October 23, 2023

A Day of Sunim, Minneapolis(Sep 19, 2023)

“I love both my husband and boyfriend. What decision should I make?”

2023.9.19 Overseas Dharma Talk  Tour (20) Minneapolis

Today is the 20th lecture of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s Overseas Dharma Talk Tour in 2023, taking place in Minneapolis, a city located on the shores of Lake Superior in the central-northern region of the United States. The lecture venue for today is the Crystal Community Center.

As soon as Sunim arrived at the lecture venue, he met an American monk who is writing a book on the Avatamsaka Sutra. He came to listen to Sunim’s Dharma Talk. The two of them put their hands together and exchanged greetings.

“I’m sorry I don’t speak Korean.”

“I’m sorry too, I don’t speak English.”

After smiling and saying hello, Sunim headed to the reception desk. The volunteers preparing for today’s Dharma Talk were all Americans.

Sunim greeted the volunteers warmly and began the Dharma Talk at 7p.m. As Sunim walked toward the podium, he was met with applause.

Sunim talked about the seriousness of the climate crisis before starting the conversation and then shared a story about his recent trip to Bhutan.

“I believe that Buddha Dhamma not only guides us the path to practice for individual happiness, but also offers us the right direction to overcome the climate crisis. Before coming here, I stopped in Bhutan. Bhutan is a country that proposed the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, which reflects the quality of life and happiness of its people, instead of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures only material production as the standard for human well-being. So, I proposed to Bhutan’s king that we create a new model for sustainable development.

Sustainable development means creating regions where people lead relaxed lives amidst the beauty of nature, with clean air and fresh water, even if their living conditions are somewhat modest. In Bhutan, we select the most underdeveloped and impoverished areas and aim to improve aspects such as housing, agriculture, education, healthcare, and basic amenities while avoiding excessive development. We are currently discussing with the Bhutanese government to create a new model where people learn Buddha Dhamma and live modestly, yet have the highest level of happiness in the world.

‘After living here for a month, I’ve experienced some inconveniences in daily life, but it’s really nice to have clean air, fresh water, and a leisurely life.’

In order to be competitive, anyone living in Bhutan for a month should be able to feel this way. However, if life becomes too uncomfortable, happiness decreases. So, basic living conditions need to be improved further than they are now. Yet, once development starts, human desires continue to increase, so we must be able to stop them appropriately at some point. This is the biggest challenge. I hope that all of you will show interest in this project and provide good ideas, then we will actively reflect them.” (Laughter)

Sunim greeted the audience with a story related to the climate crisis and began the Dharma Talk. At the entrance of the lecture hall, 7 people submitted questions in advance and engaged in the conversations with Sunim. Today, in a very focused atmosphere, they asked questions to Sunim one by one,  sharing their personal concerns and specific stories.

One of them said she was in love with both her husband and her boyfriend, but she didn’t know what to choose between them and sought advice from Sunim. To the very candid question, Sunim smiled and continued answering.

I love both my husband and boyfriend. What decision should I make?

“I have distilled down my question into the fear of the unknown. To shorten my very long, complicated, sad, horrible story, my husband was a drug addict and I ended up having an affair. He went through treatment and he’s better now. But I initiated a divorce. And now I’m with this guy. But I’m still in love with my husband. And I still love this dude, too. I don’t expect you to know, tell me who I should be with. But as I distilled down my deciding, I’m sort of like, okay. This is my husband of 12 years. We’ve been together since we were essentially children. He’s the father of my 3 children. I don’t want to go back to that life. It could happen [again] or it could be happy. Or if I continue my life without him, potentially with this other man, then, you know, am I giving something up that could be beautiful on either end? So it’s like, I’m trying to decide what am I supposed to do with my life at this crossroad? And I wish one of these dudes would just dump me but they’re not. First world problems. Hot girl problems? Is that conceited? I don’t know.”

“Sounds like a happy dilemma. I don’t even have one, but you have two! What good deeds did you do in your past life that led you to date two men? (Everyone laughs)

There is no problem because it is suffering caused by too much pleasure. After a while, one of you will leave on its own. So, you don’t have to try too hard to choose one of them. Of course, if you can choose, then go ahead and choose. But if you can’t choose, just let it go. Soon, one person will give up. If you’re lucky, one of them might leave by accident.”

“Maybe that one will be me. Then everybody’s problems will be solved. No heartbreak.”

“There is no problem if that happens. When you die, there is no need to worry. Because there is no one to worry about.”

“Right now I feel like I’m just so scared to make the wrong choice. And this choice could determine the rest of my life along with the rest of my children’s lives. And they are my deciding factor in everything I’ve done up until this point. I ended our marriage because my kids started to see that their dad was addicted to drugs. It needed to be done.”

“Do your kids like their dad? Do they need to have a relationship with their dad?”

“They love him. They adore him.”

“If you truly understand the children’s feelings, you should choose your husband. There’s no  need to ask. You mentioned that you value the children’s opinion the most.”

“What if the model of relationship is not the type of relationship I would want my children to have? I would not want my sons to be that type of husband. I would not want my daughter to be in a relationship like that.”

“Your children have already learned everything. You don’t need to worry.”

“What if I could show them differently? Would it change?”

“Ask your children. If they want that, it’s okay.” 

“They don’t want that.”

“If you believe that your own life is more important than your children’s, then it’s okay to get a divorce and choose your boyfriend. That’s the decision you should make first.”

“Is that selfish?”

“It’s not like that.”

“Please expand.”

“How old are your children?”

“8, oh, no. He just turned 9. 5, and 3.”

“In that case, as a mother, you should prioritize the children and take responsibility for raising them.”

“I love that. My ears are very hot.”

 “If your children are over fifteen years old, you can discuss  this with them. If you ask for permission from your children and they agree, it’s okay. Marriage is a mutual agreement between adults and can be dissolved by agreement. However, as for children, you did not give birth to them with their consent, but you gave birth to them unilaterally. Therefore, you must bear unlimited liability.”

“What if he starts treating me like crap again, though.”

“If your husband abuses you, you should report it to the police. Because anyone who abuses others will be punished.”

“Right. And that’s my fear of the unknown, is that if I put my children’s needs first, reconcile with their father, my husband, 5 years from now we’ll be in the same place again. And I’ll be kicking myself because I was like ‘I was almost out! I had an awesome dude!’”

“You can’t have both. Let’s think of it like the weather being hot. However, the coat I want to wear is very thick. It’s my choice whether I’ll endure the heat and wear the coat I want, or wear something lighter because the weather is hot. Wishing for ‘colder weather’ is something difficult to make happen. Just as I can’t control the weather, I can’t have my husband or boyfriend exactly as I want. It’s a matter of my choice, like clothes, and it’s no one’s fault. You can’t have both. If you have one, you have to let go of the other.”

“Cool. As my therapist says, ‘put your paddle in the water, Ceslie. Put your damn paddle in.’ But I really like your first idea of just floating along. So I might just go with that.”

“While taking care of the kids, try waiting a little longer. Does your husband know that you have a boyfriend?”

“Yeah, he found out a little bit ago. It wasn’t great.”

“Your husband, disappointed by that fact, may ask for a divorce first, or your boyfriend may leave first after seeing your hesitation about divorce. The decision may be made on its own.  Whether you decide now or wait a little longer, there’s no need to suffer either way.”

“I like that. I’m just gonna put my feet up in my canoe, and enjoy the ride and the sunshine.”

After the conversation, Sunim asked the participants about their thoughts. The questioner above  also smiled and shared her thoughts.

“As a bigger picture, you know, you said like life is joy and suffering. You cannot separate the two. The more joy you have the more suffering you have. That’s just how it is and that’s so very apparent in this room. And so that I just have freedom in choosing, making a choice and not being afraid of the consequences because that’s just the beauty of what life is.” 

Today, we were able to hear the stories of people with heartbreaking stories, such as those who have suffered the trauma of sexual assault and those who are experiencing the sorrow of losing a child. Even the person who suffered from sexual assault shared her thoughts with a brighter expression.

“I realized today that rather than, I think I was obsessing over forgiveness and betrayal but I realize that I was actually self-victimizing myself to a certain degree. I called myself a survivor but I don’t think I lived up to that title. I feel very light right now. There are some regrets. The should’ve would’ve could’ve back then. But I think I’m going to focus my energy in advocating for other sexual victims and survivors and helping prevent these issues by sharing my story and sharing some of the insights I gained today. And I feel very free and I think I truly feel like I own my body and I’m a winner. So I really appreciate today’s opportunity. Thank you.” 

After listening to the participants’ thoughts, the entire audience gave a resounding round of applause in support.

Lastly, Sunim delivered his concluding remarks.

“Imagine we are hiking. First, you have to walk a long way through the valley. You have to cross the river, pass through dense forest trails, walk under the scorching sun without any shade from trees, and even climb steep slopes. Sometimes we want to give up, and we regret coming to hike. And we even resent the person who invited us to climb the mountain together.

Now, after going through all these processes, we’ve reached the top. How will you feel when you reach the top? What matters is that you get to the top. What happened on the way to the top doesn’t matter. Even though we went through many processes, the fact that we’ve reached the top is important in itself. Rather, the more difficulties we face, the richer the stories we can tell after hiking.

If we are alive now, we are all successful.

Being here now is like standing on the top of life. In our lives, we’ve gone through many processes, but we are alive and well at this moment. We are here without giving up halfway.  What we experienced in the past doesn’t matter much. What’s important is that we are here  now, having gone through those processes.

Therefore, just by being alive here and now, your lives are successful lives. In that sense, every morning when you open your eyes, shout out, ‘I’m alive today!’ It can make your day much lighter. You can start your day with joy. I bless your lives who are alive now. No matter what  situation you’re in, you have the right to live happily. So, I hope you live happily.”

After the Dharma Talk ended, Sunim asked some of the participants about their thoughts about today’s talk. They smiled and shared their thoughts with a light heart.

“I learned today that compassion isn’t always about being nice or consoling. Compassion is not just comforting others but telling them what they need to hear in the way that they can understand.  Although the dialogue was between the questioners and Sunim, some of my questions were answered through their conversation.”  

“It was interesting to hear how all these life events boiled down to the bigger scheme of life. There is life, there is death, there is joy, there is sorrow. There is grief, there is happiness. These all seem to be happenings that come with life. It was a thoughtful time to gain insight into this Buddhist perspective on life.” 

It was evident that Sunim’s teachings made a significant impact and touched the hearts of the Americans.

Tomorrow, after concluding the live broadcast of Weekly Dharma Meeting, Sunim will depart from Minneapolis and move to Columbus, Ohio. Also in Columbus, Sunim is planning to give a  Dharma Talk with English interpretation for the American audience.