being singled out? What’s wrong with me or what’s right with me? I felt that nothing could harm me in this glorious moment and there was nothing strange about this, even though it was something I never experienced before.
I felt this man—in his late 70s – had given his entire adult life to helping others reach their true potentials. Not for material things, but for the good of mankind. For the spiritual advancement of all sentient beings.
God I wanted this feeling never to end.
When it did, however, I went to him, genuflected like a good Catholic boy, and asked him if I could hug him. I believe he understood me for he opened his arms and I embraced him.
Later, all I could think of was what it must have been like to be alive at the time of a Buddha, a Jesus, a Mohammed or a Moses as they walked the earth. You wouldn’t need to speak any of their languages. You’d simply understand their language of love.