A Knife Not Sharpened Grows Dull

After completing grammar school, I moved to Seoul and lived
alone in the Heuksok Dong neighborhood while attending
the Kyongsong Institute of Commerce and Industry. The
winter in Seoul was extremely cold. It was normal for the temperature to fall to minus twenty degrees Celsius, and when it did, the Han River would freeze over. The house where I lived was on a ridge, and there was no running water. We drew our water from a well that was so deep it took more than ten arm-lengths of rope for the pail to reach the water below. The rope kept breaking, so I made a chain and attached it to the pail. Each time I brought water up, though, my hands would freeze to the chain and I could only keep them warm by blowing on them. To fight the cold, I used my knitting talents. I made a sweater, thick socks, a cap, and gloves. The hat was so stylish that when I wore it around town people would think I was a woman. I never heated my room, even on the coldest winter days, mainly because I didn’t have the money to do so. I also felt that having a roof over my head when I slept meant that I was living in luxury compared to homeless people forced to find ways to keep themselves warm on the streets. One day, it was so cold I slept while holding a light bulb against
my body under the quilt, like a hot-water bottle. During the night, I
burned myself on the hot bulb, causing some skin to peel. Even now,
when someone mentions Seoul, the first thing that comes to mind is
how cold it was back then.
My meals consisted of a bowl of rice and never more than one side
dish, whereas average Korean meals include up to twelve side dishes. It
was always one meal, one dish. One side dish was enough. Even today,
because of the habit I formed while living alone, I don’t need many side
dishes at my meals. I prefer to have just one side dish that is prepared
well. When I see a meal that has been prepared with many side dishes, it
only seems troublesome to me. I never ate lunch while attending school
in Seoul. I became accustomed to eating just two meals a day while
roaming around the hills as a child. I continued this lifestyle until I was
nearly thirty.
My time in Seoul gave me a good understanding of how much work
goes into managing a household.
I returned to Heuksok Dong in the 1980s and was surprised to find
the house where I once lived still standing. The room where I lived and
the courtyard where I used to hang my laundry were still there. I was
sad to see, though, that the well where I had to blow on my hands while
pulling up pails of water was gone.
During my time in Heuksok Dong, I adopted for myself the motto,
“Before seeking to dominate the universe, first perfect your ability to
dominate yourself.” This means that to have the strength to save the
nation and save the world, I first had to train my own body. I trained
myself through prayer and meditation and through sports and exercise
programs. As a result, I would not be swayed by hunger or any other
emotion or desire of the physical body. Even when I ate a meal, I would
say, “Rice, I want you to become the fertilizer for the work that I am
preparing myself to do.” I learned boxing, soccer, and self-defense techniques.
Because of this, although I have gained some weight since I was
young, I still have the flexibility of a young person.
Kyongsong Institute of Commerce and Industry had a policy that
the students would take turns cleaning their own classrooms. In my
class, I decided to clean the classroom every day by myself. I did not
do this as some kind of punishment. It was an expression of my desire
that welled up naturally from within to love the school more than
anyone else. In the beginning, others would try to help, but they could
see I didn’t appreciate this and preferred to do it alone. Eventually my
classmates decided, “Go ahead. Do it by yourself.” And so the cleaning
became my job.
I was an unusually quiet student. Unlike my classmates, I didn’t engage
in idle chatter, and I would often go an entire day without speaking
a word. This may have been the reason that, although I never engaged
in physical violence, my classmates treated me with respect and were
careful how they acted in my presence. If I went to the toilet and there
was a line of students waiting their turn, they would immediately let me
go first. If someone had a problem, I was frequently the one they sought
out for advice.
I was very persistent in asking questions during class, and there
were more than a few teachers who were stumped by my questions.
For example, when we were learning a new formula in mathematics
or physics class, I would ask, “Who made this formula? Please explain
it to us step by step so that I can understand it exactly,” and refused to
back down until I got clear answers. I was relentless with my teachers,
digging deeper and deeper. I couldn’t accept any principle in the world
until I had taken it apart and figured it out for myself. I found myself
wishing I had been the person to first discover such a beautiful formula.
The stubborn character that had made me cry all night as a little boy
was making its appearance in my studies as well. Just as when I prayed, I
poured myself completely into my studies and invested my full sincerity
and dedication.
Any task we do requires sincerity and dedication, and not just for
a day or two. It needs to be a continuous process. A knife used once
and never sharpened turns dull. The same is true with sincerity and
dedication. We need to continue our efforts on a daily basis with the
thought that we are sharpening our blade daily. Whatever the task, if
we continue the effort in this way, we eventually reach a mystical state.
If you pick up a paintbrush and focus your sincerity and dedication on
your hand and say to yourself, “A great artist will come and help me,”
and concentrate your mind, you can create a wonderful painting that
will inspire the world.
I dedicated myself to learning how to speak faster and more accurately
than anyone else. I would go into a small anteroom where no
one could hear me and practice tongue-twisters out loud. I practiced
pouring out what I wanted to say very quickly. Eventually, I was able
to say ten words in the time that it took others to say just one. Even
now, though I am old, I can speak very quickly. Some say that I speak
so quickly that they have difficulty understanding me, but my heart is
in such a hurry that I cannot bear to speak slowly. My mind is full of
things I want to say. How can I slow down?
In that sense, I am very much like my grandfather, who enjoyed
talking with people. Grandfather could go three or four hours talking
to people in our home’s guest room, explaining to them his views on
the events of the day. I am the same way. When I am with people and
there is good communication of heart, I completely lose track of time,
and I don’t know if night is falling or if the sun is rising. The words in
my heart form an unstoppable flow. When I am like this, I don’t want
to eat; I just want to talk. It’s difficult for the people who are listening,
and beads of sweat begin to appear on their foreheads. Sweat is running
down my face, too, as I continue talking, and they dare not ask to excuse
themselves and leave. We often end up staying up all night together.

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20120814-Mr. Kook Jin Moon Speaks in NY on the Freedom Society
by Tongil PLUS 1 week ago
[August 14] Mr. Kook Jin Moon Chairman, Tongil Foundation Freedom Society-A vision for building God's Ideal World"

'via Blog this'


The More It Hurts, the More You Should Love

I was thrown into extreme confusion. I couldn't open my
heart to my parents and share my huge secret with them. But
neither could I just keep it to myself. I was at a loss over what
to do. What was clear was that I had received a special mission
from Heaven. It was such a huge and tremendous responsibility. I
shuddered in fear to think that I might not be able to handle it on
my own. I clung to prayer even more than before, in an attempt to
quiet my confused heart. But even this had no effect. No matter
how much I tried, I could not free myself for even a moment from
the memory of having met Jesus. In an effort to quiet my heart
and my tears, I composed the following poem:

Crown of Glory
When I doubt people, I feel pain.
When I judge people, it is unbearable.
When I hate people, there is no value to my existence.
Yet if I believe, I am deceived.
If I love, I am betrayed.
Suffering and grieving tonight, my head in my hands,
Am I wrong?
Yes I am wrong.
Even though we are deceived, still believe.
Though we are betrayed, still forgive.
Love completely, even those who hate you.
Wipe your tears away and welcome with a smile
Those who know nothing but deceit,
And those who betray without regret.
O, Master, the pain of loving.
Look at my hands.
Place your hand on my chest.
My heart is bursting, such agony.
But when I love those who acted against me,
I brought victory.
If you have done the same things,
I will give you the Crown of Glory.
My encounter with Jesus changed my life completely. His sorrowful
expression was etched into my heart as if it had been branded there, and
I could not think of anything else. From that day on, I immersed myself
completely in the Word of God. At times, I was surrounded by endless
darkness and filled with such pain that it was difficult to breathe. At
other times, my heart was filled with joy, as though I were watching
the morning sun rise above the horizon. I experienced a series of days
like these that led me into a deeper and deeper world of prayer. I
embraced new words of truth that Jesus was giving me directly and
let myself be completely captivated by God. I began to live an entirely
different life. I had many things to think about, and I gradually became
a boy of few words.
Anyone who follows the path of God must pursue his goal with his
whole heart and total dedication. It requires a steadfastness of purpose.
I am stubborn by birth, so I have always had plenty of tenacity. I used
this God-given tenacity to overcome difficulties and follow the way that
was given me. Anytime I began to waver, I steadied myself by remembering:
“I received God’s word directly.” It was not easy to choose this
course, because it would require me to sacrifice the rest of my youth. At
times, I felt I would rather avoid the path.
A wise person will place hope in the future and continue to
move forward, no matter how difficult it may be. A foolish person,
on the other hand, will throw away his future for the sake of
immediate happiness. I, too, at times held foolish thoughts when
I was still very young, but in the end I chose the path of the wise
person. I gladly offered up my life in order to pursue the way God
desired. I could not have run away if I tried; this was the only way
I could have chosen.
So why did God call me? Even now, at ninety years of age, I wonder
every day why God called me. Of all the people in the world,
why did He choose me? It wasn’t because I had a particularly good
appearance, or outstanding character, or deep conviction. I was
just an unremarkable, stubborn, and foolish young boy. If God saw
something in me, it must have been a sincere heart that sought Him
with tears of love. Whatever the time or place, love is most important.
God was searching for a person who would live with a heart
of love and who, when faced with suffering, could cut off its effects
with love. I was a boy in a rural village with nothing to show for
myself. Even now, I insist uncompromisingly on sacrificing my life
to live for God’s love and nothing else.
There was nothing I could know on my own, so I took all my questions
to God. I asked, “God, do You really exist?” and that was how I
came to know that He did, in fact, exist. I asked, “God, do You have any
cherished desires?” and this was how I came to know that He, too, had
cherished desires. I asked Him, “God, do You need me?” and this was
how I discovered that He had use for me.
On those days when my prayers and dedication connected to Heaven,
Jesus appeared to me without fail and conveyed special messages. If I
was earnest in my desire to know something, Jesus would appear with a
gentle expression and give me answers of truth. His words were always
on the mark, and they struck deep into my bosom like sharp arrows.
These were not mere words; they were revelations about the creation of
the universe that opened the door to a new world. When Jesus spoke, it
seemed like a soft breeze, but I took his words to heart and prayed with
an earnestness strong enough to uproot a tree. Gradually, I came into a
new realization about God’s purpose in creating the universe and His
principles of creation.
During the summer of that year, I went on a pilgrimage around the
country. I had no money. I would go to homes and ask to be fed. If
I was lucky, I caught a ride on a truck. This was how I visited every
corner of the country. Everywhere I went, I saw that my homeland was
a crucible of tears. There was no end to the sorrowful sighs of suffering
from hungry people. Their woeful lamentations turned to tears that
flowed like a river.
“This wretched history must end as quickly as possible,” I told myself.
“Our people must not be left to suffer in sorrow and despair. Somehow,
I need to find a way to go to Japan and to America so that I can let the
world know the greatness of the Korean people.”
Through this pilgrimage, I was able to redouble my determination
toward my future work.
As I clenched my two fists, my mind became totally focused, and I
could see clearly the path I had to follow in my life: “I absolutely will
save our people and bring God’s peace on this earth.”


Between Fear and Inspiration


Between Fear and Inspiration

As I grew older and more mature, I became preoccupied with the question, “What will I be when I grow up?” I enjoyed observing and studying nature, so I gave some thought to becoming a scientist. However, I changed my mind after I saw the tragedy of how people were plundered by the Japanese colonial authorities. They suffered so much that they could not even feed themselves. It didn’t seem
that becoming a scientist, even if it led to my winning a Nobel Prize,
would be a way for me to wipe away the tears of suffering people.
I wanted to become a person who could take away the tears that
flowed from people’s eyes and the sorrow that was in their hearts. When
I was lying in the forest listening to the songs of the birds, I would think,
“The world needs to be made as warm and tender as those songs. I should
become someone who makes people’s lives as fragrant as flowers.” I didn’t
know what career I should pursue to accomplish that, but I became convinced
that I should be a person who could give happiness to people.
When I was ten our family converted to Christianity by the grace
of Great-Uncle Yun Guk Moon, who was a minister and led a fervent
life of faith. From then on, I attended church faithfully, without ever
missing a week. If I arrived at service even a little late, I would be so
ashamed that I could not even raise my face. I don’t know what I could
have understood at such a young age to inspire me to be this way, but
God was already a huge presence in my life. I was spending more and
more time wrestling with questions dealing with life and death, and the
suffering and sorrows of human existence.
When I was twelve, I witnessed my great-grandfather’s grave being
moved. Normally, only adults in the clan would be allowed to attend
such an occasion, but I wanted very much to see for myself what happened
to people after they died. I eventually persuaded my parents to
allow me to come along. When the grave was dug up and I saw his
remains, I was overcome with shock and fear. While the adults opened
the grave with solemn ceremony, all I saw was a scrawny skeleton. There
was no trace of the features my father and mother had described to me.
There was only the hideous sight of white bones.
It took me a while to get over the shock of seeing my great-grandfather’s
bones. I said to myself, “Great-grandfather must have looked just
like us. Does this mean my parents, too, will turn into just a bunch of
white bones after they die? Is this what will happen to me when I die?
Everyone dies, but after we die, do we just lie there unable to think
about anything?” I couldn’t get these questions out of my head.
Around that same time, a number of strange events occurred in our
home. I have a vivid memory of one in particular. Each time our family
wove cloth, we would take the snippets of thread from the spinning
wheel and save them in an earthenware jar until we had enough to make
a bolt of cloth. The cloth we made from these snippets, called yejang,
was a special cloth used when a child in the family was getting married.
One night, these snippets were found scattered all over the branches of
an old chestnut tree in a neighboring village. They made the tree look
like it had turned white. We couldn’t understand who would have taken
the snippets from the jar and carried them all the way to the chestnut
tree, which was quite a distance from our home, and then spread them
all over the tree. It didn’t seem like something that could be done by
human hands, and it frightened everyone in the village.
When I was sixteen, we experienced the tragedy of having five of
my younger siblings die in a single year. No words could describe the
heartbreak of our parents in losing five of their thirteen children in such
a short time. Death seemed to spread. Other clan members lost their
livestock. One home’s cow suddenly died, though it had been in perfect
health. At another home, several horses died, one after another. At a
third home, seven pigs died in one night.
The suffering of one family seemed connected to the suffering of the
nation and of the world. I was increasingly troubled to see the wretched
situation of the Korean people under Japan’s increasingly tyrannical
rule. People didn’t have enough to eat. They were sometimes forced to
take grass, tree bark, and whatever else they could find, and boil these
for food. There seemed to be no end to wars around the world. Then
one day I read an article in a newspaper about the suicide of a middleschool
student who was the same age as I.
“Why did he die?” I asked myself. “What would drive a person to kill
himself at such a young age?” I was devastated by this news, as if it had
happened to someone who had been close to me. With the newspaper
open to that article, I wept aloud for three days and nights. The tears
kept coming, and I couldn’t make them stop.
I couldn’t comprehend the series of strange events, or the fact that
tragic events were happening to good people. Seeing the bones of my
great-grandfather had inspired me to start asking questions about life
and death, and the series of unusual events in and around our home
caused me to hang on to religion. The Word of God I was hearing in
church, however, was not sufficient by itself to give me the clear answers
I was seeking. To relieve the frustrations in my heart, I naturally began
to immerse myself in prayer.
“Who am I? Where did I come from? What is the purpose of
life? What happens to people when they die? Is there a world of the
eternal soul? Does God really exist? Is God really all-powerful? If He
is, why does He just stand by and watch the sorrows of the world?
If God created this world, did He also create the suffering that is in
the world? What will bring an end to Korea’s tragic occupation by
Japan? What is the meaning of the suffering of the Korean people?
Why do human beings hate each other, fight, and start wars?” My
heart was filled with these serious and fundamental questions. No
one could easily answer them for me, so my only option was to pray.
Prayer helped me to find solace. Whenever I laid out the anguishing
problems in my heart to God, all my suffering and sorrow vanished and
my heart felt at ease. I began spending more and more time in prayer, to
the point that, eventually, I began praying through the night all the time.
As a result, I had a rare and precious experience in which God answered
my prayers. That day will always remain as the most cherished memory
of my life—a day I can never forget.
It was the night before Easter in the year I turned sixteen. I was on
Mount Myodu praying all night and begging God in tears for answers.
Why had He created a world so filled with sorrow and despair? Why was
the all-knowing and all-powerful God leaving the world in such pain?
What should I do for my tragic homeland? I wept in tears as I asked these
questions repeatedly.
Early Easter morning, after I had spent the entire night in prayer,
Jesus appeared before me. He appeared in an instant, like a gust of
wind, and said to me, “God is in great sorrow because of the pain of
humankind. You must take on a special mission on earth having to do
with Heaven’s work.”
That day, I saw clearly the sorrowful face of Jesus. I heard his voice
clearly. The experience of witnessing the manifestation of Jesus caused my
body to shake violently, like a quaking aspen’s leaves trembling in a strong
breeze. I was simultaneously overcome with fear so great I felt I might die
and gratitude so profound I felt I might explode. Jesus spoke clearly about
the work I would have to do. His words were extraordinary, having to do
with saving humanity from its suffering and bringing joy to God.
My initial response was, “I can’t do this. How can I do this? Why
would you even give me a mission of such paramount importance?” I
was truly afraid. I wanted somehow to avoid this mission, and I clung
to the hem of his clothing and wept inconsolably.


Ardent Student

When I turned ten, my father had me attend a traditional
school in our village, where an old man taught Chinese
classics. At this school, all we had to do was memorize one
booklet each day. I would focus myself and complete the memorization
in a half hour. If I could stand in front of the schoolmaster and recite
that day’s lesson, then I was finished for the day. If the schoolmaster
dozed off in the early afternoon, I would leave the school and go into the
hills and meadows. The more time I spent in the hills, the more I knew
where to find edible plants. Eventually, I was eating enough of these plants
that I could go without lunch, and I stopped eating lunch at home.
At school, we read the Analects of Confucius and the works of Mencius,
and we were taught Chinese characters. I excelled at writing, and
by the time I was twelve the schoolmaster had me making the model
characters that other students would learn from. Actually, I wanted to
attend a formal school, not the traditional village school. I felt I shouldn’t
be just memorizing Confucius and Mencius when others were building
airplanes. This was April, and my father had already paid my full
year’s tuition in advance. Even though I knew this, I decided to quit the
village school and worked to convince my father to send me to a formal
school. I worked on convincing my grandfather and even my uncle.
To transfer into elementary school, I had to take an exam. To study for
this exam, I had to attend a preparatory school. I convinced one of my
younger cousins to go with me, and we both entered the Wonbong
Preparatory School and began our studies for the exam to transfer
into elementary school.
The next year, when I was fourteen, I passed the exam and transferred
into the third grade at Osan School. I had a late start, but I
studied hard and was able to skip the fifth grade. Osan School was
five miles from our home, but I never missed a day or was ever late
for school. Each time I would climb a hill in the road, a group of
students would be waiting for me. I would walk so quickly, though,
that they would have a hard time keeping up. This is how I traveled
that mountain road that was rumored to be a place where tigers
sometimes appeared.
The Osan School was a nationalist school established by Yi Sung
Hun, who was active in the independence movement. Not only was
the Japanese language not taught, but students were actually forbidden
to speak Japanese. I had a different opinion on this. I felt that we
had to know our enemy if we were to defeat it. I took another transfer
exam and entered the fourth grade of the Jung-ju Public Normal
School. In public schools, all classes were conducted in Japanese, so
I memorized katakana and hiragana the night before my first day of
class. I didn’t know any Japanese, so I took all the textbooks from
grades one through four and memorized them over the course of
two weeks. This enabled me to start understanding the language.
By the time I graduated from grammar school, I was fluent in Japanese.
On the day of my graduation, I volunteered to give a speech before
a gathering of all the important people in Jung-ju. Normally in that
situation, the student is expected to speak about his gratitude for the
support received from his teachers and the school. Instead, I referred to
each of my teachers by name and critiqued them, pointing out problems
in the way the school was run. I also spoke on our time in history and
the kind of determination that people in responsible positions should
make. I gave this rather critical speech entirely in Japanese.
“Japanese people should pack their bags as soon as possible and go
back to Japan,” I said. “This land was handed down to us by our ancestors,
and all the future generations of our people must live here.”
I said these things in front of the chief of police, the county chief, and
town mayor. I was taking after the spirit of Great-Uncle Yun Guk Moon
and saying things that no one else dared say. The audience was shocked.
When I left the stage, I could see people’s faces had turned pale. Nothing
happened to me that day, but there were problems later on. From
that day, the Japanese police marked me as a person to be tracked and
began watching me, making a nuisance of themselves. Later, when I was
trying to go to Japan to continue my studies, the chief of police refused
to place his stamp on a form that I needed, and this caused me some
trouble. He regarded me as a dangerous person who should not be allowed
to travel to Japan and refused to stamp the form for me. I had a
big argument with him and finally convinced him to put his stamp on
the form. Only then could I go to Japan.


Talking about the Universe with the Insects

Spending time in the forest cleanses the mind. The sound of leaves
rustling in the wind, the sound of the wind blowing through the
reeds, the sound of frogs croaking in the ponds: All you can hear
are the sounds of nature; no extraneous thoughts enter the mind. If you empty your mind and receive nature into your entire being, there is no separation between you and nature. Nature comes into you, and you become completely one with nature. In the moment that the boundary between you and nature disappears, you feel a profound sense of joy.
Then nature becomes you, and you become nature.
I have always treasured such experiences in my life. Even now, I close my eyes and enter a state in which I am one with nature. Some refer to this as anātman, or “not-self,” but to me it is more than that, because nature
enters and settles into the place that has been made empty. While
in that state, I listen to the sounds that nature hands to me—the sounds
of the pine trees, the sounds of the bugs—and we become friends. I
could go to a village and know, without meeting anyone, the disposition
of the minds of the people living there. I would go into the meadow
of the village and spend the night there, then listen to what the crops
in the fields would tell me. I could see whether the crops were sad or
happy and that would tell me the kind of people who lived there.
The reason I could be in jail in South Korea and the United States,
and even North Korea, and not feel lonely and isolated is that even in
jail I could hear the sound of the wind blowing and talk to the bugs that
were there with me.
You may ask, “What do you talk about with bugs?” Even the
smallest grain of sand contains the principles of the world, and even
a speck of dust floating in the air contains the harmony of the universe.
Everything around us was given birth through a combination
of forces so complex we cannot even imagine it. These forces are
closely related to each other. Nothing in the universe was conceived
outside the heart of God. The movement of just one leaf holds within it
the breathing of the universe.
From childhood, I have had a gift of being able to resonate with
the sounds of nature as I roam around the hills and meadows. Nature
creates a single harmony and produces a sound that is magnificent
and beautiful. No one tries to show off and no one is ignored; there
is just a supreme harmony. Whenever I found myself in difficulty,
nature comforted me; whenever I collapsed in despair, it raised me
back up. Children these days are raised in urban areas and don’t
have opportunities to become familiar with nature, but developing
sensitivity to nature is actually more important than developing our
knowledge. What is the purpose of providing a university education
to a child who cannot feel nature in his bosom and whose sensitivities
are dull? The person separated from nature can gather book
knowledge here and there and then easily become an individualistic
person who worships material goods.
We need to feel the difference between the sound of spring rain falling
like a soft whisper and that of the autumn rain falling with pops
and crackles. It is only the person who enjoys resonance with nature
who can be said to have a true character. A dandelion blooming by
the side of the road is more precious than all the gold in the world. We
need to have a heart that knows how to love nature and love people.
Anyone who cannot love nature or love people is not capable of loving
God. Everything in creation embodies God at the level of symbol, and
human beings are substantial beings created in the image of God. Only
a person who can love nature can love God.
I did not spend all my time roaming the hills and meadows and playing.
I also worked hard helping my older brother run the farm. On a
farm there are many tasks that must be done during a particular season.
The rice paddies and fields need to be plowed. Rice seedlings need to be
transplanted, and weeds need to be pulled. When one is pulling weeds,
the most difficult task is to weed a field of millet. After the seeds are
planted, the furrows need to be weeded at least three times, and this
is backbreaking work. When we were finished, we couldn’t straighten
our backs for awhile. Sweet potatoes don’t taste very good if they are
planted in clay. They need to be planted in a mixture of one-third clay
and two-thirds sand if they are going to produce the best-tasting sweet
potatoes. For corn, human excrement was the best fertilizer, so I would
take my hands and break up all the solid excrement into small pieces.
By helping out on the farm, I learned what was needed to make beans
grow well, what kind of soil was best for soybeans, and what soil was
best for red beans. I am a farmer’s farmer.
Pyong-an Province was among the first places in Korea to accept
Christian culture, so farmland was already arranged in straight lines in
the 1930s and 1940s. To transplant rice seedlings, we would take a pole
with twelve equally spaced markings to indicate where the rows would
go and lay it across the width of the paddy. Then two people would
move along the pole, each planting six rows of seedlings. Later, when I
came to the southern part of Korea, I saw that they would put a string
across the paddy and have dozens of people splashing around in there.
It seemed like a very inefficient way of doing it. I would spread my legs
to twice the width of my shoulders so I could plant the seedlings more
quickly. During the rice-planting season, I was able to earn enough
money to at least cover my own tuition.


Loving Nature to Learn from It

My personality was such that I had to know about everything
that I could see. I couldn’t just pass over something
superficially. I would start thinking, “I wonder what the
name of that mountain is. I wonder what’s up there.” I had to go see for
myself. While still a child, I climbed to the tops of all the mountains
that were in a five-mile radius of our home. I went everywhere, even
beyond the mountains. That way, when I saw a mountain shining in
the morning sunlight, I could have an image in my mind of what was
on that mountain and I could gaze at it in comfort. I hated even to look
at places I didn’t know. I had to know about everything I could see,
and even what was beyond. Otherwise, my mind was so restless that I
couldn’t endure it.
When I went to the mountains, I would touch all the flowers and
trees. I wasn’t satisfied just to look at things with my eyes; I had to touch
the flowers, smell them, and even put them in my mouth and chew on
them. I enjoyed the fragrances, the touch, and the tastes so much that
I wouldn’t have minded if someone had told me to stick my nose in
the brush and keep it there the whole day. I loved nature so much that
anytime I went outside, I would spend the day roaming the hills and
fields and forget about having to go home. When my older sisters would
go into the hills to gather wild vegetables, I would lead the way up the
hill and pick the plants. Thanks to this experience, I know a lot about
many kinds of wild vegetables that taste good and are high in nutrition.
I was particularly fond of a member of the sunflower family called
sseum-ba-gwi (scientific name Ixeris dentata). You could mix it with
seasoned bean paste and put it in a dish of gochujang bibimbap, and it
would have a wonderful flavor. When you eat sseum-ba-gwi, you need
to put it in your mouth and then hold your breath for a few seconds.
This is the time it takes for the bitter taste to go away and for a different,
sweet taste to come out. It’s important to get the correct rhythm to enjoy
the wonderful flavor of sseum-ba-gwi.
I used to enjoy climbing trees as well. Mainly I climbed up and down
a huge, two-hundred-year-old chestnut tree that was in our yard. I liked
the view from the upper branches of that tree. I could see even beyond
the entrance to the village. Once I was up there, I wouldn’t want to come
down. Sometimes, I would be up in the tree until late at night, and the
youngest of my older sisters would come out of the house and make a
fuss over how dangerous it was and try to get me to come down.
“Yong Myung, please come down,” she would say. “It’s late, and you
need to come in and go to bed.”
“If I get sleepy, I can sleep up here.”
It didn’t matter what she said; I wouldn’t budge from my branch in
the chestnut tree. Finally, she would lose her temper, and shout at me,
“Hey, monkey! Get down here now!”
Maybe it’s because I was born in the Year of the Monkey that I enjoyed
climbing trees so much. When chestnut burrs hung in clusters
from the branches, I would take a broken branch and jump up and
down to knock them down. I remember this being a lot of fun. I feel
sorry for children these days who don’t grow up in the countryside and
don’t experience this kind of enjoyment.
The birds flying free in the sky were also objects of my curiosity.
Once in a while some particularly pretty birds would come by, and I
would study everything I could about them, noticing what the male
looked like and what the female looked like. There were no books back
then to tell me about the various kinds of trees, shrubs, and birds, so
I had to examine each myself. Often I would miss my meals because
I would be hiking around the mountains looking for the places where
migratory birds went.
Once I climbed up and down a tree every morning and evening for
several days to check on a magpie nest. I wanted to see how a magpie
lays its eggs. I finally got to witness the magpie lay its eggs, and I became
friends with the bird as well. The first few times it saw me, the magpie
let out a loud squawk and made a big fuss when it saw me approach.
Later, though, I could get close and it would remain still.
The insects in that area were also my friends. Every year, in late
summer, a clear-toned cicada would sing in the upper branches of a
persimmon tree that was right outside my room. Each summer, I would
be grateful when the loud, irritating sounds of the other types of cicada
that made noise all summer would suddenly stop and be replaced by
the song of the clear-toned cicada. Its song let me know that the humid
summer season would soon pass, with the cool autumn to follow.
Their sound went something like this: “Sulu Sulululululu!”
Whenever I would hear the clear-toned cicada sing like this, I would
look up into the persimmon tree and think, “Of course, as long as it’s
going to sing, it has to sing from a high place so that everyone in the
village can hear it and be glad. Who could hear it if it went into a pit
and sang?”
I soon realized that both the summer cicadas and the clear-toned
cicadas were making sounds for love.
Whether they were singing, “Mem mem mem” or “Suluk sulu,” they
were making sounds in order to attract their mates. Once I realized this,
I couldn’t help but laugh every time I heard an insect start singing.
“Oh, you want love, don’t you? Go ahead and sing, and find yourself
a good mate.”
Gradually I learned how to be friends with everything in nature in a
way that we could share our hearts with each other.
The Yellow Sea coast was only about two and a half miles from our
home. It was near enough that I could easily see it from any high place
near our home. There was a series of water pools along the path to the
sea, and a creek flowed between them. I would often dig around one
of those pools smelling of stale water to catch eel and freshwater mud
crab. I would poke around in all sorts of places to catch different kinds
of water life, so I came to know where each kind lived. Eels, by nature,
do not like to be visible, so they hide their long bodies in crab holes and
other similar places. Often, though, they can’t quite fit all of their bodies
in the holes, so the ends of their tails remain sticking out. I could easily
catch them, simply by grabbing the tail and pulling the eel out of its
hole. If we had company in our home and they wanted to eat steamed
eel, then it was nothing for me to run the three and a half miles roundtrip
to the water pools and bring back about five eels. During summer
vacations, I would often catch more than forty eels in a day.
There was one chore I didn’t like doing. This was to feed the cow.
Often, when my father would tell me to feed the cow, I would take it to
the meadow of the neighboring village, where I would tie it up and run
away. But after a while, I would start to worry about the cow. When I
looked back, I could see it was still there, right where I had tied it. It just
stayed there, half the day or more, mooing and waiting for someone to
come feed it. Hearing the cow mooing in the distance, I would feel sorry
for it and think, “That cow! What am I going to do with it?” Maybe you
can imagine how I felt to ignore the cow’s mooing. Still, when I would
go back to it late in the evening, it wouldn’t be angry or try to gore me
with its horns. Instead it seemed happy to see me. This made me realize
that a person’s perspective on a major objective in life should be like
that of a cow. Bide your time with patience, and something good will
come to you.
There was a dog in our home that I loved very much. It was so smart
that when it came time for me to come home from school, it would run
to meet me when I was still a long distance from home. Whenever it
saw me, it acted happy. I would always pet it with my right hand. So,
even if it happened to be on my left side, it would go around to my right
side and rub its face against me, begging to be petted. Then I would take
my right hand and pet it on its head and back. If I didn’t, the dog would
whine and run circles around me as I walked down the road.
“You rascal,” I would say. “You know about love, don’t you? Do you
like love?”
Animals know about love. Have you ever seen a mother hen sitting
on her eggs until they hatch? The hen will keep her eyes open and stamp
her foot on the ground so no one can go near it. I would go in and out of
the chicken coop, knowing it would make the hen angry. When I would
go into the coop, the hen would straighten its neck and try to threaten
me. Instead of backing away, I would also act in a threatening manner
toward the hen. After I went into the coop a few times, the hen would just
pretend not to see me. But she would keep herself bristled up and her claws
long and sharp. She looked like she wanted to swoosh over and attack me,
but she couldn’t move because of the eggs. So she just sat there in anguish.
I would go near and touch her feathers, but she wouldn’t budge. It seemed
that it was determined not to move from that spot until her eggs had
hatched, even if it meant letting someone pluck all the feathers from her
bosom. Because it is so steadfastly attached to its eggs through love, the hen
has an authority that keeps even the rooster from doing whatever it wants.
The hen commands complete authority over everything under heaven, as if
to say, “I don’t care who you are. You had better not disturb these eggs!”
There is also a demonstration of love when a pig gives birth to piglets.
I followed a mother pig around so I could watch it give birth to its
litter. At the moment of birth, the mother pig gives a push with a loud
grunt and a piglet slips out onto the ground. The pig lets out another
loud grunt and a second piglet comes out. It was similar with cats and
dogs. It made me very happy to see these little baby animals that hadn’t
even opened their eyes come into the world. I couldn’t help but laugh
with joy.
On the other hand, it gave me much anguish to witness the death
of an animal. There was a slaughterhouse a little ways from the village.
Once a cow was inside the slaughterhouse, a butcher would appear out
of nowhere and strike the cow with an iron hammer about the size of a
person’s forearm. The cow would fall over. In the next moment, it would
be stripped of its hide and its legs would be cut off. Life hangs on so
desperately that the stumps remaining on the cow after its legs were cut
off would continue to quiver. It brought tears to my eyes to watch this,
and I cried out loud.
From when I was a child, I have had a certain peculiarity. I could
know things that others didn’t, as if I had some natural paranormal
ability. If I said it was going to rain, then it would rain. I might be sitting
in our home and say, “The old man Mr. So-and-So in the next village
doesn’t feel well today.” And it would always be right. From the time
I was eight I was well known as a champion matchmaker. I only had
to see photographs of a prospective bride and groom and I could tell
everything. If I said, “This marriage is bad,” and they went ahead and
married anyway, they would inevitably break up later. I’ve been doing
this until I’ve turned 90, and now I can tell much about a person just
seeing the way he sits or the way he laughs.
If I focused my thoughts, I could tell what my older sisters were
doing at a particular moment. So, although my older sisters liked
me, they also feared me. They felt that I knew all their secrets. It may
seem like I have some incredible paranormal power, but actually
it isn’t anything to be surprised about. Even ants, which we often
think of as insignificant creatures, can tell when the rainy season is
coming, and they go to where they can stay dry. People in tune with
nature should be able to tell what is ahead for them. It’s not such a
difficult thing.
You can tell which way the wind is going to blow by carefully
examining a magpie’s nest. A magpie will put the entrance to its
nest on the opposite side from the direction where the wind is going
to blow. It will take twigs in its beak and weave them together in a
complex fashion, and then pick up mud with its beak and plaster the
top and bottom of the nest so that the rain doesn’t get in. It arranges
the ends of the twigs so that they all face the same direction. Like
a gutter on a roof, this makes the rain flow toward one place. Even
magpies have such wisdom to help them survive, so wouldn’t it be
natural for people to have this type of ability as well?
If I were at a cow market with my father, I might say, “Father, don’t
buy this cow. A good cow should look good on the nape of its neck and
have strong front hooves. It should have a firm buttocks and back. This
cow isn’t like that.” Sure enough, that cow would not sell. My father
would say, “How do you know all this?” and I would reply, “I’ve known
that since I was in mother’s womb.” Of course, I wasn’t serious.
If you love cows, you can tell a lot about them. The most powerful
force in the world is love, and the most fearful thing is a mind and body
united. If you quiet yourself and focus your mind, there is a place deep
down where the mind is able to settle. You need to let your mind go to
that place. When you put your mind in that place and go to sleep, then
when you awake you will be extremely sensitive. That is the moment
when you should turn away all extraneous thoughts and focus your
consciousness. Then you will be able to communicate with everything.
If you don’t believe me, try it right now. Each life form in the world seeks
to connect itself with that which gives it the most love. So if you have
something that you don’t truly love, then your possession or dominion
is false and you will be forced to give it up.


Stubborn Child Who Never Gives Up

My father was not good at collecting debts, but if he borrowed
money, he would honor the pledge to repay, even
if it meant selling the family cow or even removing one
of the pillars from our home and selling it at market. He always said, “You can’t change the truth with trickery. Anything that is true will not be dominated by a small trick. Anything that is the result of trickery won’t go more than a few years before it is exposed.”
My father had a large stature. He was so strong that he had no
difficulty walking up a flight of stairs carrying a bag of rice on his
shoulders. The fact that at age ninety I’m still able to travel around
the world and carry on my work is a result of the physical strength I
inherited from my father.
My mother, whose favorite Christian hymn was “Higher
Ground,” was also quite a strong woman. I take after her not only
for her wide forehead and round face but for her straightforward
and high-spirited personality as well. I have a stubborn streak,
and there is no doubt I am my mother’s child.
When I was a child, I had the nickname “day crier.” I earned this
nickname because once I started to cry, I wouldn’t stop for the entire
day. When I cried, it would be so loud that people would think something
terrible had happened. People sleeping in bed would come outside to see
what was going on. Also, I didn’t just cry sitting still. I would jump around
the room, injuring myself and creating an uproar. Sometimes I would bleed.
I had this kind of intense personality even when I was young.
Once my mind was made up, I would never back down, not even if
it meant breaking a bone in my body. Of course, this was all before I
became mature. When my mother would scold me for doing something
wrong, I would talk back to her, saying, “No. Absolutely not!” All I had
to do was admit that I was wrong, but I would rather have died than let
those words out of my mouth. My mother, though, had quite a strong
personality as well.
She would strike me, and say, “You think you can get away with not
answering your parent?” Once, she struck me so hard she knocked me
down. Even after I got up, I wouldn’t give in to her. She just stood in front
of me, crying loudly. Even then, I wouldn’t admit that I was wrong.
My competitive spirit was as strong as my stubbornness. I couldn’t
stand to lose in any situation. The adults in the village would say, “Osan’s
Little Tiny-Eyes, once he decides to do something, he does it.”
I don’t remember how old I was when this happened. A boy gave
me a bloody nose and ran away. For a month after that, I would go to
his house every day and stand there, waiting for him to come out. The
village adults were amazed to see me persist until finally his parents
apologized to me. They even gave me a container full of rice cakes.
This doesn’t mean I was always trying to win with stubborn persistence.
I was physically much larger and stronger than other children
my age. No child could beat me in arm wrestling. I once lost a wrestling
match to a boy three years older than I was, and it made me so angry
that I couldn’t sit still. I went to a nearby mountain, stripped some bark
from an acacia tree, and for the next six months I worked out on this tree
every evening to become strong enough to defeat that child. At the end of
six months, I challenged him to a rematch and managed to beat him.
Each generation in our family has had many children. I had one
older brother, three older sisters, and three younger sisters. I actually
had four other younger siblings who were born after Hyo Seon. Mother
gave birth to thirteen children, but five did not survive. Her heart must
have been deeply tormented. Mother suffered a great deal to raise so
many children in circumstances that were by no means plentiful. As a
child I had many siblings. If these siblings got together with our first and
second cousins, we could do anything. Much time has passed, however,
and now I feel as though I am the only one remaining in the world.
I once visited North Korea for a short while, in 1991. I went to my
hometown for the first time in 48 years and found that my mother and
most of my siblings had passed away. Only one older sister and one
younger sister remained. My older sister, who had been like a mother to
me when I was a child, had become a grandmother of more than seventy
years. My younger sister was older than sixty, and her face was covered
with wrinkles. When we were young, I teased my younger sister a lot.
I would shout, “Hey, Hyo Seon, you’re going to marry a guy with one
eye.” And she would come back with, “What did you say? What makes
you think you know that, Brother?” Then she would run up behind me
and tap me on the back with her tiny fists.
In the year she turned eighteen, Hyo Seon met a man with whom
one of our aunts was trying to arrange her marriage. That morning
she got up early, carefully combed her hair, and powdered her face.
She thoroughly cleaned our home inside and out and waited for her
prospective groom to arrive. “Hyo Seon,” I teased her, “you must really
want to get married.” This made her blush, and I still remember how
beautiful she looked with the redness in her face showing through the
white powder.
It has been well over ten years since my visit to North Korea. My
older sister, who wept so sorrowfully to see me, has since passed away,
leaving just my younger sister. It fills me with such anguish. I feel as
though my heart may melt away.
I was good with my hands, and I used to make clothes for myself.
When it got cold, I would quickly knit myself a cap to wear. I was better
at it than the women were, and I would give knitting tips to my older
sisters. I once knitted a muffler for Hyo Seon. My hands were as big and
thick as a bear’s paw, but I enjoyed needlework, and I would even make
my own underwear. I would take some cloth off a roll, fold it in half, cut
it to the right design, hem it, sew it up, and put it on. When I made a
pair of traditional Korean socks for my mother this way, she expressed
how much she liked them by saying, “Well, well, I thought Second Son
was just fooling around, but these fit me perfectly.”
In those days it was necessary to weave cotton cloth as a part of
preparations for the marriage of a son or daughter. Mother would take
cotton wool and place it on a spinning wheel to make the thread. This
was called to-ggaeng-i in the dialect of Pyong-an Province. She would
set the width at twenty threads and make twelve pieces of cotton cloth,
thirteen pieces of cotton cloth, and so on. Each time a child would
marry, cotton cloth as soft and beautiful as processed satin would be created
through Mother’s coarse hands. Her hands were incredibly quick.
Others might weave three or four pieces of to-ggaeng-i fabric in a day,
but Mother could weave as many as twenty. When she was in a hurry
to complete the marriage preparations for one of my older sisters, she
could weave an entire roll of fabric in a day. Mother had an impatient
personality. Whenever she would set her mind to doing something, she
would work quickly to get it done. I take after her in that way.
Since childhood, I have always enjoyed eating a wide variety of foods.
As a child, I enjoyed eating corn, raw cucumber, raw potato, and raw
beans. On a visit to my maternal relatives who lived about five miles
away from our home, I noticed something round growing in the field.
I asked what it was and was told it was ji-gwa, or “earth fruit.” In that
neighborhood, people referred to sweet potatoes as earth fruit. Someone
dug one up and cooked it for me in steam, so I ate it. It had such a
delectable taste that I took a whole basketful of them and ate them all
myself. From the following year, I couldn’t keep myself away from my
maternal relatives’ home for more than three days. I would shout out,
“Mother, I’m going out for a while,” run the whole distance to where
they lived, and eat sweet potatoes.
Where we lived, we had what we called “potato pass” in May. We
would survive the winter on potatoes, until spring came and we could
start harvesting barley. May was a critical period, because if our store
of potatoes was depleted before the barley could be harvested, people
began to starve. Surviving the time when potato stores were running
low and the barley had not yet been harvested was similar to climbing
to a steep mountain pass, so we called it potato pass.
The barley we ate then was not the tasty, flat-grained barley that we
see today. The grains were more cylindrical in shape, but that was all
right with us. We would soak the barley in water for about two days
before cooking it. When we sat down to eat, I would press down on the
barley with my spoon, trying to make it stick together. It was no use,
though, because when I scooped it up in my spoon, it would just scatter
like so much sand. I would mix it with gochujang (red pepper paste)
and take a mouthful. As I chewed, the grains of barley would keep coming
out between my teeth, so I had to keep my mouth tightly closed.
We also used to catch and eat tree frogs. In those days in rural areas,
children would be fed tree frogs when they caught the measles and their
faces became thin from the weight loss. We would catch three or four
of these frogs that were big and had plenty of flesh on their fat legs. We
would roast them wrapped in squash leaves, and they would be very
tender and tasty, just as though they had been steamed in a rice cooker.
Speaking of tasty, I can’t leave out sparrow and pheasant meat, either.
We would cook the lovely colored eggs of mountain birds and the
waterfowl that would fly over the fields making a loud, gulping call.
As I roamed the hills and fields, this is how I came to understand
that there was an abundance of food in the natural environment
given to us by God.


A Definite Compass for My Life

The Moon clan originated in Nampyung, near Naju, Cholla Province,
a town about 320 miles south of Seoul, in the southwest
region of the country. My great-great-grandfather, Sung Hak
Moon, had three sons. The youngest of these was my great-grandfather,
Jung Heul Moon, who himself had three sons: Chi Guk, Shin Guk, and
Yun Guk. My grandfather, Chi Guk Moon, was the oldest.
Grandfather Chi Guk Moon was illiterate, as he did not attend either
a modern elementary school or the traditional village school. His power
of concentration was so great, however, that he was able to recite the full
text of the Korean translation of San Guo Zhi just by having listened to
others read it to him. And it wasn’t just San Guo Zhi. When he heard
someone tell an interesting story, he could memorize it and retell it in
exactly the same words. He could memorize anything after hearing it just
once. My father took after him in this way; he could sing from memory the
Christian hymnal, consisting of more than four hundred pages.
Grandfather followed the last words of his father to live his life with a
spirit of giving, but he was not able to maintain the family fortune. This
was because his youngest brother, my Great-Uncle Yun Guk Moon, borrowed
money against the family’s property and lost it all. Following this
incident, members of the family went through some very hard times,
but my grandfather and father never spoke ill of Great-Uncle Yun Guk.
This was because they knew he had not lost the money gambling or
doing anything of that nature. Instead, he had sent the money to the
Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, based in Shanghai,
China. In those days, seventy thousand won was a large sum, and this
was the amount that my great uncle donated to the independence
Great-Uncle Yun Guk, a graduate of Pyongyang Seminary and a
minister, was an intellectual who was fluent in English and well versed in
Chinese studies. He served as the responsible pastor for three churches,
including Deok Heung Church in Deok Eon Myeon. He participated
in the drafting of the 1919 Declaration of Independence, together
with Nam Seon Choe. When it was found, however, that three of the
sixteen Christian leaders among the signatories were associated with
Deok Heung Church, Great-Uncle had his name removed from the list.
Seung Heung Lee, one of the remaining signatories who worked with
my great-uncle in establishing the Osan School, asked Great-Uncle Yun
Guk to take care of all his affairs in case the independence movement
failed and he died at the hands of the Japanese colonial authorities.
On returning to our hometown, Great-Uncle Yun Guk printed tens
of thousands of Korean flags and handed them out to the people who
poured into the streets to shout their support for Korean independence.
He was arrested on March 8 as he led a demonstration on the hill behind
the Aipo Myeon administrative office. The demonstration in support
of independence was attended by the principal, faculty, and some two
thousand students of the Osan School, some three thousand Christians,
and some four thousand other residents of the area. He was given a
two-year prison sentence and was imprisoned in the Eui-ju prison. The
following year he was released as part of a special pardon.
Even after his release, severe persecution by the Japanese police
meant he could never stay long in one place, and he was always on the
run. He carried a large scar where the Japanese police had tortured him
by stabbing him with a bamboo spear and carving out a piece of his
flesh. He was speared in the legs and in the side of his ribs, but he said
that he never gave in. When the Japanese found they couldn’t break
him, they offered him the position of county chief if he would pledge
to stop participating in the independence movement. His response was
to rebuke the Japanese in a loud voice: “Do you think I would take on a
position and work for you thieves?”
When I was about seven or eight years old, Great-Uncle Yun Guk
was staying in our home for a short time and some members of the
Korean independence army came to see him. They were low on funds
and had traveled by night on foot through a heavy snowfall to reach our
house. My father covered the heads of us children with a sleeping quilt
so that we would not be awakened. I was already wide awake, and I lay
there under the quilt, my eyes wide open, listening as best I could to the
sounds of the adults talking. Though it was late, my mother killed a chicken
and boiled some noodles to serve to the independence fighters.
To this day, I cannot forget the words that I heard Great-Uncle Yun
Guk speak as I lay there under the quilt, holding my breath in excitement.
“Even if you die,” he said, “if you die for the sake of our country,
you will be blessed.” He continued, “Right now, we can see only darkness
before us, but the bright morning is sure to come.” Because of the
effects of torture, he did not have full use of his body, but his voice
resonated with strength.
I also remember thinking to myself then: “Why did such a wonderful
person as Great-Uncle have to go to prison? If only we were stronger
than Japan, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Great-Uncle Yun Guk continued to roam about the country, avoiding
persecution by the Japanese police, and it was not until 1966, while
I was in Seoul, that I received news of him again. Great-Uncle appeared
in a dream to one of my younger cousins and told him, “I am buried
in Jeong-seon, Kang-won Province.” We went to the address he gave in
the dream and found that he had passed away nine years before that.
We found only a grave mound covered with weeds. I had his remains
reburied in Paju, Kyounggi Province, near Seoul.
In the years following Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, communists
in North Korea killed Christian ministers and independence
fighters indiscriminately. Great-Uncle Yun Guk, fearing his presence
might cause harm to the family, escaped the communists by crossing
south over the 38th parallel and settling in Jeong-seon. No one in our
family was aware of this. He supported himself in that remote mountain
valley by selling calligraphy brushes. Later, we were told that he set up
a traditional village school where he taught Chinese classics. According
to some of his former students, he often enjoyed spontaneously
composing poems in Chinese characters. His students transcribed and
preserved some 130 of these, including the following:

South North Peace
Ten years have passed since I left home to come South
The flow of time speeds my hair to turn white
I would return North, but how can I?
What was intended as a short sojourn has been prolonged
Wearing the long-sleeved ko-hemp clothing of summer
I fan myself with a silk fan and consider what the autumn will bring
Peace between South and North draws near
Children waiting under the eaves,
You needn’t worry so much.
Though separated from his family and living in Jeong-seon, a land
unfamiliar to him in every way, Great-Uncle Yun Guk’s heart was filled
with concerns for his country. Great-Uncle also left this poetic verse:
“When setting your goal in the beginning, pledge yourself to a high
standard; don’t allow yourself even the least bit of private desire (厥
初立志自期高 私慾未嘗容一毫).” My great-uncle’s contributions to
the independence movement were posthumously recognized by the
Republic of Korea government in 1977 with a Presidential Award and
in 1990 with the Order of Merit for National Foundation. Even now, I
sometimes recite his poetic verses. They are infused with his steadfast
love for his country, even in the face of extreme adversity.
Recently, as I have grown older, I think about Great-Uncle Yun Guk
more often. Each phrase of his poetry expressing his heart of concern
for his country penetrates into my heart. I have taught our members the
song Daehan Jiri Ga (Song of Korean Geography), whose words were
written by Great-Uncle Yun Guk himself. I enjoy singing this song with
our members. When I sing this song, from Mount Baektu to Mount
Halla, I feel relieved of my burdens.
Song of Korean Geography
The peninsula of Korea in the East
Positioned among three countries.
North, the wide plains of Manchuria
East, the deep and blue East Sea,
South, a sea of many islands,
West, the deep Yellow Sea
Food in the seas on three sides,
Our treasure of all species of fish.
Mighty Mount Paektu stands on the North,
Providing water to the Rivers of Amrok and Tumen.
Flowing into seas east and west,
Marking a clear border with the Soviets
Mount Kumgang shines bright in the center,
A preserve for the world, pride of Korea.
Mount Halla rises above the blue South Sea
A landmark for fishermen at sea.
Four plains of Daedong, Hangang, Geumgang, and Jeonju
give our people food and clothing.
Four mines of Woonsan, Soonan, Gaecheon, and Jaeryung
give us the treasures of the Earth.
Four cities of Kyungsung, Pyongyang, Daegu, and Kaesung shine over the land
Four ports of Busan, Wonsan, Mokpo and Incheon
welcome foreign ships.
Railroads spread out from Kyungsung,
Connecting the two main lines, Kyung-Eui and Kyung-Bu
Branch lines Kyung-Won and Honam run north and south,
Cover the peninsula.
Our sites tell us our history.
Pyongyang, 2,000-year-old city of Dangun,
Kaesung, capital of Koryo,
Kyungsung, 500-year capital of Chosun,
Kyungju, 2,000 years of Shilla’s culture shines, origin of Pak Hyuk-ko-sai,
Chungchong has Buyo,
the historic capital of Paekche.
Sons of Korea pioneering the future, the waves
of civilization wash against our shores.
Come out of the hills, and march forward in
strength to the world of the future!


Food is love Being a Friend to All

Once I set my mind to do something, I have to put it into
action immediately. Otherwise, I cannot sleep. As a child, I
would sometimes get an idea during the night but be forced
to wait until morning before acting on it. I would stay awake and make
scratches on the wall to pass the time. This happened so often that I
would almost dig a hole in the wall and chunks of dirt would pile up on
the floor. I also couldn’t sleep if I had been treated unfairly during the
day. In such a case, I would get out of bed during the night, go to the
culprit’s home, and challenge him to come out and fight me. I am sure it
must have been very difficult for my parents to raise me.
I could not stand to see someone treated unjustly. Whenever there
was a fight among the children in the village, I would involve myself as
though I were responsible to see that justice was served in every situation.
I would decide which child in the fight was in the wrong and I
would scold that child in a loud voice. Once I went to see the grandfather
of a boy who was a bully in the neighborhood. I said to him, “Your
grandson has done this and that wrong. Please take care of it.”
I could be wild in my actions, but nevertheless I was a child with a
big heart. I would sometimes visit my married older sister in the home
of her husband’s family and demand that they serve me rice cakes and
chicken. The adults never disliked me for this because they could see
that my heart was filled with a warm love.
I was particularly good at taking care of animals. When birds made a
nest in a tree in front of our house, I dug a small waterhole for them to
drink water. I also scattered some hulled millet from the storeroom on
the ground for the birds to eat. At first, the birds would fly away whenever
someone came close. They soon realized, however, that the person
giving them food was someone who loved them, and they stopped flying
away when I approached.
Once I thought I would try raising fish. So I caught some fish and put
them in the water hole. I also took a fistful of fish food and sprinkled it
over the water. When I got up the next morning, though, I found that all
the fish had died during the night. I was so looking forward to raising
those fish. I stood there in astonishment, looking at them floating on
top of the water. I remember that I cried all day that day.
My father kept many bee colonies. He would take a large hive box
and fasten a basic foundation to the bottom of the hive. Then the bees
would deposit their beeswax there to create a nest and store their honey.
I was a curious child, and I wanted to see just how the bees built the
hive. So I stuck my face into the middle of the hive and got myself stung
severely by the bees, causing my entire face to swell tremendously.
I once took the foundations from the hive boxes and received a
severe scolding from my father. Once the bees had finished building
their hives, my father would take the foundations and stack them to one
side. These foundations were covered with beeswax that could be used
as fuel for lamps in place of oil. I took those expensive foundations,
broke them up, and took them to homes that couldn’t afford to buy oil
for their lamps. It was an act of kindness, but I had done it without my
father’s permission, and so I was harshly reprimanded.
When I was twelve, we had very little in the way of games. The
choices were a Parcheesi-like game called yute, a chesslike game called
jang-gi, and card games. I always enjoyed it when many people would
play together. During the day, I would like to play yute or fly my kite,
and in the evenings I would make the rounds of the card games going
on around the village. They were games where the winner picked up 120
won (Korean monetary unit) after each hand, and I could usually win at
least once every three hands. New Year’s Eve and the first full moon of
the new year were the days when the most gambling went on. On those
days, the police would look the other way and never arrest anyone for
gambling. I went to where grown-ups were gambling, took a nap during
the night, and got them to deal me in for just three hands in the early
morning, just as they were about to call it quits for the night. I took
the money I had won, bought some starch syrup, and took it around
to all my friends to give them each a taste. I didn’t use the money for
myself or to do anything bad. When my older sisters’ husbands visited
our home, I would ask permission and take money from their wallets.
I would then use this money to buy sweets for children in need. I also
bought them starch syrup.
In any village it is natural that there are people who live well and
those who don’t. When I would see a child who had brought boiled
millet to school for lunch, I couldn’t eat my own better lunch of rice. So
I would exchange my rice for his millet. I felt closer to the children from
poor families than to those from rich families, and I wanted somehow
to see to it that they didn’t go hungry. This was a kind of game that I enjoyed
most of all. I was still a child, but I felt that I wanted to be a friend
to everyone. In fact, I wanted to be more than just friends; I wanted to
have relationships where we could share our deepest hearts.
One of my uncles was a greedy man. His family owned a melon patch near
the middle of the village, and every summer, when the melons were ripe and
giving off a sweet fragrance, the village children would beg him to let them eat
some. My uncle, though, set up a tent on the road next to the melon patch and
sat there keeping guard, refusing to share even a single melon.
One day I went to him and asked, “Uncle, would it be all right if some time
I were to go to your patch and eat all the melon I want?” Uncle willingly answered,
“Sure, that would be fine.”
So I sent word to all the children that anyone wanting to eat melon
should bring a burlap bag and gather in front of my house at midnight. At
midnight I led them to my uncle’s melon patch and told them, “I want all of
you to pick a row of melons, and don’t worry about anything.” The children
shouted with joy and ran into the melon patch. It took only a few minutes
for several rows of melons to be picked clean. That night the hungry children
of the village sat in a clover field and ate melons until their stomachs
almost burst.
The next day there was big trouble. I went to my uncle’s home, and it
was in pandemonium, like a beehive that had been poked. “You rascal,” my
uncle shouted at me. “Was this your doing? Are you the one who ruined my
entire year’s work of raising melons?”
No matter what he said, I was not going to back down. “Uncle,” I said,
“don’t you remember? You told me I could eat all the melons I wanted.
The village children wanted to eat melons, and their desire was my desire.
Was it right for me to give them a melon each, or should I absolutely not
have given them any?” When he heard this, my uncle said, “All right. You’re
right.” That was the end of his anger.


Food is love The Joy of Giving Food to Others

I have very small eyes. I am told that when I was born, my mother
wondered, “Does my baby have eyes, or not?” and spread my eyelids
apart with her fingers. Then when I blinked, she said with joy,
“Oh my, yes. He does have eyes, after all!” My eyes were so small that
people often called me “Osan’s Little Tiny-Eyes,” because my mother
was from the village of Osan.
I cannot remember anyone saying, though, that my small eyes make
me any less attractive. In fact, people who know something about
physiognomy, the art of understanding a person’s characteristics and
fortune by studying facial features, say my small eyes give me the right
disposition to be a religious leader. I think it is similar to the way a
camera is able to focus on objects farther away as the aperture of its iris
diaphragm is reduced. A religious leader needs to be able to see farther
into the future than do other people, and perhaps small eyes are an
indication of such a quality. My nose is rather unusual as well. Just one
look and it is obvious that this is the nose of a stubborn and determined
man. There must be something to physiognomy, because when I look
back on my life, these features of my face seem to parallel the way I have
lived my life.
I was born at 2221 Sang-sa Ri (village), Deok-eon District, Jeong-ju
Township, Pyong-an Province, as the second son of Kyung Yu Moon
of the Nam Pyung Moon clan and Kyung Gye Kim of the Yeon An
Kim clan. I was born on the sixth day of the first lunar month in 1920,
the year after the 1919 independence movement. I was told that our
family settled in the village of Sang-sa Ri during the life of my greatgrandfather.
My paternal great-grandfather worked the farm himself,
produced thousands of bushels of rice, and built the family fortune with
his own hands. He never smoked or drank liquor, preferring instead to
use that money to buy food to give to those in need. When he died, his
last words were, “If you feed people from all the regions of Korea, then
you will receive blessings from all those regions.” So the guest room in
our home was always full of people. Even people from other villages
knew that if they came to our home, they could always count on being
fed a good meal. My mother carried out her role of preparing food for
all those people without ever complaining.
My great-grandfather was so active, he never wanted to rest. If he
had some spare time he would use it to make pairs of straw footwear
that he would then sell in the marketplace. When he grew old, in his
merciful ways, he would buy several geese, let them go in the wild, and
pray that all would be well with his descendants. He hired a teacher of
Chinese characters to sit in the guest room of his home and provide
free literacy lessons to the young people of the village. The villagers gave
him the honorific title “Sun Ok” (Jewel of Goodness) and referred to
our home as “a home that will be blessed.”
By the time I was born and was growing up, much of the wealth that
my great-grandfather had accumulated was gone, and our family had
just enough to get by. The family tradition of feeding others was still
alive, however, and we would feed others even if it meant there wouldn’t
be enough to feed our family members. The first thing I learned after I
learned to walk was how to serve food to others.
During the Japanese occupation, many Koreans had their homes and
land confiscated. As they escaped the country to Manchuria, where they
hoped to build new lives for themselves, they would pass by our home
on the main road that led to Seon-cheon in North Pyong-an Province.
My mother would always prepare food for the passersby, who came
from all parts of Korea. If a beggar came to our home asking for food
and my mother didn’t react quickly enough, my grandfather would pick
up his meal and take it to the beggar. Perhaps because I was born into
such a family, I too have spent much of my life feeding people. To me,
giving people food is the most precious work. When I am eating and
I see someone who has nothing to eat, it pains my heart and I cannot
continue eating.
I will tell you something that happened when I was about eleven
years old. It was toward the last day of the year, and everyone in the
village was busy preparing rice cakes for the New Year’s feast. There was
one neighbor family, though, that was so poor they had nothing to eat.
I kept seeing their faces in my mind, and it made me so restless that I
was walking around the house, wondering what to do. Finally, I picked
up an eight-kilogram (17.6-pound) bag of rice and ran out of the house.
I was in such a hurry to get the bag of rice out of the house that I didn’t
even tie the bag closed. I hoisted the bag onto my shoulders and held it
tight as I ran along a steep, uphill path for about eight kilometers (five
miles) to get to the neighbor’s home. I was excited to think how good it
would feel to give those people enough food so they could eat as much
as they wanted.

The village mill was next to our house. The four walls of the millhouse
were well built, so that the crushed rice could not fall through the
cracks. This meant that in the winter it was a good place to escape the
wind and stay warm. If someone took some kindling from our home’s
furnace and started a small fire in the millhouse, it became warmer than
an ondol-heated room. Some of the beggars who would travel around
the country would decide to spend the winter in that millhouse. I was
fascinated by the stories they had to tell about the world outside, and I
found myself spending time with them every chance I got. My mother
would bring my meals to the millhouse, and she would always bring
enough for my beggar friends to eat as well. We would eat from the
same dishes and share the same blankets at night. This is how I spent
the winter. When spring came, they would leave for faraway places,
and I could not wait for winter to come again so they would return to
our home. Just because their bodies were poorly clothed did not mean
that their hearts were ragged as well. They had a deep and warm love
that showed. I gave them food, and they shared their love with me. The
deep friendship and warmth they showed me back then continue to be
a source of strength for me today.
As I go around the world and witness children suffering from hunger,
I am always reminded of how my grandfather never missed a chance to
share food with others.


FOOD IS LOVE What I Learned about Peace While Being Carried on My Father’s Back

I have lived my life with just one thought. I wanted to bring about
a world of peace, a world where there are no wars and where all
humankind lives in love. Perhaps some may say, “How is it possible
that you were thinking about peace even when you were a child?” Is it
so astonishing that a child would dream of a peaceful world?
In 1920, when I was born, Korea was under forced occupation by Japan. Even
after liberation, there came the Korean War, the Asian financial crisis, and other
numerous difficult crises. For many years, the land of Korea has not been closely
associated with peace. But these times of suffering and confusion were not matters
related only to Korea. The two world wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars in the
Middle East show that people in the world continuously treat each other with enmity,
point guns at each other, and bomb each another. Perhaps for people who
experience these horrors of bloodied bodies and broken bones, peace has
been something that could be imagined only in a dream. Peace, though, is
not so difficult to accomplish. To begin with, we can find peace in the air we
breathe, in the natural environment, and in the people around us.
As a child, I thought of the meadows as my home. As soon as I could
wolf down my bowl of rice for breakfast, I would run out of the house
and spend the entire day in the hills and streams. I could spend the
day wandering about the forest with all the different birds and animals,
eating herbs and wild berries, and I would never feel hungry. Even as a
child, I knew that my mind and body were at ease anytime I went into
the forest.
I would often fall asleep in the hills after playing there. My father
would be forced to come find me. When I heard my father shouting in
the distance, “Yong Myung! Yong Myung!” I couldn’t help but smile,
even as I slept. My name as a child was Yong Myung. The sound of his
voice would awaken me, but I would pretend to still be asleep. He would
hoist me onto his back and carry me home. That feeling I had as he
carried me down the hill—feeling completely secure and able to let my
heart be completely at ease—that was peace. That is how I learned about
peace, while being carried on my father’s back.
The reason I loved the forest was also because all the peace in the
world dwells there. Life forms in the forest do not fight each other. Of
course, they eat one another and are eaten, but that is because they are
hungry and need to sustain themselves. They do not fight out of enmity.
Birds do not hate other birds. Animals do not hate other animals. Trees
do not hate other trees. There needs to be an absence of enmity for peace
to come. Human beings are the only ones who hate other members of
the same species. People hate other people because their country is different,
their religion is different, and their way of thinking is different.
I have been to almost two hundred countries. There were not many
countries where I would land at the airport and think to myself, “This
really is a peaceful and contented place.” There were many places where,
because of civil war, soldiers held their weapons high, guarding the airports
and blocking the streets. The sound of gunfire could be heard day
and night. Several times, I came close to losing my life in places where
I went to talk about peace. In today’s world, there is an endless series
of conflicts and confrontations, large and small. Tens of millions suffer
from hunger, with nothing to eat. Yet, trillions of dollars are spent on
weapons. The money spent on guns and bombs alone would give us
enough to end hunger for everyone.
I have dedicated my life to building bridges of peace between countries
that hate each other as enemies because of ideology and religion.
I created forums where Islam, Christianity, and Judaism could come
together. I worked to reconcile the views of the United States and the
Soviet Union when they were at odds with each other over Iraq. I have
helped in the process of bringing reconciliation between North and
South Korea. I did not do these things for money or fame. From the
time I was old enough to know what was going on in the world, there
has been only one objective for my life: that is for the world to live in
peace, as one. I never wanted anything else. It has not been easy to live
day and night for the purpose of peace, but that is the work that makes
me most happy.
During the Cold War, we experienced the pain of having our
world divided in two because of ideology. It seemed then that if only
communism would disappear, peace would come. Yet, now that the
Cold War is past, we find even more conflicts. We are now fractured
by race and religion. Many countries facing each other across their
borders are at odds. As if that were not enough, we have situations
within countries where people are divided by race, religion, or the
regions where they were born. People think of each other as enemies
across these lines of division and refuse to open their hearts
to one another.
When we look at human history, we see that the most brutal and
cruel wars were not those fought between nations but those between
races. Among these, the worst were wars between races where religion
was used as a pretext. In the Bosnian civil war, said to be one of the
worst ethnic conflicts of the twentieth century, thousands, including
many children, were brutally massacred. I am sure you remember the
terrorist incident of September 11, 2001, when thousands of innocent
lives were lost as the World Trade Center buildings in New York were
completely destroyed after passenger planes were crashed into them.
Recently, too, in the Gaza Strip in Palestine as well as in southern Israel,
hundreds have lost their lives as a result of that intense conflict. Homes
have been destroyed, and people are living on the brink of death. All this is
the grim result of conflicts between ethnic groups and between religions.
What makes people hate and kill each other like this? Of course
there are many reasons, but religious differences are almost always
connected. This was true with the Gulf War, which was fought over
oil. It is true with the Arab–Israeli conflict over control of Jerusalem.
When racism uses religion as a pretext, the problem becomes
extremely complex. The evil ghosts of the religious wars that we
thought had ended in the Middle Ages continue to haunt us in the
twenty-first century.
Religious wars continue to occur because many politicians use the
enmity between religions to satisfy their selfish designs. In the face of
political power, religions often waver and lose their way. They lose sight
of their original purpose, which is to exist for the sake of peace. All
religions have a responsibility to advance the cause of world peace. Yet,
lamentably, we see that religions instead become the cause of conflict.
Behind this evil we find the machinations of politics, with its power
and money. The responsibility of a leader, above all else, is to keep the
peace. Yet leaders often seem to do the opposite and lead the world into
confrontation and violence.
Leaders use the language of religion and nationalism to hide their
selfish ambitions. Unless their hearts are set right, countries and nationalities
will wander in confusion. Religion and love of one’s nation
are not evil in their essence. They are valuable if these impulses are used
to contribute to building a global human community. When the claim
is made that only a particular religion or ethnic group is right and when
other religions and ethnic groups are treated with disdain and attacked,
religion and love of nation lose their value. When a religion goes so
far as to trample on others and treat other religions as worthless, it no
longer embodies goodness. The same is true when love of nation is used
to emphasize the righteousness of a person’s own country over others.
The truth of the universe is that we must acknowledge each other
and help each other. Even the smallest animals know this. Cats and
dogs do not get along, but if you raise them in the same household,
they embrace each other’s offspring and are friendly toward each other.
We see the same thing in plants. The vine that winds its way up a tree
depends on the trunk to support it. The tree, however, does not say,
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing, winding your way up my trunk?”
The principle of the universe is for everyone to live together, for the sake
of one another. Anyone who deviates from this principle faces certain
ruin. If nationalities and religions continue maliciously to attack each
other, humanity has no future. There will be an endless cycle of terror
and warfare until one day we become extinct. But we are not without
hope. Clearly there is hope.
I have lived my life without ever letting go of that hope and always
kept alive the dream of peace. What I want is to wipe away completely
the walls and fences that divide the world in myriad ways and to create
a world of unity. I want to tear down the walls between religions and
between races and fill in the gap between the rich and the poor. Once
that is done, we can reestablish the world of peace that God created in
the beginning. I am talking about a world where no one goes hungry
and no one sheds tears. To heal a world where there is no hope, and
which is lacking in love, we need to go back to the pure hearts that we
had as children. To shed our desire to possess ever-increasing amounts
of material wealth and restore our beautiful essence as human beings,
we need to go back to the principles of peace and the breath of love that
we learned as we were being carried on our fathers’ backs.