Closing Ceremony for Summer Retreat and Friday Dharma Q&A

Aug. 11, 2023 

Aug. 14, 2023, 39,267 views

Hello! Ven. Pomnyun Sunim completed his 15-day summer retreat and returned to his daily routine. During the summer retreat, Sunim led an online meditation retreat for 900 participants at Mungyeong Jungto Retreat Center. After completing the online retreat, he moved to Bonghwa Jungto Retreat Center, where he continued his retreat with around 50 sangha members.  

Due to the forecast for Typhoon Khanun to sweep across the Korean Peninsula during the retreat, Sunim and the sangha members worked on maintaining the retreat center to prevent potential damage. Heavy rain during the recent monsoon had caused soil to wash down from the mountain, prompting the digging of drainage channels around the buildings and the repair of the damaged bridge.  

They cleared the clogged drainage channels to ensure that rainwater could drain away quickly. Additionally, they removed the soil that had built up in the gutters and trimmed the densely grown weeds in different sections of the retreat center.

Thankfully, the typhoon didn’t result in any significant damage and the closing ceremony to mark the completion of the 15-day summer retreat was held today. 

About 50 sangha members sat in a large circle and shared their feelings and impressions about the retreat. Everybody listened attentively, being moved to tears or bursting into laughter as each member shared their feelings. 

“I used to feel nothing particularly special when we discussed our projects due to my ill health. However, this time when Sunim talked about Jungto Society’s future projects, I experienced a burst of excitement as if an old tree had burst into bloom.” (laughter)

“I feel much lighter after sharing my personal problems. I really appreciate the insight that it’s not the arising of desires, but rather my attachment to them that causes suffering.”

“I used to feel like I was always trying to catch up with Sunim, however, this time I felt that my thoughts are aligning with Sunim’s.” 

“I used to ignore it when someone mentioned that they were going through a tough time, as if to say, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ Now that I have acknowledged that I didn’t understand their struggles, I feel the need to repent.”

“During the retreat, I personally experienced the Four Noble Truths. Until now, I hadn’t realized that the feeling of suffering was indeed suffering when it arose. I feel lighter after hearing Sunim’s response to my question, which suggests that attachment is ultimately the cause of suffering. In the past, I only became aware when the teacher pointed it out, but now I feel confident that I can free myself from suffering on my own.”

“I’ve missed out on many experiences simply because I hesitated, doubting my ability to accomplish them. After listening to Sunim’s concept of creating a model for future civilization through a development project in Bhutan, I came to understand the importance of embracing a ‘try-first mindset.’”

After spending two hours sharing their feelings and impressions, the sangha members requested Sunim to give a Dharma talk to mark the completion of the retreat with three prostrations. 

Reflecting on the past 15 days, Sunim commended the sangha members for their diligent practice and reminded them about the right perspective on practice. 

“We have successfully completed our 15-day retreat. Over the course of a week of meditation, we came to know ourselves better individually, and through a three-day Pravarana, we deepened our understanding of ourselves with the help of fellow sangha members. Additionally, through two days of group discussions, we gained a clearer understanding of the goal that our community is striving to achieve. Lastly, the entire community came together to discuss personal issues and the directions of our projects.”

Cultivating a shared DNA similar to that of the Buddha

“As individuals, each of you should strive to become happier and freer. As members of a community, you should carry out your roles diligently and be capable of germinating the seed of Jungto Society, forming a community wherever you may be in the world. To achieve this, it’s essential to embody the DNA of a practitioner. In this context, the conversations that we’ve engaged in over the last four days have been a process of cultivating the practitioner’s DNA.  

“Most of the Buddha’s disciples practiced with such depth that they achieved arhatship. Following the Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana, 500 arhats gathered to compile the Buddha’s teachings over a span of three months. Even among the enlightened arhats, differences in opinions could arise during larger gatherings. As a result, these 500 arhats established disciplines in addition to the compilation of essential teachings of the Buddha. The Dharma was organized in a unified way so that wherever it was planted, an identical tree would grow out of it, even when it was planted in different regions by the 500 arhats. While the Dharma underwent slight changes over time, it has managed to maintain its original form relatively well until now. Similarly, the annual retreat that we have is a process that helps each of us become free from personal afflictions, but more importantly, it’s a process through which the entire community cultivates a shared DNA similar to that of the Buddha.

“Thank you for sharing your feelings and impressions. I could express my feelings about them as follows:

‘Good, good!’

“In other words, ‘Good, good! Excellent, excellent!’ The fact that all of us have taken a step toward our goal of becoming individuals who are unhindered and without suffering is important—even though some of us are a little ahead, some lag behind, and some are at the starting point. The distances we have traveled on this path may vary from person to person, but we are heading toward the same destination. We are all at different stages: some have fallen flat on the ground, some have risen after falling down, and some have come close to falling. However, these differences are all part of this journey. Those of you who have fallen flat on the ground are still on this path. You are doing fine from the perspective that your fall is merely a stumble on the way. 

“As I witness all of you recognizing your shortcomings and resolving not to repeat the same mistakes, I would like to say this: 

“If you fall again after vowing not to, you might blame yourself, thinking: ‘I won’t make it. I am the problem.’ When you attribute your fall to someone else, it’s easier for you to change your perspective. However, when you blame yourself, changing your perspective becomes much harder, because you mistakenly believe that what you’re doing is right. It’s easier to recognize bad behavior as such, but it’s more challenging to identify something you perceive as not bad as actually being bad behavior. You might think, ‘What did I do wrong?’ 

Desires can arise but attachment to them leads to suffering

“For instance, if you have a bad dream, you wouldn’t want to experience that dream again after waking up. However, if you wake up from a pleasant dream, you might wish to go back to sleep to continue that dream. During the dream state, there is a big difference between good and bad dreams, similar to the distinction between heaven and hell. However, when viewed from the perspective of wakefulness, both good and bad dreams are simply dreams. Often, good dreams can impede waking up from the dream state. 

“If you indulge in bad behavior, such as drinking or smoking, it’s easier for both you and others to recognize it. However, if you are attached to a behavior that isn’t apparently bad, it’s very difficult for you to recognize it as an attachment. For instance, if someone loves to go hiking on weekends, they might think, ‘What’s wrong with hiking? Can’t I even do this?’ Suffering doesn’t arise from engaging in good or bad behavior. Both good and bad behaviors are like manifestations in a dream. Suffering arises from attachment, regardless of whether the behavior itself is good or bad.  

“As humans, needs and desires can arise in all of us. However, when we become attached to them, suffering arises. Therefore, it’s important to recognize attachment for what it is. You don’t recognize attachment as attachment; as a result, you continue to suffer in your daily life even though you might feel awakened after listening to a Dharma talk. This suffering doesn’t stem from a lack of practice, but rather from not fully recognizing attachment as attachment. 

Even if you made a mistake 100 times, do it correctly on the 101st time

“There are times when you suffer even after recognizing attachment. In such cases, it’s not that you are practicing in the wrong way. It happens due to momentary ignorance. If you have made a mistake 100 times, you could do it correctly on the 101st time, if you have made a mistake 1,000 times, you could do it correctly on the 1,001st time. However, if you rationalize your mistake, there’s no way for you to become free from suffering. When you lose the perspective of a practitioner, there can be no solutions to your problems. When evaluating our practice, we shouldn’t focus on whether we do it well or not. Instead we should assess it based on whether we have the correct perspective of a practitioner. If one has the correct perspective of a practitioner, whether one does it well or not isn’t that important, and others should wait without pushing them too hard. I’m not saying that we should justify disciplinary violations but we should be tolerant of those who have a hard time maintaining the disciplines until they get it right.  

“If you have this perspective, you can be tolerant, taking into account people’s situations while adhering to the principles of the sangha. We shouldn’t be haphazard while practicing tolerance nor should we be exclusionary while upholding the principles. The Buddha referred to this as the Middle Way. As we conclude our retreat, I hope you grasp the practical meaning of the Middle Way when it is applied in reality.”

Then Sunim presented the future vision for Jungto Society while discussing projects that the sangha should take the lead on. 

“The most pressing issue that humanity as a whole is facing is the climate crisis. If Jungto Society fails to construct a model to deal with the climate crisis while claiming that it aims to create a model for future society, the resulting model will be very limited. Such a model can’t be called a representation of the transition of human civilization. If we aim for a sustainable human civilization beyond Jungto Society and South Korea, our lifestyle should contribute to overcoming the climate crisis. 

“In this regard, we need to constantly examine if our ways of eating, dressing, and consuming can exacerbate the climate crisis. While our lifestyle has been very frugal until now, as we embark on the second 10,000-Day practice, we need to establish a new way of living by scrutinizing our current lifestyle. When our way of living reaches a point where anyone can say, ‘Their way of living will not exacerbate the climate crisis,’ or, ‘Their way of living will help overcome the climate crisis,’ our lives will be beyond reproach. 

“If someone who has become happy through awakening disregards the fact that humanity is heading toward self-destruction, their awakening won’t lead to perfect liberation. Ideally, one should be happy while also benefiting the world, but, at the very least, one should refrain from causing harm to the world. In this context, we need to become role models for people around the world by detailing how we will live to prevent the climate crisis, and by putting our decision into practice. 

Creating a new model to prevent the climate crisis 

“There are many communities in which like-minded people work together to achieve their goals. The project Jungto Society is collaborating on with the government of Bhutan is somewhat distinct from such community projects. This project is a ‘civilization transition project.’ We will select a region in Bhutan with no stake involved and conduct an experiment to determine if the sustainable way of living that Jungto Society envisions is achievable there. It’s an endeavor to manifest the life that the Buddha pursued in our current world by establishing a new model of a sustainable civilization. Just as the Buddha created a community model called a sangha that was devoid of class and gender discrimination, Jungto Society has devised a plan to establish a model that combats the climate crisis. 

“In this regard, this project will operate on a higher level in terms of personnel, planning, and financing, as compared with any project previously undertaken by Jungto Society. Jungto Society has been operating as a community of like-minded people working together, so not having expertise hasn’t been an issue. However, this project signifies a departure from that norm. This project is about creating a sustainable lifestyle model that involves all members of a selected region, regardless of their consent to participate. I expect a lot of challenges since the project will affect everyone in the region, regardless of their willingness to participate. I believe, however, that this endeavor will mark a pivotal moment in the history of human civilization. 

“I believe that this project is worth pursuing since Jungto Society has envisioned a ‘transition of civilization’ since its inception. The concept of a transition of civilization is something to which every human being should pay attention, regardless of their circumstances.  

“In this sense, the projects Jungto Society has been undertaking at Dubuk Jungto Retreat Center are also integral to the process aimed at creating a model for future civilization. Any project, whether it involves looking after abandoned children, or the elderly who live alone, producing safe food products, or recycling waste, has the potential to become part of a model for future civilization. We are creating a small-scale sustainable model that utilizes abandoned warehouses and school buildings, avoiding the need for extensive financial investment, so that this model can be exported worldwide, even to economically challenged nations.  

“However, building a model isn’t a task that can be accomplished quickly. We need to thoroughly consider what to include. For example, in order to address the challenges young people face, we need to examine the issues confronting society as a whole. When we take all aspects of life into account—housing, education, communication, transportation, and more—we can call it a model for future civilization. Admittedly, considering all aspects of life can be challenging, but for it to serve as a model for future civilization, comprehensive consideration of certain aspects is necessary, at the very least.  

What will you use your energy for?

“Based on such a vision, you need to maintain a clear stance on what you will use your energy for. By doing so, you can overcome most problems, even when you are tired or lack sufficient food. Your mind is disturbed by even trivial matters because your stance isn’t clear. Don’t waste your precious energy by letting your mind become disturbed by matters such as food, clothing, differing opinions, or emotions. Allowing such matters to disturb your mind is equivalent to ordinary people squandering their energy on harboring resentment toward their spouses, parents, or children. My hope is that you direct your energy toward creating hope instead of squandering it. It is for this purpose that we’ve gathered here now. 

“Whether your job is cooking, accounting, or farming, all of you are part of this journey to create a sustainable future civilization. Embracing this perspective will enable you to work confidently, regardless of your specific job.”  

With a big round of applause, they etched Sunim’s words into their hearts and completed the summer retreat for 2023. 

Sunim went to Dubuk Retreat Center, where he was to broadcast the Friday Dharma Q&A live, while the rest of the sangha members cleaned up each nook and cranny of Bongwha Jungto Retreat Center, where they had stayed for 15 days, restoring it to its original state before departing for their residences. 

After traveling by car for three hours, Sunim arrived at Dubuk Jungto Retreat Center at 7 pm. The sun had already set and at 7:30 pm, Sunim began the Friday Dharma Q&A session. Sunim greeted around 5,700 online viewers.  

“Yesterday, a typhoon swept across the Korean Peninsula. While there was some damage, it was fortunately not as severe as we had expected, possibly because we prepared well in anticipation of the powerful typhoon.”

Four people had submitted their questions in advance and engaged in conversations with Sunim. One of them inquired about his frustration over the strained relationship between his wife and older brother, as they were unwilling to  meet each other. 

When a conflict arises, my wife ends the relationship. What should I do?

“Ever since my wife was deeply hurt due to a conflict with my older brother, she has been acting arbitrarily and causing distress for the entire family. I’ve been married for 13 years. My wife has a strong ego, becomes angry often, and is obstinate and meddlesome. She often shouts at the kids and fails to acknowledge that others might have different perspectives. If someone repeatedly engages in actions that are hard to believe, she will argue loudly as if she’s scolding them, even if they are older, and end the relationship entirely. Throughout our 13-year marriage, I’ve witnessed her ending relationships with several friends and relatives. At the end of last year, she ended her relationship with my older brother due to a conflict. The issue is that this has affected my relationship with my beloved mother. My older brother, who divorced when he was young, is living with my mother, just the two of them. 

“I used to visit my mom frequently. However, since the end of last year, my wife refuses to attend family events, not to mention ancestral rites, if she expects my older brother will also be present. She says that she prefers death over seeing my brother. Despite my brother sending her several text messages apologizing for his behavior, she remains unwilling to consider them. Whenever I attempt to mediate and reconcile their differences, she says that she wants a divorce.”

“If so, what are her good qualities?”

“Well, she is good at making quick judgments. At first, I found it admirable that she could think of things that I couldn’t, but now that we are married, I realize that she has a quick temper and often raises her voice. If something is hot, you just need to drop it but it seems that she struggles with this concept. I tell her, ‘Behaving like this only hurts you, why do you live your life the hard way?’ She says she has lived this way for around 40 years and has grown accustomed to it. Despite my efforts to offer advice, she doesn’t heed my suggestions, so I feel frustrated.” 

“Then why do you continue living with her? It seems that you are quite dissatisfied with your wife. If she asks for a divorce, you can simply grant it, thinking, ‘That’s fine by me.’” 

“I’ve considered divorce. Since my brother is already divorced, my mother would be shocked if I were to divorce as well. I can manage living alone and continuing my job, but my children are a concern for me. I have 12-year-old twins—a boy and a girl.”

“Your children can be raised by their mother and your responsibility would be to consistently provide full child support on time. And you could arrange to meet them once or twice a month.”

“I haven’t seriously considered divorce.”

“You just said that it’s difficult to live with your wife. Based on what you’ve shared, she has a quick temper, gets into fights and severs ties with others, is stubborn and resistant to your advice, and neglects her health. From what you’ve said, your wife does seem to have a lot of issues. That’s why I’m asking you why you continue living with such a person.”

“I think I’m making sacrifices for the sake of family harmony. Even if it’s challenging for me, making sacrifices should make things easier for my wife and children. I think like this because I don’t believe I should be the only one living comfortably.”

“Okay. You’ve made the choice to make sacrifices. You mentioned: ‘It’s better not to get a divorce for the sake of my mother, considering the shock my divorce will cause, in addition to my brother’s divorce. It’s also better not to get a divorce for the sake of my children. If I endure more with my wife, I can maintain family harmony.’ If you think that it’s better not to get a divorce for the sake of your mother, you can ask your mother, 

“‘Mom, would it be better for you if my wife and I divorced because I want her to visit you or if we didn’t divorce even if I couldn’t visit you as often?’ Your mother will likely respond, ‘It’s okay if you don’t visit often. Don’t get a divorce.’ Ask your children, ‘Would it be better for you if I took care of you after divorcing your mother or if we continued to live together as a family?’ They will say, ‘It would be better if we could live together with both you and Mom.’ Then your current situation of being married to your wife is already good. 

“It’s not a significant issue that your wife doesn’t want to visit her in-laws due to her dislike for your older brother. Why are you so concerned about it? You believe you are making sacrifices, but from what you’ve shared, it seems you actually don’t want to make them. Why does your wife’s reluctance to visit her in-laws bother you? If your wife insists, ‘I’d rather have a divorce than visit my in-laws,’ you could suggest that she stays home while you visit your mother alone. It’s fortunate that your wife doesn’t prevent you from visiting your mother. In such cases, many wives don’t even allow their husbands to visit their mothers. You should appreciate that your wife doesn’t stop you from visiting your mother. Why do you feel the need to take your wife with you when you visit your mother?” 

“Because my mother loves my children.”

“If so, you can bring your children along. Why insist on taking your wife when she’s unwilling? This contradicts your assertion of making sacrifices for her. How can you claim that you are making sacrifices when you don’t even acknowledge her feelings? You want to have things your way. You’re acting as if you are saying, ‘I will visit Mom with you and children. How can you say that you don’t want to visit her?’

“Couples sometimes even get divorced when they can’t get along, so why is your wife’s reluctance to visit her in-laws due to issues with your older brother such a concern? You are on the verge of committing a big mistake by blowing a minor issue out of proportion. You are about to set yourself up for big losses by magnifying a trivial matter just because you can’t have your way. It’s a foolish thing to do.”

“Next month, one of my nieces will marry and all my relatives will be there. However, my wife and children won’t go if my older brother is going to be there.” 

“What if she doesn’t attend? There’s no compelling reason for her to attend your niece’s wedding. It appears that you’re more concerned about your pride than your wife’s feelings. The claim that you are making sacrifices seems untrue. It seems to me that you are unwilling to make any sacrifices at all. As you mentioned, if your wife tends to sever ties when hurt, you have to accept this aspect of her personality if you are to continue living with her. Prioritize your wife’s feelings and think: ‘To protect my wife, it’s best for her not to meet my older brother.’ I think you have to accept her aversion to visiting her in-laws due to her dislike for your older brother. Preventing you from visiting your mother could indeed be problematic, but I think you should accept her reluctance to attend your relative’s wedding. There shouldn’t be any problem if you can say, ‘Alright, I’ll attend the wedding alone.’ If you feel a sense of obligation toward your relative, you can opt to give a more substantial monetary gift. For instance, if you planned to give 300 dollars when accompanied by your wife, consider increasing it to 500 dollars when attending alone. Accepting such requests in a marriage is not an issue.”

“My wife doesn’t want me to bring our children.”

“If that’s the case, you don’t have to bring them. Is it necessary for the children to attend the wedding? What could 12-year-old children do at a wedding?”

“I think I’m very conscious of what others think of me.” 

“You seem to care more about your pride than your wife’s hurt feelings. You are not someone who makes sacrifices. Your wife’s personality might not be ideal. But, what can you do about it? Your conflicts with her can be resolved only when you understand her feelings and accept her for who she is. Within a marriage, the issue you raised is of secondary importance.”

“If I want to avoid a divorce, should I adjust myself to my wife? What kind of mindset should I adopt?”

“If you want to continue living with your wife, you must adjust yourself to her needs. Willingly acknowledge her preferences; for instance, if she expresses her reluctance to visit your mother, respond with, ‘Sure. Let’s visit together another time. I’ll visit her alone.’ Then there won’t be any problem. Living in harmony as a couple is far more important than concerning yourself with others’ opinions about you. By fixating on a trivial matter, you are jeopardizing the unity of your family, which should be your utmost priority. Your perspective needs adjustment. While your wife’s less-than-ideal personality is her concern, it is up to you to decide if you are willing to live with someone like that. Once you decide to live together, you have to respect your wife.

“Raising your two children by yourself after a divorce will undoubtedly be challenging. Therefore, accept your wife’s minor requests and do not divorce. There’s no problem with attending a wedding alone.”

“Should I pay more attention to my mother or my wife?”

“A typical man would pay more attention to his wife. A person below the age of 20 should pay more attention to their parents, but a married man’s focus should shift to his wife. It isn’t about filial piety. A married man should prioritize his immediate family. You are preoccupied with others’ opinions of you rather than valuing your own family.”

“Yes, I do seem to be like that.”

“You have to come to your senses. Using your wife’s personality as an excuse, you’re attributing everything to her. Her quick temper is certainly an issue, but it’s unfair to lay the blame entirely on her. If your children aren’t facing significant problems growing up with her, you have to accept her temperament. I’m not suggesting you simply endure it. You just need to acknowledge her personality. And if your mother asks why she didn’t come when you visit your mother alone, you could respond with this:

‘I’m sorry, Mom. She is quite stubborn and once she’s become upset, it’s hard to change her mind. Please understand, Mom. If I push her to accompany me, it might lead to thoughts of divorce on her part. It’s better for her not to visit you than for us to end up getting divorced.’

“It’s very likely that your mother would respond with, ‘You’re right’ rather than suggesting you divorce.”

“She wouldn’t suggest that I get a divorce, but she would be upset.”

“What can you do if she gets upset? No one in the world can live without experiencing upset feelings. It would be nice if South and North Korea don’t fight, but when you listen to the leaders they would go to war. It would be nice if the majority and the minority parties don’t fight, but they are fighting like sworn enemies now. We still live amid this. Which would be bigger, the damage caused by the conflict between South and North Korea or the damage caused by the conflict between your wife and your older brother?”

“The damage caused by the conflict between South and North Korea would be bigger.”

“I am asking you why you can’t tolerate the small damage when you can endure the greater damage our country may suffer. Therefore the disagreement between your wife and older brother isn’t significant. If they don’t want to see each other, respond with, ‘Okay, don’t see him/her.’ Divorcing your wife will have a more significant impact on your children than your wife not visiting your mother.”

“Will it be all right if my wife doesn’t see my older brother until he dies?”

“It really doesn’t matter even if she doesn’t see him until he dies. Don’t worry. In your mind, think, ‘Do whatever you want until your dislike for him disappears.’ But you need to bring it up from time to time. When you’re planning to visit your mother, ask her: ‘I’m visiting Mom today, would you like to come?’ If she doesn’t want to go, say, ‘Alright, maybe next time.’ If you don’t invite her, she won’t be able to go even if she wants to, so ask her occasionally. This is because her dislike may fade away over time.” 

“I see. Thank you for your excellent advice.”

“We need to understand each other. As everybody wants to have their own way, conflicts arise. You mentioned that conflicts arise because your wife always wants to have her way, but that’s not entirely true. You have to have the perspective that this issue arose because you wanted to have your own way.” 

“I’ll accept her personality and try to adjust to it, even though it may be difficult.”

“If you only care about what others think of you, she will feel hurt whenever you do things for your mother, older brother, friends, or relatives. She will interpret it as, ‘He only cares about others, not me,’ so it’s better to pay more attention to your wife than others. You need to value the precious person who cohabits with you rather than worrying about what others think. Don’t divert your attention to people outside of your immediate family who aren’t of great help to you. You need to have more affection for your wife who raises your children and lives with you, despite her challenging personality.”

“I see. I will accept her personality instead of worrying about what others think of me.”

Questions continued. 

  • After my father-in-law, whom I hated, passed away, my husband went to live with my mother-in-law, and as a result I came to hate her. Now I see the face of my father-in-law in my son’s face. What kind of mindset should I adopt? 
  • I didn’t take good care of my child while I was looking after my mother-in-law, who suffered from dementia, and my own mother for eight years. As a result, my child now resents me. What can I do? 
  • A few days ago, my fourth child died due to a traffic accident. I feel incredibly sad and am struggling every day. I don’t know what to do. 

The last questioner didn’t know what to do with her agitated mind when she asked her question, but after listening to Sunim’s answer, she expressed gratitude to Sunim with a calmer mind. Sunim promised to meet the audience again next week and concluded the live broadcast after 9 pm. 

After working on the farm early tomorrow morning, Sunim will hold a Dharma Q&A session with the students of Jungto Dharma School in the morning and another session with the students of Jungto Sutra Course in the afternoon.