After completing public normal 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 20 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 that 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 had to keep them warm by blowing on them while I was bringing up the water.
To fight the cold, I used my talents and did a lot of knitting. 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. One reason was that 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 that 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. 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 a lot of 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 without feeling hungry 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 the pails of water was gone.
During my time in Heuksok Dong, the motto I adopted for myself was "Before seeking to dominate the universe, first perfect your ability to dominate yourself." This meant 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 so that 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 our own classrooms. In my class, I took it upon myself to clean the classroom every day by myself.
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 to use the urinals, they would immediately let me go first. If someone had a problem, I was the one they often sought out for advice.
I was very persistent in asking questions during class, and there were more than a few teachers who ran away because I stumped them with questions they couldn't answer. 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 refuse to back down until I got clear answers* I couldn't accept any principle in the world until I had taken it apart and figured it out for myself. 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 then 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 with sincerity and dedication, we eventually reach a mystical state. If you pick up a paint brush and focus your sincerity and dedication on that 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 shock 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 became 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 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 with whom there is good communication of heart, I lose track of time and don't realize if it is getting late 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 beadier 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 leave. We often end up staying up all night together.