Become master of your own life

- through Francois Leclercq

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Fri. Pomnyun Sunim. Image courtesy of Jungto Company

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 next teaching was given in London on September 6th. This article is the sixth in a series drawn from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s Dharma Tour of Europe and North America – his first overseas tour since the pandemic – titled “Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim: Come talk about life, wisdom and happiness” from September 1 to 22, 2023, in 21 cities: six in Europe and 15 in North America.*

I feel too dependent on my husband

Q: I got married not too long ago. This is our first marriage for both of us. I'm Korean and my husband is British, and I rely on him a lot. I've been in London for three years now and while I change jobs quite a bit, my husband left for a business trip to Saudi Arabia a week ago. We were once separated for two months and it made me feel incredibly alone. Around this time, I realized that I was becoming too dependent on my husband. Suddenly I was afraid of the future.

I grew up as an only child and my father passed away a year ago, leaving only my mother in Korea. If my mother also died, I would only have my husband. Then I started thinking, “What if something happened to my husband and he died before me?” What will I do? » I found myself worrying about the death of someone who is currently perfectly healthy, which made me realize that I better deal with this problem before it gets worse. With this tendency, I have to rely on others, what kind of practice should I do?

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: The most important thing is that you are not afraid, whether you depend on your husband or not.

First, it's okay to rely on others. If you rely on your parents and they pass away, you can rely on your husband. If you were counting on your husband and he dies, you can count on another man.

Image courtesy of Jungto Company
Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Q: But I made a promise to my husband. I told him that after his death I would become a monk.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Well, you don't have to keep that promise after he's gone! (audience laughter)

Q: Because of this promise, I pray by reciting the Diamond Sutra everyday.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Just because you make wishes while praying doesn't mean everything will come true. Just like when you got married you started relying on your husband, when you become a monk you will rely on the Buddha. So you don't have to worry until your husband dies. Needing someone to rely on means you rely on that person, and when that person is gone, you will rely on another person.

If, after the death of her husband, the wife cries sadly and says, "How am I supposed to go on without you here?" ”, this often indicates a higher probability that another man will enter her life soon. Indeed, these individuals are highly dependent on others and need to find something or someone to rely on. Although they complain at first about the difficulty of living in a world without their husbands, they quickly find comfort in relying on another man. At first it may seem a little confusing, but eventually they turn to another man for support.

For example, let's say you were walking with a cane due to a leg injury, but then lost your cane. Would you just limp around without any support? No, you need something to fall back on. So when you lean on something, you shouldn't view it as something negative. It is okay for someone with a leg injury to use a cane.

Second, if you continue to use a cane until you die, people might make fun of you and say you have a disability. If you want to avoid being seen this way, you need to let go of the cane. To become a free and unfettered person, one must let go of the cane. You must become someone who does not rely on others so that you can be in control of your own life.

Image courtesy of Jungto Company
Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Q: Could I really be like that?

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: To become a person who does not depend on others, you must not think about benefiting from others. In all matters, you should not think about the benefits you will get, whether financial or emotional. Instead of hoping the other person understands you, you should be the one understanding them. Rather than waiting for the other person to love you, you should be the one loving them. Instead of waiting for the other person to help you, you should be the one helping them.

Q: Yes, that's true. I have lived my life always wanting to understand others. Just like you said, Sunim, the “please love me” disease.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: When we make a distinction between the Buddha and sentient beings, "Buddha" refers to the giver, and "sentient beings" refers to those who receive. Sentient beings ask everything from the Buddha, while the Buddha wants to give everything to sentient beings. The giver can be considered the master and the receiver can be considered the servant. The same applies in Christianity. If all you do is ask God for everything, then you can be considered a servant. God is the giver, so you can call him the master.

You must live a life in which you are in control of your own life. To achieve this, you must let go of the desire to rely on someone or something. If you claim to renounce the world while clinging to trust, it is not true renunciation; it's simply a leak. True renunciation, as the Buddha originally intended, means letting go of trust. It means not relying on anyone. When one renounces the world but continues to rely on the Buddha, all that happens is a change in the object of one's reliance, such as taking the Buddha as another husband.

Therefore, you must abandon all confidence. I never ask any of you to give me anything. But that doesn't mean you should always give, even when you're in a situation where you can't. If you can give, then give, but if you can't, at least don't beg. Whether it is money, emotions, understanding or love, you should not beg from others. This is the path to living as one's own master.

You also shouldn't think that begging is bad in itself. There is no need to think that not begging is the right way and that begging is something bad. If you don't beg, you are the master of your own life, but it doesn't matter even if you beg.

Usually when people beg, they move from one person to another if that first person doesn't give them what they want. They continue like this, begging from person to person. You can live like that. However, the problem in your case is that you want to beg while wanting to be the master. This is the contradiction. If you want to beg, you must live like a beggar, and if you don't like it, then you must live like the master of your own life.

Indeed, most people beg all their lives. If you need money to live, you can earn it yourself. Yet people pray to God: “Please let me earn a lot of money. » You can choose for yourself who to spend the rest of your life with. Yet people pray to the Buddha: "Please help me meet a good person." » To pass an exam, you can study hard. But people pray to the Buddha: "Please let me pass the exam." » Who usually prays for help when it comes to studying: an excellent student or a struggling student?

Q: The struggling student prays.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: When a struggling student prays and the Buddha grants his wish, it means that the Buddha helped a struggling student succeed while leaving out an excellent student. In other words, the Buddha becomes an intermediary for entrance exams. To make your wish come true, you have transformed the Buddha into a mere broker. What I mean is that we engage in such contradictory behavior. This does not mean that religion is bad; this means that this aspect of religion is wrong.

Image courtesy of Jungto Company
Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Q: You have often spoken of abandoning faith-based worship. But I think I still have some faith-based worship in me.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: I'm not saying you should abandon faith-based worship. It seems you misunderstood me. If you want to have faith-based worship, you can. However, Jungto society does not practice faith-based worship.

Q: I am a member of the Jungto Society, but praying to the Buddha comforts my heart. Isn't that allowed either?

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: No, it's allowed. The Jungto Society does not engage in faith-based worship, but individuals within the Jungto Society have their own freedom to do as they please. Religious freedom is protected by the constitution. But Jungto society does not practice faith-based worship. Instead, he teaches Buddhism as a practice and a path to becoming master of one's own life. So when I say that Jungto Society does not engage in faith-based worship, that means that we do not gather together and pray, "Please make this child successful." 'entrance exam ". But it is perfectly acceptable for a person to pray alone in a temple: "Please help my child pass the entrance exam." » Because religious freedom is protected by the constitution, we should not deny someone's rights because of their different religion, ideology, or particular beliefs. Jungto Company does not discriminate against anyone, whether from North Korea, communist, church or temple goer.

Q: Thank you. I understand what you are saying.

Image courtesy of Jungto Company
Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Just because you come to the UK and live here doesn't mean your life will become happier. Can you plant a Korean green bean in the UK and hope it will turn into kidney beans?

Q: No.

Fri. Pomnyun Sunim: Wherever you go, your karma remains the same. Happiness only comes when you are free from karma. Moving to another place does not automatically bring happiness. This might provide temporary relief, but over time the original problems resurface. So don't look for other people's happiness. Understand your own karma and manage to free yourself from it. It is then that you can truly experience freedom.

When you understand this, you can truly be the one to show the people of the UK a higher level of spirituality and social values. You should learn the positive aspects of the British, but by sharing this understanding with them, you can no longer have a feeling of inferiority due to racial or economic aspects:

“You may have more money, but I’m happier.” »
“You may be prettier, but I’m freer. »

It is possible for you to live with such confidence.

Living in the UK and constantly complaining about its negative aspects won't do you any good. In this case, you'd better return to Korea immediately. I hope you can adopt a mindset of understanding others, even when they are different from you, while accepting and leveraging your own strengths.

* Dharma Sharing: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim will give first in-person teachings in Europe and North America since the pandemic (BDG)

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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