July 9, 2022

1,000 Day Practice, Removing Weeds from the Rice Fields, and Training of Senior Jungto Practitioner Candidates

Hello! Daybreak has come to the Dubuk Jungto Retreat Center.

Today is a day that starts with the live-streaming of the 1,000 Day Practice. The practice began with bell ringing, then Yebul ceremony (paying homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas), Vows to the Threefold Refuge, Words for Practice, Repentance, 108 Bows, and Meditation.

“The sweet scents of our observance of the precepts, of our meditative concentration, of our wisdom, of our liberation, and of the knowledge of our liberation.”

And we recited today’s sutra together.

A person of bad behavior has ill-repute and infamy.

A person of virtue always has a good reputation, fame, and praise.

— Bhikkhu Silava

After finishing the 1,000 Day Practice, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim gave a Dharma talk on today’s sutra.

“Observing the precepts is to stop evil. In other words, it is a way to prevent suffering. This is called ‘stopping evil’ or ‘punishing evil.’ Evil here means causing harm to another person. All actions that cause harm or loss to others can be called evil. Such behaviors should be stopped.

But we often think lightly of the precepts as if it doesn’t much matter whether we observe them or not. We should observe them for the benefit of all, for the common good. Pursuing liberation while not observing the precepts is like looking for a fish in a tree.

A way to gain a good reputation without receiving criticism

If you commit an action that causes harm to another person, ultimately you can’t avoid criticism and suffering as a consequence. It is a foolish thing to do. On the other hand, one who observes the precepts and does not cause harm to others gains a good reputation. In other words, these people are praised and not criticized.

There is an old saying that goes: ‘He who will steal an egg will steal an ox.’ An evil deed is difficult to remove as time passes, just like a weed. When weeds are small, they can be removed easily by scraping with a hoe. But if you miss this period and let them grow thick, it is hard to remove even one. Furthermore, if you don’t remove them in time, seeds will drop to the ground and multiply by the hundreds and thousands. Stopping evil deeds, like preventing weeds from growing in a timely manner, is done by observing precepts.

There is a right time for everything in life. When a child is born, the parents should provide emotional stability, regardless of their own life situations, by taking care of the child with love until the age of three. They should make it possible for the child to form a healthy sense of self. If the parents don’t take proper care until the age of three, or fight with each other or express irritation, the child will become emotionally stressed and anxious. If the child grows up in this state, no matter how academically or financially successful they become, they will feel anxious, rushed, angry, and thus unhappy. Therefore, it is better to take care of the child with love until the age of three than to leave a fortune when they grow up. I’m not saying that parents should make extra efforts for their children, but they should take care of them with a warm heart, as if taking care of a puppy at least. This is an example of what parents can do for their children at the right time. Therefore, the Buddha always said, “There is a right time for everything.”

It’s the same with farming. First of all, planting should be done properly. I’ve been weeding barnyard grass from the rice fields these days. When a rice field is filled with water, barnyard grass seeds can’t sprout. However, if the field is not sufficiently filled, or if some sections are out of water because the field is not level, then the seeds will sprout and the weeds will grow thick. Even if the seeds have sprouted, it doesn’t take too much effort to remove them when they are small. But this time we missed the right time to remove them because they are not easy to spot when they are small and we were busy with other things. Now they’ve grown thick and removing them has turned into a very difficult task. 

Recently, as many as 50 people worked in the rice field with a serious problem of barnyard grass. In several days, there will be more barnyard grass there again. I’ve been weeding every morning for a week in another rice field that doesn’t have as serious a problem as this one, but it’s far from done. So today 20 volunteers will join me. They can complete the same amount of work that I can complete by myself in three weeks.

If a farmer works like this, he will be in trouble. This happened because we missed the timing. The reason why we missed the timing is, first of all, we didn’t know enough about farming. We began working without understanding the relationships between irrigating the field, harrowing, and planting rice seedlings, and thereby ended up having more work to do. Organic farming is another reason, but the biggest reason is that we missed the timing.

The second-biggest reason is that we are shorthanded. Workers need to be available when needed but our supply of workers is unstable. On weekends, we have many volunteers but on weekdays, we have few, so it is difficult to find workers at the right time. Moreover, those who are in charge of agriculture have to participate in training and other events in addition to farming, so they often miss the right time to do things, and just by missing the right time, our workload doubles or triples. To sum up, we have this weed problem because we missed the timing.

In the same way, when a misunderstanding arises in a relationship, it can be resolved easily if you clear it up right away but if you try to resolve it after it has turned into an emotional wound, it will be difficult. Something that could have been solved by a simple apology in time may not be solved by a deep bow later. It is the same as what could have been accomplished with a hoe in time may not be accomplished even with a spade later.

Our life is like this. In life, we should know the right time and make every effort not to miss the timing. This doesn’t apply just to time, it also means that we need to respond appropriately in a given situation.

An evil deed should be prevented if possible. But if it is done, it should be stopped at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, a good deed should be encouraged and once it is done, it should be cultivated continuously. This is expressed as ‘encourage good and punish evil’ and ‘stop evil and cultivate good.’

We should be able to stop bad deeds right away and cultivate good deeds consistently. Not stopping a bad deed is accompanied by suffering and is a sin. Not doing a good deed is not a sin. Doing a good deed is a good thing but no harm is done by not doing it. However, the ethics and morality of our society make people think that they are obligated to do good things, so they feel burdensome about or react negatively toward it. Therefore, we shouldn’t criticize others for not doing good things.

Rather we should praise people for doing a good deed. Not doing a bad deed is not worthy of praise. A bad deed is something that should definitely be stopped—if anything, it is something that should be criticized. I hope you understand this perspective clearly and live your daily life accordingly.

I hope you have a good day today. I am going to continue removing the barnyard grass from the rice fields again today.” (Laughter)

With this, Sunim finished the live-stream. He left the studio, changed into work clothes, and headed for the rice fields with the haengjas (Pabbajja program participants).

“Let’s remove the barnyard grass, even if only a little, before the volunteers arrive.”

Starting from the spot where weeding stopped yesterday, each person took three rows and started to weed side by side.

Some rows had more barnyard grass and some less. A haengja who was shocked to find her row thick with barnyard grass observed.

“This row is so thick with barnyard grass that I can’t see ahead.”

Sunim replied, smiling.

“You are blessed! You picked a good row.”

While we were moving forward, the fog lifted and the sunlight grew stronger. Gradually our clothes became wetter from the dew on the rice seedlings and our own sweat.

Sunim reached the other end of the rice field first.

“Sunim, how can you finish so quickly?”

“My rows had less barnyard grass.”

Sunim turned around and began removing barnyard grass from the blessed haengja’s rows, starting at the opposite end. He continued until they met in the middle. 

After weeding all the assigned rows, we gathered the plucked barnyard grass and spread them on the bunds.

At 8:30, 16 volunteers from Busan and Ulsan Division and Daegu and Gyeongbuk Division arrived. Haengjas hurried to the retreat center to have balugongyang (Korean monastic temple meal) while Sunim continued to weed with the volunteers.

Those who were to weed stepped into the rice field while four male volunteers cut the grass along the bunds. After Sunim showed the volunteers what barnyard grass looks like and taught them how to remove it, each took three rows and started to weed.

It took an hour and a half to remove all the barnyard grass from the rice field.

Removing the barnyard grass, which had taken six days from the previous Monday, was finally finished. Now weeding was finished for the second rice field. 

The volunteers left the field and had a rest under a Zelkova tree before taking a group photo.

Sunim thanked the volunteers.

“Thank you. Thanks to you, we’ve finished weeding.”

“Sunim, is the weeding done now?”

“We have eight rice fields. We’ve finished weeding two of them. Please come back again.” (Laughter)

After seeing the volunteers off, Sunim looked around the remaining rice fields with Hyangjon Beopsanim (Dharma teacher), checking how many weeds were in each field and which rice field should be weeded first.

Morning work ended past 11:00. The sun shone intensely between the clouds.

While the volunteers left for home, Sunim returned to the retreat center and received some visitors. Bhikkhunis (ordained female Buddhist monastics) who had participated in a pilgrimage to India led by Sunim a long time ago were paying a visit.

Sunim had tea with the nuns and commended them for running their temple with devotion, despite their difficult circumstances. Then Sunim showed them around the retreat center and told them about the work being done.

“This is a recycling center. The items in here were collected from about 170 Dharma centers around the nation as we closed them due to COVID-19. We have all kinds of things.” (Laughter)

Sunim also showed them a newly constructed flower garden at the other end of the schoolyard.

“This is a flower garden which the members cultivate on weekends. We’ve recycled these roof tiles removed from a temple. We’ve also recycled discarded bricks here.

“Who would live like you in this day and age?”(Laughter)

“We’re undertaking lots of trial and error. We’ve been removing barnyard grass every day because we failed to adjust the water levels in the rice fields, and the grass grew thick. If we had removed them in time, we could’ve saved ourselves some work, but we lost the timing and now we’re having an extremely hard time. As you know, the Buddha was often informed: ‘Lord, it is time.’ While engaging in agriculture, I realized that timing is really important.” (Laughter)

After taking a tour of the schoolyard, Sunim gave them freshly harvested potatoes as a gift and said goodbye.

Sunim continued to work inside, away from the hot sun, during the day. At 4:00 pm, he once again took his seat before the camera in the studio.

After reciting the Vows to the Threefold Refuge, and Words for Practice,  a Dharma Q&A session began as part of the second training of senior Jungto practitioner candidates. Sunim gave a Dharma talk when all 41 candidates joined the video conference. He talked about the meaning of becoming a senior Jungto practitioner.

“Members of Jungto Society can be divided into supporting members and members. Members can be further divided into general members and Dharma volunteers. Dharma volunteers include junior Jungto practitioners, senior Jungto practitioners, and lead Jungto practitioners.

Dharma volunteers take on the role of spreading the Dharma and guiding people to the Dharma. Therefore, they should have capabilities and personal qualities appropriate for spreading the Dharma and guiding people to the Dharma, make enough time for necessary activities, and commit themselves to these activities. As such, they are called committed members.

Senior Jungto practitioners, people with a great aspiration

Junior Jungto practitioners spread the Dharma despite their busy schedules. People who can do so and who are determined to make more time so that they can spread the Dharma almost full time, and have the capabilities to do so are senior Jungto practitioners. Senior Jungto practitioners are people with a great aspiration, whose most important life goal is to build Jungto, a world where individuals are happy, societies are peaceful, and nature is preserved.”

Then Sunim talked in detail about the specific roles and mindset they should have, and began the Dharma Q&A. Six people asked questions and had conversations with him. One of them asked about the vows of Jungto practitioners.

Taking the Buddha as the model for my life makes me feel heavy-hearted

“The second part of the Vows of the Jungto Practitioner, ‘We take the Buddha and bodhisattvas as the models for our own lives’ has weighed on me even before I started this training, and now as I am taking this training, it weighs more heavily on me. How should I take this vow?”

“While the Buddha was alive, ordained practitioners left home. Leaving home has the following meanings. First, abandoning one’s family relationships. Second, abandoning one’s occupation and status. Third, abandoning one’s values.

Leaving home means reverting to a natural person. Letting go of the notions of being an aristocrat or a low-born person, being a woman or a man, being a king or a servant, and having possessions or having no possessions. It is to base your living standard on basic requirements for survival—in other words, having an attitude of ‘eating anything, wearing rags, and sleeping anywhere will do.’ Then, you won’t worry about living. Just as rabbits and squirrels don’t worry about living, so can humans. On this foundation of living without worries, you should pursue the path of truth.

The Buddha said that those who can’t leave home can also practice. Even if you have a job or high status, or are married, you can practice. In return, he gave the precepts which practitioners must observe.

First, refrain from beating or killing a person under any circumstances.

Second, refrain from causing loss to another person under any circumstances.

Third, refrain from forcing another person against his or her will under any circumstances. Including sexual molestation and sexual assault.

Fourth, refrain from lying to another person under any circumstances. Do not use abusive language to another person.

Fifth, refrain from getting drunk or consuming intoxicating substances under any circumstances. Even if you take such a substance, you shouldn’t take it to the extent of becoming intoxicated.

These are the five precepts. Three more precepts are added to form eight precepts.

Sixth, live frugally, even if you are wealthy.

Seventh, be humble, not arrogant, even if you have a high status.

Eighth, do not pursue pleasure that makes you feel elated.

If you observe these eight precepts, it is alright for you to have a job or high status, or to get married. These are the principles for lay practitioners.

Taking the Buddha and bodhisattvas as the models for our lives doesn’t mean that you should wear rags from today. It means that you shouldn’t complain about clothing at least. How can you complain about clothing when you are wearing better clothes than practitioners no matter what you wear? You can’t complain about food. Whatever you eat, it is better than alms food. You also have no reason to complain about where you sleep. Wherever you sleep, it is better than sleeping in a cave or under a tree.

If you take the Buddha as the model for your life, all your complaints about your current life will disappear. The Buddha ate worse food, wore worse clothes, and slept in worse places than we do. Who are we, then, to seek better things? Therefore, taking the Buddha and bodhisattvas as the models for our lives means there is no reason for us to suffer. It doesn’t mean that you should live like them right now. It means that if you pursue this path, you will have nothing to complain about in your life.

How can there be any complaints when marriage is allowed for the one who models after the homeless life? A practitioner should leave home but the Buddha allowed lay practitioners to live with their spouses. Isn’t looking for someone other than your spouse then a bit of a problem?

Likewise, a practitioner shouldn’t live extravagantly even if she doesn’t leave home and abandon all her possessions. A practitioner shouldn’t be inflated with pride on account of her status even if she doesn’t abandon it. On the other hand, a practitioner shouldn’t be discouraged for not having high status or money because these are to be thrown away anyway. What good is it to receive high status or money when they are to be thrown away anyway? Not getting them is good because you will then have nothing to throw away.

Therefore, clinging to promotion isn’t a practitioner’s perspective. If you receive a promotion, you perform the job wholeheartedly. But feeling discouraged for not receiving a promotion is a lay person’s way of life, not a practitioner’s.

Bodhisattvas are those who benefit others at the expense of their possessions, bodies, and suffering. I’m not saying that you should live like them immediately. I’m saying that if you take them as models for your life, at least you won’t complain even if you don’t get help from others.

If you model your life after the Buddha and bodhisattvas, there will be nothing to complain about in life. But why do we complain so much, and get stressed and distressed? It’s because we don’t model our lives after them. Our life goals are to make more money, to have a bigger house, and to eat more delicious food. So we complain and become discontented and stressed. 

The vows of Jungto practitioners tell us to take the Buddha and bodhisattvas as the models for our lives rather than live like them. If you take them as models, you won’t complain, become discontented, or suffer. You will have nothing but gratitude. You are allowed to live at home when practitioners should leave home, you are allowed to have a job when practitioners shouldn’t have a job, and you are allowed to eat delicious food when practitioners should eat alms food. How then can there be any complaints?

You don’t have to leave home, but if you want to be a practitioner, at least you shouldn’t hurt others. You shouldn’t steal or forcefully take other people’s possessions. You are allowed to lead a married life but you shouldn’t take interest in another person who is not your spouse. Being dissatisfied with your life means you are living with a worldly perspective, not a practitioner’s perspective.

If you have the right perspective, there is no need to suffer in this world. You don’t have to bow until your legs ache or meditate until your back hurts. Then you will have nothing but gratitude. Modeling after the Buddha and bodhisattvas is a good thing, but why do you feel it is burdensome? You don’t have the right perspective, and so your life is complicated. It’s the same as asking, ‘How can I quit smoking?’ while smoking and coughing, when instead you can just stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, you don’t have to differentiate between good and bad cigarettes. Whether somebody smokes a good or a bad cigarette, smoking is bad for their health. Whoever is rich or whoever has high status, what is there to be envious of?

All these things are inferior to the Buddha’s teachings. But that doesn’t mean that you should get rid of them overnight. It means that being dissatisfied with your life, even though you are allowed to lead a home life, is not the right perspective for a practitioner as practitioners should abandon it in the first place. If you pursue more profit and more pleasure from a worldly perspective, you are following a worldly path and a path of believers, not the path of practitioners. 

Jungto Society doesn’t concern itself with how you live. Your work life and married life are not its concerns. However, if you are a practitioner, not getting a promotion shouldn’t cause you to weep and wail. Why do you feel distressed for not receiving a higher position when a practitioner should refuse it even if it is offered? It’s a good thing if you get it, but if you don’t, that’s okay, too.

Having this perspective is to take the Buddha and bodhisattvas as the models for our lives. It is to stop complaining about your life even if you can’t live like them. This is easy. If you have this perspective, you don’t have to fast or prostrate many times. But if you lose this basic principle, you mistakenly think that you are doing practice based on a form, such as the number of prostrations.

A way to straighten out all your life problems at once

If you are a practitioner, first, you should base your perspective of the world on the Law of Interdependence. Second, you should be clear about how you will live your life, i.e. your perspective on life. If you have the right perspective on life, living is easy. How can living as a human be difficult when rabbits also live? Why do you say life is tough when you can just eat and live? I’ve fasted before and I was still alive after fasting for 70 days. So there is nothing to be afraid of. Even if a married couple divorces or one of them dies, is it something to weep and wail about? All of us were alone in the first place.

The phrase ‘take the Buddha and bodhisattvas as the models for our lives’ sums up this perspective. Having this perspective will straighten out all your life problems. If doing this is still burdensome to you, you don’t have the right perspective for a practitioner. I’m not telling you to beg for food, get a divorce and leave home, or abandon your status. If you use the homeless life of abandoning everything as a reference point, whatever food you eat, whatever clothes you wear, and wherever you sleep, all these will be satisfying to you. You are enjoying benefits in all these.

I’ve watched both lay practitioners and practitioners who have left home life behind for a long time, but many of them have not grasped this perspective correctly. If you don’t correctly understand why the Buddha left his home life, there will be no progress in your study even after living in a temple for 20–30 years. People are still hung up on the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and the place they sleep. Living conditions can be inconvenient. And those conditions can be improved but complaining about them is not the right perspective for a practitioner.”

The candidates continued to ask questions about their doubts and concerns that arose during the training. At 5:30 pm, the conversation with Sunim ended. And the candidates shared their thoughts and feelings about the day’s Dharma talk with each other while Sunim left the studio.

“Let’s hurry back to the rice field to pull out more barnyard grass.”

Sunim changed into work clothes and headed for a rice field called Mattuknon, meaning “hitching post rice field.” The residents of the retreat center, including all those who were in charge of video and audio in the studio, followed Sunim to the field.

“A long time ago, they tied horses to a post below this rice field, so this area became known as the hitching post. As the weather is cool, it will be nice to work. Let’s finish up before sunset. There are more weeds than barnyard grass in this rice field.”

Starting from one end of the rice field, each of us took three rows and started to weed.

“You have to pick the right rows. Those who have more barnyard grass are the blessed ones. Rice plants were squashed in the spots where haengjas removed barnyard grass in the morning. Be careful not to squash them with your bottoms while weeding.” 

Those who had back pain gathered the plucked weeds and placed them on the bunds.

A cool breeze blew making the work pleasant. Moreover, the soil was moist thanks to rain the day before and weeding was easier than ever. After reaching the other end of the field, each of us took three rows again and started to weed toward the starting point. After repeating this process four times, the weeding was complete.

“All done. Let’s get out of here.”

After leaving the rice field, each of us had some cold watermelon and a bowl of grain powder drink before finishing up communal work.

The sun was setting over the mountains.

After returning to the retreat center, we participated in the evening Yebul ceremony and shared our feelings and thoughts about the day’s work. Sunim took care of various tasks before completing the day’s schedule.

Weeding in the rice fields is to continue tomorrow. Tomorrow, Sunim will weed with others in the early morning, conduct a Dharma Q&A session at a forum called Happiness Square for the Korean Minutemen for Peace and Unification, and conclude the week by hosting the live-streamed Sunday Meditation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in the evening.