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Moktak (목탁)

Categories Korea, Living in Korea
This morning I had a blessing walk into the classroom in the form of one of my students.  I like to think of them as blessings everyday but today was particularly special.  Per my previous posts, I've been exploring Buddhism a little bit since living in Korea and I have maintained an active interest in the philosophy.  I've needed a key chain to hold my apartment key for quite sometime, and for some reason I haven't made the effort to go and buy one.  Today, a student in one of my advanced classes (혜경, I know you read my blog-thank you!) solved that problem for me.  혜경 presented me with a gift after class that I am stoked about.  She knows that I've been reading about Buddhism so 혜경 gave me a key chain that doubles as a Buddhist wooden percussion instrument known in Korean as "Moktak" (목탁).  Basically, this instrument is used during rituals usually involving the recitation of sutras, mantras, or other Buddhist texts to keep the rhythm during sutra chanting (for more information, read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wooden_fish).  What's really cool is the legend that exists as to how this tool came about, which is the story I have pasted below:
"Moktak" key chain that I received as a gift today in class!
"Moktak" key chain that I received as a gift today in class!
Many legends describe the origin of the wooden fish (moktak) - most take place in China and Korea. One says that a Buddhist went to India to acquire sutras. On his way to India, he found the way blocked by a wide, flooding river. There appeared neither bridge nor boat. Suddenly, a big fish swam up. It offered to carry the Buddhist across the river. The fish told the Buddhist that it wanted to atone for a crime committed when it was a human. The fish made a simple request, that on the Buddhist's way to obtain sutras, to ask the Buddha to guide the fish on a method to attain Bodhisattvahood. The Buddhist agreed to the fish's request and continued his quest for seventeen years. After getting the scriptures, he returned to China via the river, which was flooding again. As the Buddhist worried about how to cross, the fish came back to help. It asked if the Buddhist had made the request to the Buddha. To the Buddhist's dismay, he had forgotten. The fish became furious and splashed the Buddhist, washing him into the river. A passing fisherman saved him from drowning, but unfortunately the sutras had been ruined by the water. The Buddhist went home full of anger. Filled with anger at the fish, he made a wooden effigy of a fish head. When he recalled his adversity, he beat the fish head with a wooden hammer. To his surprise, each time he beat the wooden fish, the fish opened its mouth and vomited a character. He became so happy that, when he had time, he always beat the fish. A few years later, he had got back from the wooden fish's mouth what he had lost to the flood. What a productive use of one's anger, huh?    

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