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 20 li (8 km) 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 more restless than I could endure.
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 t he 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 bibitnbap, 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 the sseutn-ba-gwi.W
I used to enjoy climbing trees as well. Mainly, I climbed up and down a huge 200-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 would hang 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 dear-toned cicadas were making sounds for love.
Whether they were singing, "Mem mem mem" or "Suluk suluk", 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 10 li (4 km) from our home. It was near enough that I could easily see it from any high place near our home. There were 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. The eel, by nature, does not like to lie on its face, so it will go into a hole and hide. It sticks its head and body into a hole. Often, though, it can't quite fit all of its body in the hole, and so the end of its tail remains sticking out. I could easily catch them, simply by grabbing the tail and pulling the eel out of its hole. The eel would hide their long bodies in crab holes and other similar places, but leave their tails sticking out If we had company in our home and they wanted to eat steamed eel, then it was nothing for me to run the 15 li (6 km) to the water pools and bring back about five eels. During summer vacation, I would often catch more than 40 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. After running for* 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 and 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
eggs until they hatch? The hen will keep her eyes open and stamp ner
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 make its neck straight 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 it 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 the hen and touch its feathers, but it wouldn't budge. It seemed that it was determined not to move from that spot until its eggs had hatched, even if it meant letting someone pluck all the feathers on its bosom. Because it is so steadfastly attached to its eggs through love, the hen has an authority that keeps even the cock 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 in joy.
On the other hand, it gave me much aguish 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 paranormal ability. If I said it was going to rain, then it would be certain to 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 true. 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 always break up later. I've been doing this until I've turned ninety, and now I can tell everything 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 sister was 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, too, 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 from 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 that 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. That 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.