“How should a practitioner look at someone who is being greedy?”
2023.9.16 Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim (17) Toronto, Canada
Today is the 17th day of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s 2023 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour, taking place in Toronto, the largest city in Canada.
At the entrance to the lecture hall, 24 people applied to ask questions, but only 12 of them were able to engage in Dharma Talk over the course of two hours. One of them said that as practicing being aware of his mind, he found himself becoming aware of other people’s minds as well, and asked what perspective he should have when practicing.
Am I aware of whether I am being greedy or not?
“I have lived in Canada for about ten years. During this coronavirus pandemic, I ended up spending a lot of time alone. At the same time, I often experienced emotional turmoil, but I was greatly healed through Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s teachings. I am currently trying to maintain a mind that is not disturbed by any environment or condition. The most helpful insight I’ve gained from Sunim’s teachings was that I should be aware of myself. I made a lot of effort to be aware of what my true feelings are, such as whether I am being greedy, whether I am trying to take only the good things, whether I am blaming others for my problems, and whether I am avoiding responsibility for my choices.”
“That’s not awareness.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Of course not. What you are describing are thoughts and actions that occur so naturally that there is no need to be aware of them. At your level, it’s natural to be greedy and it is also natural to blame others. In fact, it’s not only you, it’s all humans. If there’s even minor issues, they blame others, try to follow their own desires, and are stubborn. This is a natural human tendency. You want to say, ‘I’m not a saint, so isn’t it natural for me to act like that?’ Is that correct?” (Laughter)
“Yes, it is. To a large extent, I think so.”
“What you are saying is akin to asking, ‘Am I a man or not?’ We don’t use the term ‘awareness’ to describe this kind of self-inquiry. When you question, ‘Am I being greedy right now?’ upon the emergence of desire, it is a subjective thought, not true awareness. The truth is that I am currently being greedy. The truth is that I am thinking from my perspective, acting according to my own nature, and blaming others. Awareness is an objective recognition of one’s state of mind, such as acknowledging, ‘I am currently being greedy,’ ‘I am blaming others right now,’ or ‘I am thinking from a self-centered perspective.’ Asking, ‘Am I blaming others?’ while blaming others right now cannot be called correct awareness. When you think, ‘I’m blaming others right now,’ and you realize that such a thought is happening, it can be called awareness.”
“That’s a valid statement. So, I also defined myself as a person who blames others.”
“Good job. From now on, when you blame others, you should immediately recognize, ‘It’s my fault.’ Instead of tormenting yourself with futile thoughts about events that have already occurred, you should practice momentarily noticing the thoughts that arise at every moment by saying, ‘I am blaming others’ at the very moment you are blaming others. Just as you would swiftly catch a flying fly with chopsticks, catching the negative emotions arising in your mind right now is what awareness is all about.”
How should a practitioner look at someone who is being greedy
“However, I found myself applying this thought to others as well. Especially when I see someone who is not aware of it, I see myself thinking, “That person is being greedy right now, but he is expressing it that way to hide it.” Like this I become aware of the state of others. As a result, I come to recognize that everyone has greed, and I start to have no expectations from anyone I meet. Is it okay to look at others this way?”
“If you know that you are a person who thinks from a self-centered perspective, you should also acknowledge that everyone else does the same. However, we often accept self-centered thinking in ourselves while criticizing others for being self-centered, saying, ‘You are an egoist.’ Yet, it’s entirely possible for others to think from a self-centered perspective as well. What is the problem in acknowledging that?
When someone else gets angry, recognizing it as ‘That person is angry’ is awareness. It’s not awareness to say, ‘Humans are beings who get angry.’ There is nothing to be angry about. So, when I become angry, I recognize it, ‘I am angry right now,’ and then ask, ‘Why am I angry?’ and figure out the cause, which can help the anger rise, stop, and gradually go down.
When seeing someone else’s anger, you need to understand, ‘There must have been something that made that person angry.’ However, telling that person, ‘There is nothing to be angry about,’ or ‘When you’re angry, look at yourself,’ becomes a dagger to that person. The Buddha’s teachings can be good medicine when applied to myself, but they become poison when applied to others. Therefore, the perspective of practice should always be applied to oneself.
Even if you talk extensively about your wife, I would not provide any advice on how your wife should behave. This is because there is a high likelihood that you would attempt to apply the Buddha’s teachings to your wife. In that case, the Buddha’s teachings can become a dagger. Speaking based on the Buddha’s words can act as poison. Therefore, you should always apply the Buddha’s teachings to yourself.
Likewise, if certain teachings are constantly misapplied in a societal context for personal psychological healing, it can lead to a distortion of Buddhist teachings. ‘Whether the world goes upside down or not, do not get involved. Only focus on your own mind,’ if you Interpret it this way, Buddhism will turn away from social justice. This is why many criticisms are raised against Buddhism. However, the Buddha did not approach it this way. He spoke and did a lot of work on social justice issues such as gender discrimination, class discrimination, and wars. The side effects arise because the methods for healing inner wounds are repeatedly applied outwardly.
Likewise, you must also apply the perspective of practice only to yourself. This perspective should not be applied to others. When your wife gets angry, you should empathize and say, ‘My wife deserves to get angry. Honey, I’m sorry.’ When you get angry, you should ask yourself, ‘Why am I getting angry?’ and see it as your own problem. You shouldn’t try to receive an apology from the other person. They must be applied differently.”
“I understood well. Thank you.”
After finishing the conversation, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim provided some concluding remarks.
“When two different people get married and live together, they have different tastes, habits, and values. So, to avoid conflicts, you must acknowledge these differences. Acknowledging these differences is respecting the other person. Treating the other person like a king is not respect. It is understanding to have a mindset like, ‘It could be that way from that person’s perspective.’ Understanding is love. Love without understanding is violence. You call it love, but most of it refers to desire. You try to do things your own way and call it love. If you acknowledge each other’s differences and think, ‘It could be that way from that person’s perspective,’ you won’t get angry. However, this doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the other person says.
A path without suffering even if breaking up
Since you got married by mutual agreement, there’s no problem in getting divorced again by mutual agreement. It’s not because of the sin from your past life. Just a moment ago, as I walked onto the stage, you all applauded and yelled, ‘Venerable Pomnyun Sunim!’ Even though you admire me like this, when this Dharma talk is over, we have to part ways. Does parting like this cause suffering? No, it doesn’t. Even if a couple breaks up, break up like that. Even if your parents pass away, it’s good to part like that. You like each other but you can break up. Why do we have to become enemies when we break up? If you and I part ways today, will we become enemies? On the contrary, just because we like each other, must we always meet? We can like each other even if we don’t meet, right? Likewise, even you break up, there can be no suffering.
The very essence of attachment lies in thoughts like, ‘If I like someone, we must absolutely live together,’ or ‘If I dislike someone, we must absolutely stop living together.’ It’s not that there should be no dislikes or likes, but there should be no attachment that what you want should be achieved. The goal of Buddhism is not to become a person as emotionless as wood or stone. If you have desires, go ahead and pursue them. However, don’t be distressed if things don’t go as you want. The reason suffering arises is because of the attachment to the idea that ‘things must be what I want.’
Similarly, suffering does not arise because of a breakup. If you think you can break up, you won’t feel any pain even if you break up. You all know that no matter how much you like Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, you can’t live with him. That’s why it doesn’t hurt even if we break up. When you leave this hall, you might feel a bit sad, but as soon as you open the door and step outside, all regret disappears. In this way, you can break up without suffering.
Just because you immigrated to Canada doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be happy. Just because you bring soybeans from Korea and transplant them to Canada doesn’t mean they become red beans. To be happy, you must understand the principles of the mind and manage your mind. Managing your mind doesn’t mean controlling it. It means that you are always aware of your state of mind. Then you can live without suffering. You can face death, separation, and failure without suffering.
If you can see that it’s not a big deal
Today, I went through many twists and turns to get to Toronto. But in hindsight, it becomes quite an interesting experience. There were several dramatic moments, but all of those became memories. So, I have more stories to tell. But, if I had not arrived here today even after going through all those twists and turns, it would have been a bit disappointing. However, looking back on it, I will acknowledge that it could have been that way. Some of you today came from far away, driving five hours, and if this Dharma Talk had been canceled, you would have felt a bit upset. But, when you look back after ten years, it’s really not a big deal. Even if the Dharma Talk had been canceled, what big deal would happen?
That’s why, if you look back, nothing great happens in life. It’s filled with various twists and turns, but what we face at the moment feels like such a big deal. It’s a big deal if you go outside the lecture hall and the road is blocked, it’s a big deal if you can’t shake hands with me, it’s a big deal if you want to take a picture with me but you can’t, it’s a big deal all sorts of things. We live between what is a big deal and what is not-so-big deal. So, if you can know that what seems like a big deal is actually not a big deal, you can live freely each day. I hope you can live your life in such freedom.
The Dharma Talk ended with loud applause. The book signing event started right away on the stage. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim made eye contact with each participant and greeted them.
Tomorrow, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim will go to the Toronto airport at 4 a.m. and take a plane to New York to continue the 18th 2023 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour in New Jersey.