We raised many cows at Sosa Monastery. Sometimes they gave birth to stillborn calves.Whenever that happened, somehow the people from our town or the next town knew it right away and came to ask for the meat. Since our diet was purely vegetarian, and since the calf must have been born at our monastery due to a close karmic tie with us, we couldn’t imagine eating the meat.


When we gave away the stillborn calf while wishing, “Feed’ those people with your flesh; and may you plant as much merit as you can, people took it gratefully. But sometimes no one would come to claim the meat. Usually people came within two hours of the birth to take the meat, but once in a while no one came even after a full day.


Our master said that if the calf had planted merit in its past incarnations, people would come to take the meat, and the calf would accumulate more merit. But if the calf had not planted any merit, people would not come, and there would be no one to help the calf plant any merit. He said that when a cow is killed in a slaughterhouse and becomes food for thousands of people, it plants the merit of feeding others with its flesh. If it is reincarnated as a human, it become a wealthy person, with between two hundred and one thousand bags of rice a year


Master Baek meant that when you feed others with your own flesh, you accumulate great merit.


Once no one asked for the merit of one stillborn calf, and eventually the meat went bad. When the master saw that, he told us to bury the carcass and plant a fruit tree over it. If you feed ripened fruit that has used a calf as fertilizer to spiritual seekers, the calf gets to plant merit. However, it was during the summer, and I couldn’t get a fruit tree, nor was there anyone around who knew about fruit trees, so I was at a loss. I had to at least plant a willow tree. After four years, the willow grew large, fed by the nutrients of the calf’s carcass.


That winter, we had other firewood, but I intentionally used the wood from the willow tree and heated the rooms of many spiritual seekers. As I was heating the rooms, I invoked a won [a prayer] to Buddha, “By the merit of keeping these spiritual seek­ers warm, may this calf meet enlightened masters, listen to their teachings and awaken to their teachings in every future incarna­tion, so that he may serve and accumulate great merit before Buddha…  Until I had done that, it had been a burden in my mind, but when I used the firewood and made the won, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I realize that my master had given me the task to make me practice compassion.


After that incident, even when a monastery’s cat dies, we buried it with a thoughtful won. We always found something that might accumulate merit for the past owner of its body.


-Master Ja Woong Kim, from Polishing the Diamond, Enlightening the Mind