I live a few kilometres from the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea) in Munsan, a small town on the end of the Gyeonggi-do subway line, unforgettably marred with peculiarities that might forgo the local, but draw my curiosity. The most appealing aspect being the contradiction between extensive walks in the surrounding hills used by civilians – families, men, woman, children – and the remnants of a Korea at war some 50 years ago. Concealed pathways lead to dishevelled bunkers or misshapen trenches; mass storage areas enclosed into the hill tops for what I imagine were camouflaged shelter to tanks. Rusted shells of armed vehicles immersed in the hills; so deeply nestled in the earth and caked in dirt, sticks and leaves it is hard to distinguish their alien-ness, decrepit and decaying into the soil. The discrepancy continues – a tree-lined dirt road skirting the farms marked with lanterns separates into two avenues ending in small yet beautiful temples. A few kilometres away a hill stands, where a few fortunate dead view the farms below from their graves – a status symbol even in death for the Korean people.
As I walk amidst all the contradictions, silence and mystery of these hills, the temples, the bunkers, a war, I am simultaneously in awe yet stupefied – all of this a point for which I have no reference. Yet what comes to mind at this moment is one of my students, a young precocious and forceful individual who has not yet developed her ability to name the things around her in English. She resorts to using the word “this” whilst pointing at books, pens, pencils, her shoes and always utters “Teacher this.., teacher this, this…” in trying to obtain my attention. And walking through the pine needled paths, naked trees and fallen leaves, inhaling Springs crisp air, I find myself repeating the word “this”. This. This. This. All of this, signified and differentiated by the man given name of things, whilst remaining from a single source. In my mind, completely redundant and serving only to detract from it’s original beauty. Taoism refers to the 10,000 things from which everything is named – yet reminds students of this unity.
It helps students of Tao to recognize the underlying connection and unity between all people and all animals and all plants and all things and all ideas. By recognizing the many manifestations, it sometimes brings us back to an awareness of the unity from which they all have sprung.
This right here, this moment, this breath, this falling leaf, this tree, this stick, this mound of sand; in all these contradictions of the mountains and hills of Korea, surrounded by this quiet, this graves, this rusted iron, natures changing season, temples freshly painted.. all of THIS. I have been using her words to draw my attention into the present as I wonder, as I think of it all. All of it will change and whither, everything that exists here will change and all that will be left is this moment, this truth. This.