from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #42: Two of Four

with 6 comments

I’ve just finished the second of four major sections in my manuscript. It took me two months. I’ve encountered the same problem as the first; it’s far too long, 140 pages. If I continue at this pace, yes, the first draft will still be over 600 pages but I’ll be able to finish by the end of the summer. This is going to be a short post. I’ll post again next week. Right now, I need to get drunk tonight to celebrate.


Written by Young

April 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Posted in Entries

Tagged with , ,

6 Responses

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  1. Congrats on the milestone.

    Kevin Kim (@bighominid)

    April 21, 2012 at 1:22 am

    • Thanks, Kevin.

      By the way, I don’t know if you saw my last reply on the last post but I was curious about your interpretation of 색즉시공 공즉시색. I’ve heard different things, most recently from a student majoring in religious studies, but would like to hear what you have to say about it.


      April 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      • I must have missed that (just as I missed your 4/22 reply, above). Maybe I need to subscribe to your blog’s comments feed.

        This “색즉시공 공즉시색”… this is the “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” from the Heart Sutra, yes? It’s a classic metaphysical formulation, and easily one of my favorites. At its most basic level, it means that emptiness expresses itself (and can only express itself) as form: the only way to realize that everything is impermanent, dynamic, and relational is to look at the world around us and see that brute fact. Things that appear fixed (form) are in fact not (emptiness). Nothing lasts, and that’s the way of things. Ethically speaking, that means we never “have,” “do,” or “make” anything. All there is is this moment, and this moment is always ever passing away. Not to realize this is to be a slave to attachment, which only leads to suffering.

        Not sure I like this Korean translation of the Chinese, which I found online:

        “있는 것이 없는 것이고
        없는 것이 있는 것이면…”

        That’s not a particularly scholarly rendering. The Chinese terms have a specifically Buddhist valence to them. “색” is from “色,” a translation of the Sanskrit “rupa,” i.e., “form.” Meanwhile, “공,” from “空,” is a translation of “sunya” (empty) or “sunyata” (emptiness). Much is both lost and gained in translation, of course; “gong” and “saek” both had a range of meanings before Buddhism even entered China, and Buddhism added layers of significance to both terms.

        That said, the above Korean translation seems almost crass:

        existent things are nonexistent and
        nonexistent things exist…

        This is a superficial understanding of “form” and “emptiness.” I suppose we could give the above a more poetic rhythm:

        things that are — are not,
        things that are not — are…

        “Emptiness,” in Buddhism, refers to what the world is “empty of.” Just as an empty coffee cup is empty of coffee, and an empty cereal bowl is empty of cereal, so the universe is empty of permanence, fixity, and non-relationality. All phenomena change and/or are relational; nothing exists independently of anything else. This is just as true of abstracta as it is of concreta: the number 3 can’t exist without there being a 1, 2, 4, etc. In fact, the number 3 implies the whole number line. Concreta are no different: a flower implies the universe in which that flower exists. A flower makes no sense without its surrounding context.

        So when we say “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form,” we’re saying that the world is characterized by impermanence, relationality, process, dynamism, etc. Discrete entities aren’t actually entities: they’re phenomena in a constant state of becoming. Even emptiness, as a metaphysical principle, deconstructs itself and is empty: this was Nagarjuna’s insight. The Chinese probably took to Buddhism as well as they did because this notion of flow and process was already native to them: the Tao exhibits many of the same processual, self-deconstructing tendencies as sunyata.

        What’s the moral of the story, then? Treasure each moment, because it’ll never come again. Live life as if you walk upon a knife edge, because that’s precisely what this present instant is. How do you gain the awareness to do this? Korean Zen would say: Follow your situation. Everything unfolds from that.


        May 4, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      • Thanks for the detailed explanation. I appreciate the time it took to write it.

        I was asking because it comes out in the book. The interpretation is a misinterpretation but it’s how it was explained to me when I was in boot camp. The guy whose locker was next to mine explained 색 as “sex.” It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the character had a much deeper meaning although I’ve been told that it is possible to interpret it in such a way.

        Maybe I’ll find a way to clear up the misinterpretation later in the book.


        May 6, 2012 at 12:46 am

  2. Congratulations! and don’t get too drunk.


    April 25, 2012 at 9:28 am

    • GK, you’ve finally commented on this site.

      I think the problem is not me getting too drunk but you not drinking enough. There’s research that shows that excessive alcohol consumption helps you perform better on certification tests.


      April 25, 2012 at 5:16 pm

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