Korean master Seon (Zen) Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (Buddhist monk) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist and social activist, to name a few. As a highly respected Dharma teacher and tireless socially engaged activist in his native South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded many Dharma-based organizations, initiatives and projects that are active across the world. Among them, the Jungto Society, a community of volunteers based on Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living and sustainability, is dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, including the degradation of the environment, poverty and conflict.
The following article shared by the Jungto Society is part of a series of highlights from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim's writings, teachings, and regular live Dharma question-and-answer sessions, which are accessible worldwide.
Q: I tend to go to opposite extremes. I am extremely happy and then extremely depressed. I am extremely energetic and then extremely tired. I've noticed this trend over the years. Last year, I took leave from work for the whole year. Now my energy is coming back. The year before, I was really energetic. It's constantly back and forth. I wonder if there is some kind of normalcy? Is this something that I have to accept? Is there anything I could practice like meditation to regulate it?
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: There are a lot of people here tonight. Everyone has a different face. We are all the same in that we are human beings, but we have different skin colors, shapes and sizes. It is the same with our minds. There are people who are more logical than others, and then there are people who are more sentimental. In today's psychology, human personality is defined in 16 categories. It is defined as very radical to very emotional. So you probably fall more into the sentimental and emotional category. It's a trend that crosses a spectrum, so there's no problem in itself in what you live.
However, there are jobs or types of work that fit your personality better than others. You're probably not going to succeed as the CEO of a company where you have to deal with a lot of people. This is because when you are energetic and happy you would give them lots of love and care, but when you are tired and depressed you would hate them. It will therefore be very difficult for them to meet your needs and desires. So what's right for you? Maybe you could be an artist. You can paint for a year straight, then when you feel down, you can take a break. A perfect career for you will be something you can do independently, on your own, which doesn't involve working with others. Because when you are energetic and happy, your level of concentration will be higher and you will be able to display your abilities to their fullest. So it will be great for you if you want to take advantage of what you have and choose a path that suits you. But if you choose something that doesn't match your personality, you will suffer.
Second, if you want to improve. . . however, it is very difficult to control your innate personality. It's something that resides deep in your subconscious and most of it was inherited from your parents. They say in Korea that a habit you pick up at the age of three will continue until you are 80. It just means that it is very difficult to change one's nature. You need to be aware of your feelings and notice your unique karma. When you are energetic and happy, or when you are depressed and sad, you have to realize that as it is. You have to control yourself so that you don't get too excited when you're happy. Or when you start to go down, recognize that it's your karma working on you and look for something that will lift your mood. If you want to correct and control your mood swings, meditation can be a way. But you will fail if you try to control it 100%. If you want to improve it a little, it may be possible because during meditation it is easier for you to observe how your mood changes. Then, with practice, you may be able to not get carried away by your emotions.