Theologically-speaking—ah, don’t you love a post that begins with such a deliciously-worded, such a deliciously-wormed, hook!—theologically-speaking, I was born into a culture that generally rejects the idea that good deeds, or more Christologically, good works, will get you into heaven. As wikipedia puts it, “salvation comes through faith alone”, since doing good for one’s own salvation would seemingly smack of the sin of pride, which is abhorrent to the Creator of the Universe; Calvinism’s idea of Sovereign Grace is even more arbitrary, damning most of us to hell forever, no matter how good or evil we are, because That’s How Loving Your God Is.
But these ideas germinated in a soil with a flavor that is far less pungent than the one I now stride—here in Gyeongju at sunset, along the banks of the Hyeongsan River, with my very young son strapped to my sweaty chest, I walk with my wife in the company of clouds of buzzing mosquitoes that are somehow not bothering us, and watch echelons of geese flap against a different set of pink clouds high up in the sky, while dim blue egrets poke their beaks into the nets of lily pads that clog the still, unmoving surface of the shallow waters, upon which the divine breath of no god blows.
And at my feet a worm clotted with dirt stretches itself across the dark green bike path; there is so much traffic here that the worm will certainly be crushed before it can worm across the meter of open turf that lies between it and the prickly grass; I pinch it up and toss it there, while my wife whines in protest—first because I’m carrying the baby, and the worm certainly has germs, and the baby will catch them, and die a horrible worm-germ death; second because I decide to inoculate myself against direct contact via use of the Korean mool teeshyoo, or water tissue, omnipotent and ubiquitous in Korea, nonexistent in America, simply a wet piece of paper (and a potent weapon against the extraordinarily foul-smelling curry-colored shit that clogs my son’s diminutive anus approximately twice a day), but a waste, in my wife’s opinion—who is very sensitive about paper use in my company, and desperately anxious to point out any environmental hypocrisy on my part after I annoyingly decided to become a vegetarian several months ago since that is the best way to save the world, although she doesn’t give a damn about any of that when all the Koreans around her are unrolling reams of toilet paper to clean kimchi stains off the tabletop, even if a washable and reusable rag would do the job just as well.
The deed was done in spite of all of that to upgrade my position in the next life, since I now dwell in Buddhist lands, and have adopted a number of Buddhist ways, and have developed a certain appreciation for Buddhist things, in a country where virtually every work of art that is not attached to Buddhism is gaudy—the fates had spun a next life for me as a wretched cockroach bouncing its antennae among the hair-clogged groutways of a fat man’s bathroom, but now I have been upgraded to dung-beetle, and may look forward to my life as an arhat perhaps several lifetimes ahead of schedule.
As the ancients said, what a difference a worm makes.
(post disclaimer: this post was written in exhaustion, and somewhat drunkenly; I am sorry I have been away for so long, but my parents were here for the last two weeks, and I was working at the same time; we’re moving to Gyeongju next Sunday, and I have much to tell, and write about, which I very shortly will!)