The Korean master Seon (Zen), the 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 numerous Dharma-based organizations, initiatives and projects that are active around the world. Among them, the Jungto Society, a volunteer community based on Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simplicity of life and sustainability, is dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, including the degradation of environment, poverty and conflict.
This column, shared by Jungto Society, features a series of highlights from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim's writings, teachings, public lectures, and regular live-streamed Dharma Q&A sessions are accessible worldwide.
The following teaching was given in Frankfurt on September 1, 2023. This is the first in a series of articles from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s tour of Europe and North America – his first in-person teachings abroad since the pandemic – titled “Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim: Come talk about life, wisdom and happiness” from September 1 to 22, in 21 cities: six in Europe and 15 in North America.*
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Today's Dharma talk is not a place of life counseling. It is a place to learn the truth.
The truth is nothing special. When a person who is suffering is freed from his suffering, it is called truth. The criterion of truth is that it allows people to get rid of their current suffering or to prevent suffering from occurring in the future. We can call these “words”. The reason Christians refer to what Jesus taught as “the word of Jesus” is because people’s afflictions disappeared upon hearing these words. The words we exchange in everyday conversation are different from these “words”.
When someone asks a question about their troubles, afflictions, or problems, it serves as a topic that helps us speak the truth. This is what we call a 'Dharma question and answer'. I am not giving a one-sided course on the various problems that arise in human relations. Instead, when you ask a question, we will use that specific example to discuss ways to free ourselves from suffering; we are talking about how to free oneself from suffering. Now shall we begin?
In Korea I go to a Buddhist temple, in Germany I go to church. Is it correct?
Q. I am a young Korean in my twenties. I have been living in Germany for about a year and three months. From a young age, I attended a Buddhist temple holding my grandmother's hand. I served as a Buddhist chaplain in the Korean army. Now I live in Frankfurt. There are practically no temples here. I tried going to a Chinese Buddhist temple to continue following my Buddhist faith, but since December last year I started attending church. Fortunately, I get along well with my fellow church members. However, I am a Buddhist and have been attending a temple for almost 25 years. So after I started attending church in Germany, I began to feel conflicted. When I'm in Korea, I go to the temple with my family and when I'm in Germany, I go to church every Sunday. This situation makes me very confused. What is your point of view ?
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Why is attending a temple in Korea and attending a church in Germany a problem? I don't quite understand what you are trying to say. According to your way of thinking, it should be strange that people speak Korean in Korea and German in Germany. (To laugh)
Just like you speak Korean when you go to Korea and speak German when you come to Germany, you go to a temple in Korea and a church in Germany. Even though you are in Germany, if you lived in Koreatown and only interacted with other Koreans, you would only speak Korean. In this case, you can speak Korean both in Korea and in Germany. But when you go out and meet Germans, you have to speak German. Likewise, if there is a temple in Germany, you can attend a temple in Germany as well as Korea. But since there is no temple in Germany, you can go to church. Is it a problem?
Germany only has a small population of Buddhists, so even if there was a temple, when a young man like you attends the temple, you might be the only young man. So it will be difficult for you to make friends. But when you go to church, there are other young people. If you go to church you can make friends, so why go to the temple?
Q. I have always believed that there are many things we can learn from Buddhism.
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: I'm not saying you shouldn't keep your Buddhist faith!
What's wrong with going to church while maintaining your Buddhist practice? If you continue to live in Germany and later marry a German, you could obtain German citizenship. If you become a German citizen, you will become a German-Korean, right? Along the same lines, since you are a Buddhist who now goes to church, you might be called a "Buddhist Christian." (To laugh)
Conversely, a person who was a Christian and has now become a Buddhist is called a "Christian Buddhist". There are currently a large number of Christian Buddhists in the United States. Many people of Christian origin have become Buddhists. There are also many in Germany.
Why should we choose one over the other? You can change religion, keep both religions or believe in one religion based on another religion. Even if you were born in Korea, you can obtain Japanese or American nationality. Why do you have to be a Christian just because you were born into a Christian family? And why can't you become a Christian just because you were born into a Buddhist family? Times have changed, but despite your youth, you seem to have very outdated visions! Just keep going to church. (To laugh)
Q. Thank you.
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Do you think the Compassionate Buddha will punish you for going to church after going to a temple? Will the loving God punish you for going to the temple after going to church? Will you be burned with fire and brimstone like Sodom and Gomorrah in Old Testament? That's what people used to believe New Testament came out of. The God after Jesus is not a God of punishment, but a God of love. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. » This is Christian love. The idea that you will be punished if you change your faith from Christianity to Buddhism is a threat that comes from bigotry.
Let's take another example. Let's say you shopped in one store for a long time, but then a new store opened nearby. If the new store has better products and better prices, then of course you will shop at the new store. The owner of the store you were shopping at might then get upset, but we all have freedom of choice. You don't have to be aware of others; you can choose to do whatever you want. I think it is, but many bigoted marketers might be offended. Do you understand?
Q. Yes, I understand.
How to live life more freely
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: After talking with me, you might think, “You’re just stating the obvious. " That's right; I'm stating the obvious. The problem is that when we listen to other people's stories the answer seems obvious, but when we talk about our own stories it doesn't seem obvious. Should students planning to take a college entrance exam study hard or pray hard to pass the exam?
Q. They should study hard.
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: However, when you are a student preparing for a college entrance exam, you might think that you should pray to pass the exam. And when it’s someone else’s situation? If a student, instead of studying, just prayed and bowed, you would think, “This person is so stupid. » If people who bowed a lot passed the test, they would only have to bow and there would be no need to go to school. It's common sense. Likewise, the truth is just common sense.
When your fixed notions are broken, you will be able to see a completely different world from what you have seen so far. It is not mysticism. Mysticism is primarily based on desire. If you run a store, you have to do it by your own efforts. So why would you ask God or the Buddha for your store to be successful? If you can't even run your own store properly and have to ask God or the Buddha to do it for you, what is your role? If you ask God or the Buddha to find you a spouse, what will you do? (To laugh)
« Jongyois the Korean word for religion. It means “the most important teaching”. Whether God exists or not is not the question. In our modern society, religion is more necessary than ever. Perhaps in today's age of overt materialism, insightful religion is more urgent. However, do not be limited by established religions. You must love yourself more than anyone in this world. Those who torment themselves are those who do not love themselves. If you truly love yourself, don't justify your suffering with any reason or excuse by saying, "I can't help but suffer because of my situation." »
All phenomena in this world are based on certain principles. A few days ago, the super blue moon appeared for the first time in 10 years. In the distant past, there would have been all sorts of insane discussions about this phenomenon. For example, people might have said that it was a sign that a new king would take the throne. However, according to the principles of the universe, it is simply a phenomenon in which the Moon moves closer to the Earth and then moves away from it again due to its elliptical orbit. In the same way, every phenomenon is based on principles. So don't get caught up in mysticism.
If you believe in Christianity, you must learn and follow the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus spoke of six criteria for admission to heaven. He asked, “Have you fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, given medicine to the sick, clothed the naked, welcomed strangers, and visited those in prison?” They are the most humble people in the world. Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to one of the least of the world, you have done to me. » When you believe, follow, and practice these teachings of Jesus, you can be considered an honest Christian person.
The principles taught by Jesus are the same as those taught by Buddha. When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” to those who hung Him on the cross, His state of mind was what in Buddhism we call “non-self.” ". Jesus was able to say this because he abandoned the concept of “I.”
Therefore, it doesn't matter what religion you believe in. You need to focus on “how can I live my life more freely?” »
I don't know if you came all the way to Germany in search of happiness, but coming here will not make you happy. When you observe yourself and become more self-aware, suffering dissipates and happiness increases.
May you all become happier every day.
* Dharma Sharing: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim will give first in-person teachings in Europe and North America since the pandemic (BDG)