Day Four of INEB Conference, Main Conference

Oct. 27, 2022

Hello! Today is day four of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) Conference. Today is the day of the main conference.

After the Yebul ceremony and morning practice that began at 5:00 am, breakfast was served at 6:00 am. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has been offering food to bhikkhus (male monastics) from Thailand each morning since the conference began. Sunim also put rice and side dishes into their alms bowls today. 

“I’ll put food into your bowl.”

“Thank you.”

After breakfast, the main conference began at 8:30 am. First, a bhikkhuni (female monastic) from Sri Lanka led the refuge chant in Pali.

“Namô Tassa Bhagavatô Arahatô Sammâ-Sambuddhassa

Buddham Saranam Gacchâmi.

Dhammam Saranam Gacchâmi.

Sangham Saranam Gacchâmi…”

After the chanting, Sunim stepped onto the stage and welcomed the conference participants. 

“This is the first in-person INEB Conference since the outbreak of COVID-19. I sincerely welcome the Fourfold Sangha of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, upasakas (male lay practitioners), and upasikas (female lay practitioners) to the INEB conference.

“Various parts of the world are suffering from natural disasters caused by climate change. People around the world have suffered enormously, especially due to COVID-19. And we are now entering into a new cold-war era due to the Sino-American clash of hegemony, and the Russia-Ukraine war. Moreover, many people are suffering financially because of the weakening of various currencies relative to the dollar, and a sharp rise in prices and interest rates.

“Nations should cooperate with each other to solve these problems. But nations around the world are competing against each other in the pursuit of their own interests, which makes it much more difficult to solve these problems. Under such circumstances, we—the disciples of the Buddha—are gathered here today to find ways to reduce the suffering of people. I hope you wholeheartedly share your wisdom obtained from your experiences of social engagement.”

Sunim’s welcome remarks were followed by those of Kim Eun-sook, the president of Jungto Society, and Dr. Sulak Sivaraksa, the founder and most senior member of INEB.

“We have to look straight at the structural violence in the world. Each of us is insignificant but precious. To overcome division in the world, we have to listen to each other attentively.”

Sai Sam Kham from Myanmar gave a keynote speech on “Buddhism in a Divided World, the theme of this conference. First, he talked about peace.

“Corporations and nations are reaping huge profits from wars that kill millions of people. Recently, right-wing extremism and fascism have been emerging around the world. I think that, ultimately, economic polarization and inequality are their causes. Under such circumstances, how should Buddhism, which pursues non-violence, deal with such violence in the world? I think relying on elections and democracy is not enough. I think our dedication and moral accountability are needed.”

He emphasized that climate change has not caused the same degree of suffering for everybody; it has caused more suffering for poorer people. He threw out a question: “How should we deal with the reality of ‘karma’ being misused to justify structural violence in Myanmar?” He concluded his speech by quoting Ven. Pomnyun Sunim.

“Ven. Pomnyun Sunim said as follows: If it is the right path, we should follow it regardless of the results. No matter how wonderful the Buddha’s teachings, if they can’t remove people’s suffering, they are useless. That concludes my presentation.” (Audience applauds)

Next, a panel of speakers stepped onto the stage for presentations and discussions. Four panelists made presentations on peace, the planet, and the pandemic from various perspectives. Wintomo Tjandra from Indonesia, Jill Jameson from Australia, Ven. Galkande Dhammananda from Sri Lanka, and Ven. Dobeop Sunim from Korea made presentations, and the conference participants asked questions. Sunim listened to the presentations attentively from beginning to end.

As the panel and attendees went into deep discussion, they were unable to conclude the discussions on schedule. As the bhikkhus have to eat before noon, they rose and headed for the cafeteria while the panel concluded the discussion in a hurry.

“It’s time to wrap up. We weren’t able to discuss all the questions posed today. However, I hope that we can talk more about these issues during the remaining period of this conference.”

There was not enough time to fully discuss the issues before ending the plenary session of the main conference. Lastly, activists from Ladakh presented  Ajahn Sulak Sivaraksa, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, and President of Jungto Society Kim Eun-sook each with a traditional kata scarf as a gift.

The panel then took a photo with Sunim before heading to the cafeteria for lunch.

After lunch, Sunim held a meeting with the panel members. Sunim thanked them for their presentations and gave each panelist a signed copy of his book translated into English.

In the afternoon, the conference participants were divided into groups to discuss peace and the planet.

The peace group discussed the actions INEB should take regarding the division of the Korean Peninsular and the threat of war, the civil war in Myanmar, gender conflicts, and the new cold war. Meanwhile,  the planet group discussed the actions INEB should take with regard to climate crisis, biodiversity, and sustainability.

Afterward, the results of each group’s discussion were presented in the auditorium. After answering questions and receiving  suggestions, the main conference was completed. Sunim presented a wind chime to each panelist as a gift.

After dinner, Sunim met the participants from Bhutan.

Dr. Tashi Zangmo, who recently organized a ceremony to fully ordain bhikkhunis in Bhutan, asked for Sunim’s advice on the future direction for Bhutanese Buddhism. Sunim advised that to improve the Gross National Happiness (GNH) of Bhutan, gender equality and the bhikkhuni system need to be improved. Sunim commended Dr. Tashi for the successful implementation of the bhikkhuni ordination.

At 7:00 in the evening, a Dharma Q&A session was held with the participants of INEB.

Four people asked questions. One asked if we could still have compassion in the face of extreme brutality.

How can we generate compassion?

“This question has been disturbing my mind for a long time. I hope I get the answer today. In the face of extreme cruelty, when facing something like extreme cruelty, how to deal with that with compassion?”

“The human mind is not fixed. It works differently according to causes and conditions. When you understand the other person, compassion arises naturally. And when you don’t understand the other person, malice arises naturally. There are no innately compassionate or malicious people. When you understand, you become compassionate, and when you don’t understand, you become malicious. Therefore, to say that ‘you should generate compassion’ isn’t entirely correct. 

“First, we need to acknowledge that we are different. Second, we need to understand that in the other person’s position, we could act that way. Understanding is love. Love without understanding is violence. Love without understanding is just an expression of desire. The Buddha taught us to see through to the essence of things. ‘Do good things’ and ‘Don’t do bad things’ as dictated by ethics and morals are not the teachings of the Buddha.”

In addition, the participants asked the following questions:

“On the visit yesterday to the Dubuk Jungto Center, I was very inspired by the work that has been done there. I was wondering if you can share a bit about the Dharma teachings behind that generosity and the work that has been done at the retreat center. If you can share about the dharma teachings that inspired that work.”

“I understand that you have given aid to North Koreans in the past. I’m just curious if there is a law against South Koreans giving aid to North Koreans. How do you manage that? How do you manage to overcome the legal restrictions?”

“I was wondering if you have started teaching online before the pandemic or due to the pandemic.”

After answering these questions, Sunim expressed his opinion on the issues discussed in the morning.

“The ‘karma’ in today’s Buddhism is fatalism. Fatalism is a traditional Indian philosophy. Not only in India, but also in all primitive societies, people believed that destiny was fixed. But the Buddha taught differently. The Buddha said that karma is not fixed—it is formed. It is like a habit.  You can’t change your habits easily. As a result, people came to believe that karma is fixed. But the Buddha taught that karma is formed, and as such it can be changed. In other words, there is no fixed destiny.

“There are three types of fatalism. First, that god decides human destiny. Second, that one’s destiny is decided by one’s karma. Third, that one’s destiny is decided by one’s time of birth. But the Buddha said as follows regarding fatalism:

‘If one’s destiny is fixed, killing another person by stabbing them with a knife wouldn’t be a sin. It happened because of god’s will, or a past life, or one’s time of birth. According to fatalism, one can’t be held accountable for one’s actions, therefore it is wrong.’

“One of the precepts of Buddhism is refraining from fortune-telling. Any fortune-telling, whether it is reading one’s personality or fortune from facial appearances, or reading palm lines, is a violation of the precept. But Koreans have a strong tendency to think that an ordained monk should be able to read palms or read one’s personality from our facial appearance. How contradictory is that? Fatalism is against the Buddha’s teaching. It’s not a matter of whether it is the tradition of Mahayana or Theravada Buddhism.

“If we agree that destiny is fixed, it can be used to justify all kinds of discrimination in the world. The Buddha denied class discrimination 2,600 years ago and allowed the ordination of females. Even if the Buddha had not allowed the bhikkhuni system, it should be allowed in this day and age. But why is the bhikkhuni system that was allowed in the time of the Buddha not allowed now? The Buddha denied class discrimination. However, in Sri Lanka, caste is applied even to monks. Can this be called Buddhism?

“I’m not trying to criticize a certain religious sect; I’m talking about the Dharma. What’s the difference between calling a newborn child a rinpoche or calling a newborn child a prince? There’s no difference. Why are there no females among the 3,000 rinpoches? Are females not reincarnated? This is not the Dharma. Of course, cultures should be respected. But the Dharma is objective truth. And different religions must be respected.

“The Dharma is not a culture. Fatalism is not the Buddha’s teaching. I don’t understand why the bhikkhuni system is not allowed in Thailand when they claim that they are the successors of early Buddhism. The bhikkhuni system disappeared between the first and second century C.E. From the first century to the fifth century, India was ruled by the Gupta dynasty. Gender and class discrimination was solid during this period. To survive, Buddhism had to adapt to the system of those times. And all the suttas of the Theravada tradition were edited to accord with the system. The editing of the Abhidharma was more extensive.

“Buddhism was introduced to Thailand around the fourth and fifth centuries. It actually arrived much earlier, but during the fourth and fifth centuries, Buddhism was developed. And there was no bhikkhuni system, so I think it is natural for people to question why the bhikkhuni system should be allowed now. As they never had the bhikkhuni system, I can understand why they are so adamant about not allowing it. But we need to talk about what the right path is. 

“Another issue is ‘Can we use force to resist oppression?’ The Buddha neither used force nor ignored wars. When the Shakyas and the Koliyas feuded over the waters of the Rohini River, the Buddha intervened and ended the feud. And when Ajatasattu, the king of Magadha, wanted to invade the Vajjis, the Buddha talked about the futility of war by giving seven reasons. The Buddha supported peace and stopped the Kosalan army from attacking the Shakya clan three times. However, when he realized that he couldn’t stop them anymore, he didn’t resist their attack using force, and the Shakya clan was exterminated. 

“Because some of the Shakya clan escaped, their descendants still live in the area near Sankissa in India. What about Korea? Japan invaded Korea about 400 years ago. Japan demanded that Korea should let them pass through Korea to invade China. There was no reason for war, but they killed so many people. The king of Korea asked Buddhist monks for help as he fled the capital. The monks armed themselves and fought the Japanese army. They took up arms because the Japanese army was ready to kill many people and the king had requested help. As a result, the Japanese army burned almost all the temples in Korea. So now, when you visit a temple in Korea, you usually see a sign explaining  that the temple was rebuilt because it was razed during the Japanese invasion. The monks fought against the Japanese army and so they burned the temples in retaliation. 

“About 100 years ago, Japan occupied Korea. My teacher, Ven. Yongseong Josa, peacefully carried out the March 1st Movement for the independence of Korea. The population of Korea at the time was 20 million and about two million people participated in the movement. It was a nonviolent  declaration of independence. The Japanese army massacred the Koreans. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were injured. In the end, the movement was crushed within a year.

“After the movement was crushed, an armed struggle against Japan began. Ven. Yongseong Josa didn’t personally participate in the armed struggle. He financially supported the independence fighters and the Provisional Government of Korea in Shanghai. Some of his disciples disrobed and participated in the armed struggle. They were persecuted for the independence movement during the Japanese colonial era but today they are revered as patriots.

“I think we need to discuss in depth about how to evaluate armed struggle against oppression. But I want to say this about this issue: If I kill a tiger for killing my mother, it is a killing. However, if I kill a tiger to prevent it from killing an elderly neighbor, it is not a killing out of revenge.

“It is a killing to prevent a bigger harm. Such killing is accepted in Mahayana Buddhism. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t entail consequences. Consequences follow a killing, regardless of the reason. But one is willing to take the consequences to save another person’s life. My answer has become too long! I hope you continue your discussions on this issue further.”

“Thank you.”

It was already 7:40 pm when the Dharma Q&A was finished. Sunim left the venue in a hurry to head for Mungyeong Jungto Retreat Center where a lecture for the Jungto Sutra Course was to be broadcast live.

Sunim arrived at the retreat center and began Lecture 10 on the Diamond Sutra for the Jungto Sutra Course students. The lecture lasted an hour and Sunim gave a practice assignment for the week before completing the lecture.

Tomorrow, the participants of the INEB conference will move to Mungyeong Jungto Retreat Center and participate in discussions in the morning, experience Korean culture in the afternoon, and share their thoughts and feelings about their experiences before closing the main conference. In the evening, the Friday Dharma Q&A will be live-streamed.