The Whole Universe Is Perfect
Charles Lacy | Retired USAF
How is it that an American boy born in Tacoma, Washington, winds up living as an expat in Korea 66 years later? In days long past, that might be considered odd, but in these days of cheap and easy plane travel, and widespread global tourism, it is probably not that unique.
My father was a career man in the USAF, so in the course of my life I have lived in many different places. My earliest memories are of living in France when I was about 3-4 years old. My mom said I was even more fluent in French than English. Anyway, nobody wants to hear about me reminiscing about my childhood. Let’s jump forward a few years.
Fascinated with Magic and the Yin-Yang Symbol
When I was in middle school, I found a book about magic in the school library. Among the symbols in the book was the yin-yang symbol. I was so fascinated by this symbol that I drew in on poster board and hung it on my bedroom wall. And now, here I am many years later living in a country which has it on their national flag. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
At about the same time, I became fascinated with ghosts, and then I began to wonder, “Where do people go when they die?” And that led me into an interest about the afterlife. In some sense, I have been searching for truth ever since I was in junior high school.
Encounter with Edgar Cayce
Let’s jump forward a few years. When I was in high school, a close friend of mine suggested I read There Is a River by Thomas Sugrue. It is a book about the life of Edgar Cayce. Edgar Cayce was born in rural Kentucky and only had an eighth grade education. In his early 20s, Edgar Cayce discovered he could put himself into a self-induced trance state and diagnose the illnesses of people he had never met before.
One day while diagnosing a client, he made the off-hand comment, “He used to be a monk.” A man listening in on the reading (Edgar Cayce’s sessions were called “readings”) was very interested in religion and philosophy and began pursuing this line of questioning. Edgar Cayce (a man born and raised a Baptist in rural Kentucky) then began to expound on reincarnation and karma, concepts he knew nothing of. I could go on and on about Edgar Cayce, but let me close with this story. In 2008 I began attending Dharma talks at the Buddhist English Library of Seoul (BELS) in Anguk-dong, Seoul. The then librarian (whose name I forget) told me this story. Several years previously, a delegation of monks from Tibet (I think it was Tibet) came to visit, and they donated three copies of There Is a River to BELS. So obviously, Edgar Cayce is a significant person to those Buddhists who are aware of him. I don’t go to Dharma talks at BELS anymore. Unfortunately, I hurt my back several years ago, so walking is difficult. I also used to love to go hiking in the mountains, but I don’t do that anymore either. It makes me sad if I think about it too much. I sometimes joke to my friends, “When I die, don’t come to my funeral because I won’t be there. As soon as I die, I’m going to go climb a mountain.”
From a Hippie to US Air Force
How did I wind up in S. Korea? In 1980 I was living in New Mexico and in dire need of a job, so I did something I previously would never have dreamed of: I joined the US Air Force (USAF). Hippies don’t join the military (yes, I was a hippie), but I needed a job more than I needed my long hair.
I scored well on the language aptitude test, and after basic training, I studied Chinese for one year at the DOD language school in Monterey, CA. I chose Chinese because I had always been interested in the Orient, and I assumed I would be sent to Taiwan where I could improve my language skills. That was a bad assumption. The USAF sent me to S. Korea because the USA had closed all their military bases in Taiwan in 1979. I did not know that.
My Karma with Korea
Anyway, I reenlisted in the USAF in 1986 and applied to study Korean, which was approved. Long story short, I served five tours in S. Korea and retired here in 2000. By the way, my father was also here during the Korean War. Perhaps there is a family “karmic tie” to Korea?
I have now been living in S. Korea and renting the same house in Pyeongtaek for 20 years. When Koreans find out, they are surprised and inevitably ask me why I prefer to live here rather than the US. The answer is complicated, and I’m not sure even I know the answer. Simply put, I find Korea more interesting than the US.
Koreans have a saying: “Your rice cake looks bigger than mine.” Americans also have a saying which means the exact same thing: “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.”
These sayings contain a profound truth about the human mind. People are never satisfied with what they have. What another person has (or that which is out of reach) always looks better. Now at 66, I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. If I don’t have something it is because I haven’t earned it yet.
For a long time I wanted to get permanent residency in Korea, or perhaps even Korean citizenship. But every time I thought I was getting close, I found out about another requirement that put that dream out of reach. It was really causing me a lot of stress, so I did the only thing I knew how: I gave up! And all the stress went away. I accepted my situation. I am now fully prepared to live the rest of my life in Korea as a “tourist” and leave Korea every 90 days and come back. It’s a bit inconvenient, but I accept it as my karma.
Prayer is Talking to God; Meditation is Listening to God
Do I have any regrets in life? No, every experience I have had has made me what I am today, and I am happy with the person I am now. For most of my life, I have never really felt I was a participant in life; I always felt like an observer. I watch people and I learn. A long time ago, I heard somebody say: “Prayer is talking to God; meditation is listening to God.” So the question I have to ask is: “Do you learn more when you are talking or when you are listening?” I think people need to listen more.
Here is one thing I have learned: It seems to be inherent in the human condition that some people can only feel good about themselves when they put down another group of people. I think that is a very sad but very true observation. That being said, I think that this world will never know peace as long as one group of people thinks they are superior to another.
Some people ask me, “What is your religion?” I used to answer, “I am half Buddhist and half Christian,” but most people could not comprehend that. Thích Nhat Hạnh understood when he wrote Living Buddha, Living Christ in 1997. If you haven’t read that book yet, you should.
My Religion is the Golden Rules
These days, when people ask me my religion, I respond, “The Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule is a teaching from the Bible which says, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It is not only taught in Christianity but in every major religion. Unfortunately, this teaching gets very little air time. Most religions are too busy proclaiming their superiority over every other religion. In my humble opinion, anyone who thinks they know the will of God is delusional. They are also dangerous, and you should avoid them.
Here’s another life lesson I learned along the way. All of those things you worry about are a waste of time; worry never solved anything. All of those things you regret are a waste of time; regret never solved anything. All of those things you are angry about are a waste of time; anger never solved anything. If you cling to any of these emotions, they will only hurt you. Just let them go and move on with your life. I speak from experience.
The most important things in life are not “things.” The truly important things in life you cannot see, touch, smell or buy. They are things like: love, friendship, respect, etc. If you spend your life making money so you can buy “things” I suspect you will never know true happiness in life. The best thing to do with money is use it to help others. That is the true (and only) value of money. And there is nothing to “dust off” afterward.
Discarding Things One by One
My house used to be full of things, but a few years ago I had a sudden realization: I have too many things! The bad thing about “things” is that they sit around your house and collect dust. Then you have to spend time dusting them. So I began getting rid of things so I wouldn’t have to dust them. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress. And if I buy one thing, I have to throw away two things. That is another rule I made for myself. A long time ago I heard someone say: “Wanting is more fun than having.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. Just look at the things in your house and ask yourself why you bought them. Do you still want to babysit them and dust them off every week?
I am 66 years old. I am approaching the end of my life. If I can pass on just a few lessons I have learned along the way, maybe it will all have been worth it.
Look for hate, and you will see hate.
Look for love, and you will see love.
Look for heroes, and you will see heroes.
And there are heroes all around us; you just don’t often read about them in the news.
My favorite piece of writing is titled Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. It is a very famous poem that has positively influenced many people. There is also a Korean translation. The last line says: “Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” The first time I read that line it gave me goose bumps.
My Most Memorable Religious Experience
The reason I bring that up is to relay my most memorable religious experience. It was around 1996-97. I was still in the USAF and living in West Texas (a place I hated). I had gone camping one weekend and was driving back home. I was driving down the road, my truck was running beautifully, the weather was perfect, and I was listening to music on the radio. Suddenly, this sensation came over me that the whole universe was perfect, and I was perfectly in tune with it. This was not just a passing thought; I felt it with my whole being. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up, and I even began to cry. The moment was just so beautiful! I truly realized then that “the universe is unfolding as it should.” Of course, the universe is unfolding perfectly all the time. We are just seldom aware of it. But in that one instant, I was aware of it.
A long time ago back in my hippie days, I read a book by Carlos Castaneda (his books were a “must read” for any hippie). At one point, his teacher, Don Juan, told him that if he turned his head fast enough to the left, he would be able to see Death walking right behind him. Now when I go for a walk, I imagine Death walking right behind me, never knowing when he will reach out and touch me. I just now looked behind me. Death is lying on my bed reading a comic book and chuckling. He seems to be in a good mood today.
Charles Lacy (aka “Sam”) is retired from the USAF and has lived in Korea the past 20 years. He considers Korea his adopted home. He supports himself with his military pension and Social Security payments from the US. For the past 11-12 years he has done proofreading/editing on a freelance basis, mostly on Buddhist articles.