Three Tales from the Temple 
translated by HEINZ INSU FENKL

No. 2
The Seagulls and the East Sea

It happened some time ago. There was an elderly man, not especially holy-looking, but with a certain grace to his old age. He was sitting across from Mt. Nakson, on the very end of cliff that faces it, a dizzying and precarious place. He was sitting astride a rock all day, looking out at the waves on the surface of the East Sea.
I asked him, “Where are you from, old man?”

He said, “I’m sure I saw two sea gulls flying over the horizon this morning, but they don’t seem to be coming back.” It sounded like he was talking to himself.

The next day he was at that same spot again, sitting in that same pose, so I asked him, “Did the two sea gulls return?”

He said, “The sea was crying yesterday, but today it’s not.”

갈매기와 바다
절간 이야기 2

어제 그끄저께 일입니다. 뭐 학체 선풍도골은 아니었지만 제법 곱게 늙은 어떤 초로의 신사 한 사람이 낙산사 의상대 그 깎아지른 절벽 그 백척간두의 맨 끄트머리 바위에 걸터앉아 천연덕스럽게 진종일 동해의 파도와 물빛을 바라보고 있기에

"노인장은 어디서 왔습니까?" 하고 물었더니

"아침나절에 갈매기 두 마리가 저 수평선 너머로 가물가물 날아가는것을 분명히 보았는데 여태 돌아오지 않는군요."

하고 혼잣말로 중얼거리는 것이었습니다. 그런데 그 다음날도 초로의 그 신사는 역시 그 자리에서 그 자세로 앉아있기에

"아직도 갈매기 두 마리가 돌아오지 않았습니까?" 했더니

"어제는 바다가 울었는데 오늘은 바다가 울지 않는군요." 하는 것이었습니다.

​No. 3
Two Squirrels

​This isn’t a legend or a story from a once upon a time, it happened just this past year at the hermitage where the nuns come to study. It’s deep in the woods, that hermitage. You step into the courtyard, where the foundation stone is buried amongst the trees and the thousand-year-old pagoda is leaning—you can hear the sound of flowing water, and the cry of the black cuckoo permeates your clothes like ink. In the farthest corner of that courtyard there was a stone Buddha, and the devoted women who came to bear sons for the Dharma used to scrape and eat its nose—half of it was eaten away by them. So when you laughed, it looked like the stone Buddha was crying, and when you were actually crying, then it looked like it was laughing. Well, that desolate hermitage might just as well not have been there, but there was an Abbotess who had lived there for twenty years. Late that fall, she was standing by the stone Buddha holding onto the shadow of a branch that was floating downstream in the water. She saw two squirrels with acorns in their mouths busily going in and out of a stone wall. She said to herself, “Aha! There must be lots of acorns in that wall. We can make an offering of acorn jelly to the Buddha and then eat some ourselves. Namu Amita Buddha.” When she knocked down the stone wall, a good bushel of acorns did, indeed, come out of there. But after she got that bushel, she took every last one of the remaining acorns, made jelly, and ate it. The next morning she saw those two poor squirrels chewing on her white rubber shoes. They say those squirrels died eating those white rubber shoes.

다람쥐 두 마리
절간 이야기 3

아득한 옛날의 무슨 전설이나 일화가 아니라 요 근년에 비구니스님들이 모여 공부하는 암자에서 일어난 사건입니다. 물론 숲속에 파묻힌 돌담 주춧돌도, 천년 고탑도 비스듬한 그 암자의 마당에 들어서면 물소리가 밟히고 먹뻐꾹 울음소리가 옷 자락에 배어드는 심산의 암자이지요. 그 암자의 마당 끝 계류가에는 생남불공生男佛供 왔던 아낙네들이 코를 뜯어먹어 콧잔등이 반만큼 떨어져나간, 그래서 웃을 때는 우는 것 같고 정작 울 때는 웃는 것 같은 석불도 있지요. 어떻게 보면 암자가 없었으면 좋을 뻔했던 그 두루적막 속에서 20년을 살았다는 노비구니스님이 그해 늦가을 그 석불 곁에 서서 물에 떠내려가는 자기의 그림자를 붙잡고 있을 때 다람쥐 두 마리가 도토리를 물고 돌담 속으로 뻔질나게 들락거리는 것을 보게 되었지요. “옳거니! 돌담 속에는 도토리가 많겠구나. 묵을 해 부처님께 공양 올리고 먹어야지. 나무아미타불.” 이렇게 중얼거린 노비구니스님이 돌담을 허물어뜨리고 보니 과연 그 속에서는 도토리가 한 가마는 좋게 나왔지요. 그런데 그 한 가마나 되는 도토리를 몽땅 꺼내어 묵을 해 먹었던 다음날 아침에 보니 그놈의 다람쥐 두 마리가 노비구니스님의 흰고무신을 뜯어먹고 있었답니다. 그 흰고무신을 뜯어먹다가 죽었답니다.

No. 29​
The Green Frog

One morning, after lazily washing my face, I went over to the wall to dump out the water basin. A green frog happened to be sitting in the grass on the other side at that moment and he got a terrible fright—eek! He leaped up—all the way up to the top of the wall—and alighted there as if he had slipped. As I saw him lying there panting, flat on his belly, I thought, This guy is really something, he really is something! I couldn’t get over my admiration for him. But when I tried to compose a sijo poem with that green frog as the subject, I struggled day after day and only to fail in the end. I came to a minor realization: Whatever words I could come up with—for however many kalpas of time—to describe that frog, would never do him justice.

절간 이야기 29

어느날 아침 게으른 세수를 하고 대야의 물을 버리기위해 담장가로 갔더니 때마침 풀섶에 앉았던 청개구리 한 마리가 화들짝 놀라 담장 높이 만큼이나 폴짝 뛰어오르더니 거기 담쟁이덩굴에 살푼 앉는가 했더니 어느 사이 미끄러듯 잎 뒤에 바짝 엎드려 숨을 할딱거리는 것을 보고 그놈 참 신기하다 참 신기하다 감탄을 연거푸했지만 그놈 청개두리를 제題하여 시조 한 수를 지어 볼려고 며칠을 끙끙거렸지만 끝내 짓지 못하엿습니다. 그놈 청개구리 한 마리의 삶을 이 세상 그 어떤 언어로도 몇 겁劫을 두고 찬미할지라도 다 찬미할 수 없음을 어렴풋이나마 느꼈습니다.

Master CHO OH-HYUN, who writes under the pen name “Musan,” was born in 1932 in Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province of Korea. He has lived in the mountains since he became a novice monk at the age of seven. Over the years he has written over a hundred poems, including many in sijo form. In 2007 he received the Cheong Chi-yong Literary Award for his book Distant Holy Man. The lineage holder of the Mt. Gaji school of Korean Nine Mountains Zen, he is currently in retreat at Baekdamsa Temple at Mt. Seoraksan. Translations of his poetry have appeared in Asymptote, the Buddhist Poetry Review, Asia Literary Review, and World Literature Today.

HEINZ INSU FENKL, born in 1960 in Bupyeong, Korea, is a novelist, translator, and editor. His autobiographical novel, Memories of My Ghost Brother, was named a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection in 1996 and a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist in 1997. He began translating Master Cho’s Zen poetry after receiving a koan in May of 2010. His most recent prose translation, Yi Mun-yol’s short story, “An Anonymous Island,” was published in the September 12 2011 issue of The New Yorker.