I feel so sad.
The Maum Meditation Centre in Non-san is the original centre, where the founder of the movement, Woo Myung, started it all. The main building looks like a small secondary school, except not as tatty-looking. Inside there are dorms for men and women; they have big windows, floor-to-ceiling shelving for each resident to put their belongings and futons, and polished wooden floors. In the main meditation class-rooms there are forty or fifty cushions arranged in an arc in front of a slight dais where, presumably, the meditation teacher leads the group.
There's a canteen in the main building, but in a smaller building to the side, there's a cafeteria and a small mart. A market outside this building sells fresh food and other gew-gaws. At tea-time, we snacked on cold chilli noodles, deep-fried squid and fruit salad.
Surrounding the Centre are fields, and surrounding those, mountains. The clouds were low yesterday and obscured the tops of some of the taller mountains. Despite the dull weather, it was quite beautiful, like the highlands of Scotland.
We rode a bus from Daejeon, a thrice-daily service that goes to Non-san and the Centre. It is slightly older than the buses in Seoul, and has purple hangings with gold trim around the windows. A tape of Woo Myung reading, I guess, from his book, "World Beyond World" played constantly on the journey. It was in Korean, so I didn't pay it any mind. YJ spoke to me about how our perceptions are illusory and how all that really exists is just our minds and souls, how after our bodies die our mind goes on, so it's vitally important to prepare ourselves for an eternity of being without the body's senses by cleaning our minds of all negativity and false perceptions. And so on.
Before the bus trip, over lunch, after being proselytised by her for nearly an hour, I broke in to say that my illusory bladder needed to go to the illusory bathroom. Later, I spoke to one of YJ's friends at the Centre, one of the teachers, and said that Maum sounded a lot like Buddhism. She didn't think much of the comparison. I decided not to argue the point, not knowing a lot about either.
Maum Meditation has eight levels of attainment; YJ is at level four. She hopes to attain level eight by November. The classes get more expensive the higher you go; at the moment she pays about W120,000 (60 quid) a week. She says she doesn't worry about money the way she used to. I think she's living off credit cards and money borrowed off friends outside Maum. She mentioned getting some Francs from a friend in France.
YJ also said that she'd like to become a teacher of Maum herself, maybe move to the Centre in London, but her teacher friend implied that it she wouldn't get a choice of assignment. Still, her English is good, so it would have to be an English-speaking country.
Meditation classes take place at night; during the day, YJ works in the fields, growing beans, chillis and other produce. Other residents work on building sites. It's a form of meditation-through-labour, I'm told. If the weather's bad, or if they get permission -- say to meet a friend visiting -- they get time off, but otherwise, it's seven-days-a-week work.
I didn't stay the night. There wasn't a lot of point, since I couldn't join in the classes, and YJ had to go to work in the morning. So we drove down to the station in a borrowed car, and had a drink while we waited for the train. On the drive, she rested her hand on my shoulder, and I stroked her fingers. The skin on her fingers is so hard compared to mine now.
I spoke to her on the phone this morning; she sounded poorly, coughing feebly a few times. She'd been fine yesterday, full of life. She said she had to do some extra meditation today, to empty her mind of yesterday's events. I'm not sure how I feel about that. YJ is very special to me, and seeing her for even a day was wonderful. I regret losing the memories of those few moments to time the natural way; I couldn't bear to push them deliberately away. But then, I remember her crying about her sister, the last time I was here in Korea. The memories of her sister's illness and death were hard for her to bear then. She seems more accepting of it all now.
At the SF convention in Yokohama, the writer Cory Doctorow on one of the panels there -- I think it was the one on Artificial Intelligence, or it could have been the one on 21st Century Crime -- said that cults give their members "lifestyle-hacks" that help them cope better with the world, the kind of thing you might get from a self-help book. But as well as the lifestyle-hacks, they load a lot of doctrine in there as well, and buried in the doctrine are the memes that amount to helping the organization to grow and thrive. For some people, the doctrine and the group become more important than anything else. Maum has given YJ some peace from her grief; I hope it doesn't take too much from her.
Tomorrow, I fly to Narita, and the day after that back to Blighty. Before I hand my phone back to the rental at the airport, I'll call YJ one more time and tell her not to miss me. Maybe she'll tell me not to miss her.