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The Reason Why We Wake Up Early at the Temple
There is aproverb atKorean templeswhich states, “You will lose a cow when you miss the morning prayers.” This means attending the morning prayer service is very important for our practice. In traditional temples, people usually go to sleep around 9 p.m. and wake up around 3 a.m. and there are very important reasons why we should wake up so early.
Around the time when the sun was setting, the Buddha taught for the lay people for an hour; from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. he taught for the monks; 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. he rested his physical body while teaching gods in heaven, and at 2 a.m. he practiced Gyeonghaeng (a slow waling meditation which prevents sleepiness or lethargy between periods of sitting meditation). He slept briefly for an hour from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Perhaps the reason why the Buddha appointed 4 p.m. for people to wake up may be due to the fact that he wanted to coordinate the time with when the general public normally woke up. Usually in Theravada Buddhist temples, practitioners wake up between 4 to 5 a.m. (around the sun rise), and this is also when the Tibetan temples wake up (of course, special prayers require practitioners to wake up around 2:30 a.m.). In fact, Korean Buddhists probably wake up earlier than any other Buddhist practitioners in the world. Basically, metrology stone rings at 3 a.m. (although a small number of people also wake up around 1:30 a.m.). In our Jirisan Mountain, we normally wake up at 2:30 a.m. Since majority of people in our modern society are night owls, such an early time to wake up may seem quite odd to many people.
However, if we understand the core of the Buddha’s teaching, ‘transforming desire/lust to compassion’, we could perhaps understand why it is so important for our practice to wake up at dawn. Since long time ago, our ancestors instructed us to wake up between 3:00 to 5:00 a.m. in order to maximize our yang energy and to attain better health; they also stated it is beneficial to utilize our own biological clock.
We can interpret this in Buddhist terms: in order to maximize our power of awareness, we must not fall into sleepy ‘unconsciousness’, rather we must live in accordance with the rhythm of the universe to awaken our consciousness. In other words, in order to transform lust to compassion, we must extend our power of subjective senses beyond our regular unconsciousness. It may be possible for us to control ourselves when we are conscious during the day. However, it is difficult to continue with our practice when we are unconscious in our sleep. This is also the reason why the practitioners in ancient times did not sleep for a long time. They mustered all their efforts to stay in a state of conscious awareness as long as they could.
The practitioner’s ability to stay awake at dawn is a very important criterion for judging how well we are progressing in our practice. In Buddhism, there is something called ‘Gyeongan’, which is a mental function which gives a sense of ease in our physical body and our mind. The more we awake our consciousness, the more we could transform desire to compassion. Through this, we could transform our heavy, sinking body and mind into Gyeongan.
This feeling of heavy and sinking heart, known as ‘Honchim’, can be seen as our body’s and mind’s dependence on material substance. We propagated lust in countless lives that we have lived. When we repeated death and rebirth over and over, we became more accustomed to Honchime rather than to Gyengan. It is not easy to turn the direction of the stream that flowed in certain way for thousands of years. However, it is possible to turn the direction of the stream with strong devotion, willpower and confidence, along with the right view that acts as our navigator. Perhaps, we may be able to hear the water flowing towards the mountain very soon.