In Korean temple life, there are people whose practice is mainly a regimen of many daily prostrations, who might only sit meditation moderately (if at all); or those (usually monks) who focus mainly on sitting meditation, and therefore not do many — or any — prostration practice whatsoever, after they end their first novice years.
Zen Master Seung Sahn, for example, was legendary for being this great enlightened teacher who continued to pound out 1000 prostrations per day, every day, no matter the place or the conditions. But he did not engage in long periods of multiple sittings per day, since he only attended two 90-day Zen retreats immediately after his Great Awakening, in 1949. Nothing was necessary after that.
For the first 12 to 15 years of my monks life, however, I maintained a practice which emphasized doing many, many bows every single day, and this continued just as doggedly during the 90-day retreats where we sat in cross-legged positions for 8 to 10 hours per day, without a day off. Mega-bowing; lotsa sitting in half-lotus.
And now, it seems, the chickens have finally come home to roost. Osteopathically.
These last two weeks, immediately after disembarking a flight from Athens, I’ve been experiencing problems with the right knee: it feels like the anterior meniscus tear I experienced some four years ago in the left knee. I have self-diagnosed it as “posterior knee pain”, based on some of the Internet research I always do in these sorts of situations. It is likely the emergence of an osteoarthritis condition, something latent that must have been exacerbated by recently resuming the practice of doing morning 108 prostrations. It was this practice, after all, this old practice of 1000+ daily prostrations that I carried on for nearly seven years straight in Korea — and the monthly 3000-bow overnight trainings we did as a group with the Hwa Gye Sah Temple community, back in the billy-goat days of early monkhood — that must have put the knees to such early degeneration. The especially shit-headed way that I carried out this daily prostration regimen – – doing multiple sets of 400 bows, interspersed with sitting long periods in cross-legged meditation during the 90-day retreat schedule, gorging the legs with blood and then sitting for unmoving meditation in such a constricted position immediately following it, unawares of the damage — this seems to have been a cocktail for the results I reap in these recent days.
I’m lucky as heck — blessed and fortunate — to have the kind of job where I can lie down for most of the day to take pressure off it for a while, to see what is really happening. I write these very words while lying with a heating pad strapped around the knee. One of the Zen Center residents has graciously offered to give the knee a light massage every day before sleep. And I have a physiotherapist visiting weekly to help me to treat this well.
I’m lucky. Luckier than most. And very very grateful.
Practice still happens: Mantra and long breaths support natural awareness even as I float in and out of sleep-states, letting the knees relax into healing, lying on my bed. The community here supports my healing, handling my basic chores, and that is very very good.