Irrepressible Stories of the Nuns of Mount Jiri
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At our temple, there is a rule about cutting our fingernails. This is to cut our nails outside on sunny days and cut the nails into small, thin pieces. The reason is to offer our nails to ants. I unconsciously laugh to see these ants so proudly carry the nails, which are several times their size. When it rains, we gather the nails to place them in a spot guarded from the rain. Although it’s only a fingernail, but to know that I can share a portion of myself with another, I feel a little bit more content.
When I first came to our temple, there were many rocks in the courtyard. Now, most have been removed. The village people would tell us to hire a fork crane seeing the monk struggling to move the huge rocks. However, Ven. Jeongbong used a lever and sheer will to role away the boulders. People, unaware of the circumstances, would say, “Everyday, that monk plays around with rocks.” However, the reason that Ven. Jeongbong removed the rocks with his own hands instead of calling a fork crane is because of the small creatures like the ants. If you use a machine to dig and shift the earth, it would be easy to kill countless small living beings. No matter how difficult it became for him, Ven. Jeongbong would take special care of the ants. He would blow them off the rocks before moving them. Sometimes, he would wait a few days until the ants moved out of the way. Sometimes, he would give food to the ants. This is why he moved the rocks with his own hands.
There is an ant heaven in Ven. Jeongbong’s room. They live in the doorframe of his room. He laid out food there to make a path for the ants. Ven. Jeongbong put the food there on purpose because he knew that if ants were to crawl around the room, there would a danger that they will be stepped on. In this way, the ants don’t have to look around for food and we won’t have to worry about stepping on them. It is a win-win situation.
During the rainy season when food can be scarce for the ants, Ven. Jeongbong will not forget them. He puts out their favorite, which are finger nail as well as other food such as beans. The ants seemed to get used to these gifts. They would transport the food day and night.
Watching these ants endlessly tear apart and transport food, I said to Ven. Jeongbong, “If there were no ants in the world, what would clean up all the dead insects? Is that right?”
“That’s right. Ants are Kstigarbha Bodhisattvas. If we can see the world with an awakened consciousness, we would see that the entire world functions by generosity. The flower, the cucumber in that garden, and the running water are giving to others. Only humans, possessed by greed, do not participate in the flow of truth. However when the wisdom of prajna and the skillful means of compassion manifest in humans, truly great generosity can be practiced.”
I hope that many people could experience the joy of sharing and living together with the wisdom of prajna and the skillful means of compassion. The reason is that no matter how small a being is, we are all equal in not wanting to die and suffer, and wanting happiness. If we cannot live together with household insects such as flies, mosquitoes, and ants—and we kill them with pesticide—our compassion would continually decrease and in the next life we would be born with infirm bodies as a result of taking life. I hope we would never forget that saving the lives of others is in the end, saving our own life.