October 25, 2023

A Day of Sunim, Virginia(Sep 21, 2023)

“I’m always anxious  because I feel like my abilities are lacking”

2023.9.21 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour (22) Virginia

Today marks the 22nd lecture of  Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s overseas Dharma talk tour in 2023, which will be held in Virginia, adjacent to Washington DC.

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim moved to the headquarters of The Washington Times to have a discussion on the topic of peace on the Korean Peninsula before today’s lecture. Upon arriving at the entrance, Sunim was welcomed by the Secretary General of The Washington Times and a U.S. State Department official who had previously served as special envoy for the six-party talks on North Korean nuclear issue.

The Washington Times officials expressed concerns about the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and asked how Sunim  viewed this situation.

Sunim emphasized that the power structure surrounding the Korean Peninsula has recently changed significantly from before, and talked about how the U.S. policy toward North Korea could change.

“28 years have passed since I traveled to the United States to resolve the suffering of North Korean people. Looking back on these years, it seemed like war was imminent, but dialogue resumed, and it seemed like reunification would happen soon, but then the confrontation became more severe again, and this situation was repeated several times. That’s why you shouldn’t be too optimistic even when conversations are going well, and you shouldn’t be too despairing when the relationship deteriorates. It can be seen that the distance has become increasingly closer as conversations and conflicts have repeated.

Why the U.S. policy toward North Korea must change

But things seem to have changed now. I think the distance between North and South Korea will grow further in the future. The reason is not because of inter-Korea relations, but because the conflict between the powerful countries surrounding North and South Korea is growing. A power structure similar to when North and South Korea were first divided is being recreated around the Korean Peninsula. So, because the current heightened tensions are at high risk of escalating into war, we must actively manage them to maintain peace. This is a time when protecting peace is more necessary than reunification. We must first strive to bring peace and then pursue reunification afterward.

Comparing the current period with the past 30 years, there is a big difference. For the past 30 years, North Korea has been isolated from the international community. It was said to be the six-party talks, but it was no different from a five-to-one talk. The world order has been led by the United States. North Korea has been hostile to the United States but at the same time believed that the only way for it to survive was through negotiation with the United States. Therefore, methods of putting pressure on North Korea sometimes led North Korea to a forum for dialogue, and conversely, methods of appeasing North Korea sometimes led to a forum for dialogue. The U.S. alternated between carrots and sticks. The two conflicting policies were premised on the fact that North Korea was in dire straits. But, the situation has changed now. As the world becomes more divided, North Korea is not isolated, but instead gains allies in Russia and China. A favorable situation has been created for North Korea in that it has escaped the crisis of the regime’s existence. From North Korea’s perspective, there is no longer a pressing need to engage in dialogue with the U.S. That is why I expect that it will become very difficult for the United States to deal with North Korea in the future. The carrots and sticks used so far will not budge North Korea one bit. Now, I think America needs to look at the bigger picture and approach things in a different way.

Is it okay to continue to ignore the suffering of North Korean people?

In that regard, my biggest concerns are twofold. First, it’s the suffering of North Korean residents. In the current situation, North Korean residents are experiencing extreme hardship. They are experiencing difficulties in survival, including  lack of food and medicine. Political oppression and control are becoming more severe. This suffering has persisted for the past 30 years and, in a broader sense, for 100 years since the era of Japanese colonization. Will we continue to ignore their suffering? This perspective must be clear. For whatever reason, can we just  ignore the suffering of around 25 million North Korean residents?

Second, it’s the issue of peace on the Korean Peninsula and East Asia. North Korea has already developed nuclear weapons and is on the verge of proliferating them. Currently, nuclear weapon technology is spreading rapidly, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Are you going to just ignore this situation? Currently, the United States is unable to come up with any countermeasures. Deploying strategic assets to South Korea through strengthening the ROK-US military alliance is merely a defensive response. It will do nothing to prevent North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear weapons. Rather, it is accelerating the proliferation of nuclear weapons. So I believe that measures should be taken quickly to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program .

So what measures can be taken to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program? Recently, there have been signs of military cooperation between North Korea and Russia. If this situation is unattended, Russian military technology will easily be transferred to North Korea, both formally and informally. Now, North Korea will soon overcome the technical limitations it experienced in the process of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. And there is a possibility that nuclear-powered submarine technology, the technology North Korea needs most, will also be transferred. If such technology were transferred from Russia to North Korea, it would create a very dangerous situation. This will pose a major threat to the security of not only the Korean Peninsula but also East Asia.

A realistic way to prevent North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear weapons

If the United States neglects this situation, military cooperation between North Korea and Russia and economic cooperation between North Korea and China will further strengthen in the future. Even if China does not officially impose economic sanctions on North Korea or, for example, crack down on smuggling, economic cooperation between North Korea and China will increase. In particular, if the conflict between the United States and China intensifies, Russia and China will move toward paying less attention to the United States. North Korea’s actions have been a troubling issue for Russia and China. This is because protecting North Korea was met with criticism from the international community. However, it can now be seen that North Korea’s actions have become advantageous to Russia and China. From Russia’s perspective, attention focused on Ukraine can be diverted to North Korea. From China’s perspective, attention focused on Taiwan can be diverted to North Korea.

Considering all these circumstances, the United States’ policy toward North Korea must change now. Instead of focusing only on the abolition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, which has become difficult in the current situation, there should be a shift towards achieving a nuclear freeze. Until now, the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program and the normalization of North Korea-US relations have been set as the final stage of nuclear negotiations, but now I think it is necessary to set the normalization of North Korea-US relations as the entrance and take measures to bring about a nuclear freeze in North Korea. Recognizing that freezing North Korea’s nuclear program is the most urgent task is crucial.

I hope that the United States takes a more proactive approach to the North Korea issue from a humanitarian perspective, which calls for resolving the suffering of the North Korean people, and from a peace perspective, which calls for alleviating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and bringing peace to East Asia. I would like to earnestly ask the United States to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people even a little.”

“Your idea is very good.”

A U.S. State Department official, who had previously served as a special envoy for the six-party talks on the North Korean Nuclear issue, expressed that he expected the North Korean nuclear problem to worsen and analyzed the reasons why it was bound to fail. Upon hearing this, Sunim once again emphasized the perspective of ‘problem solving’.

“I’m not an academic, so my perspective is a little different from yours. Scholars analyze the results. Because the issue has not been resolved so far, scholars have been analyzing the reasons for the lack of resolution. However, I have a perspective focused on resolving this issue. Once this problem is resolved, scholars will also want to analyze the reasons for its resolution. I believe we need a perspective to solve this issue. The reason we analyze past mistakes is to find ways to resolve them.

We have to solve this issue for two main reasons. First, to alleviate the suffering of as many as 25 million North Korean residents. Second, to prevent any war from erupting in East Asia surrounding the Korean Peninsula. To achieve this, we must consider not only our own position but also that of the other party involved. What North Korea is demanding is for the United States to abandon its hostile policy towards North Korea. In other words, they want to normalize  relations with the United States. Normalizing North Korea-US relations is not difficult. It doesn’t cost any money. That’s why I believe that the United States must take the first step towards normalizing relations between North Korea and the United States to bring about the freeze of North Korea’s nuclear program.”

“Thank you. That was a very deep opinion.”

Sunim once again asked officials to pay attention to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Today’s Dharma Talk venue is the Korean Community Center located in Annandale, northern Virginia.

By 7pm sharp, the prepared seats were completely filled, with no empty spots to be found.

Many people signed up to ask questions, but only 13 were able to ask questions and talk for two hours. One of them was a professor who came to the United States and was doing research. He said that he was always anxious because he felt like his skills were lacking, and asked for advice on what kind of mindset he should have.

I’m always anxious because I feel like my abilities are lacking.

“I’m the type of person who works hard at everything. I’m diligent in my studies and my job. Currently, I am working as a professor in South Korea, and I came to the United States for a sabbatical year. I’m fortunate to come to a good school, and as I met many accomplished scholars around me, I often felt like I was lacking. I’m fine when I achieve good results and have accomplishments, but I feel disheartened when my performance falls short of my expectations. In particular, I feel intimidated when I see great people doing research at good universities. Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I can feel my concentration and memory decreasing. I’m always anxious because I feel like my abilities are lacking. What kind of mindset should I have?”

“It would have been better if you had gone to places like Vietnam or Sri Lanka for your  sabbatical year instead of coming to the United States. It seems that you chose the wrong place to spend your sabbatical year. A sabbatical is a time to take a little rest. However, because you came to the United States for your sabbatical, you probably experienced more stress than working in South Korea.”

“On one hand, I think it’s good because there’s a lot to learn. But on the other hand, I feel inadequate because I think I’m not doing better.”

“That’s why I’m talking about it. If you think you have something to learn, you are in the right place in the United States. However, if you keep thinking that your skills are inadequate, you are in the wrong place. Your stress will only increase. The cure for this problem is not to work hard, but to go and live in a place where there are people who are slightly less capable than you.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you gather only the top-ranked students from schools nationwide and form a class, will there  be a student who ranks last in that class or not?”

“Yes, there will be one.”

“If you gather only the last-ranked students from schools nationwide and form a class, will there be a student who ranks first in that class or not?”

“Yes, there will be one.”

“Just like that, is the way we evaluate someone as “capable” or “not capable” today an absolute evaluation or a relative one?”

“It is a relative evaluation.”

“So, what can we do to build confidence in a child who ranks last in a school in Seoul? Should we have the child study harder to solve the problem? Should we transfer the child to a school in a rural area?”

“Shouldn’t the decision be made based on the child’s abilities and tendencies?”

“When you gather children who have always ranked first in their schools nationwide and place them in a class, the child who ends up ranking last can develop a profound sense of inferiority. Why does this happen? It’s not because he is currently ranking last, but because he has always been the top achiever until now. No matter how hard he tries, when surrounded by students who excel academically, his grades may improve slightly but eventually plateau. Does that mean this child is inferior? No, it doesn’t. But what happens if this child is transferred to a class filled with only the last ranked children in the country? He can win first place while playing. The latter is much better for healing the sense of inferiority of the mind.

However, most parents want to move their children to better schools. In doing so, while parents may be satisfied, their children can develop a persistent sense of inferiority. The child constantly experiences stress, and no matter how hard he tries, his academic performance does not improve. Wise parents who understand this psychology should quietly transfer their child to a local school when the child starts to have a slight sense of inferiority. This way, the child can achieve first place without much effort, which boosts their self-confidence. Anyone who tells their child to study hard is a foolish parent.

That’s why I initially said that it would have been much better if you had gone to Southeast Asia for a sabbatical year. You lack nothing. However, when you enter a group where there are many people who are better than you, you can’t help but feel inadequate. This is not your fault. It’s not something that can be solved just by making an effort.

Let’s say I’m seventy years old this year, and while watching TV, I saw someone running 100 meters in 10 seconds at the Olympic Games and decided, “I should give it a try.” Will one year of practice be enough? Will three years of practice be enough? Just because I can’t run 100 meters in 10 seconds, does that make me an inferior person?”


“Right now, I can run 100 meters in exactly 25 seconds. So, what if I set a goal to practice and aim to run it in 23 seconds after three months of effort? This kind of goal is achievable.

All feelings of inferiority are born from greed. No child in this world is inherently inferior. However, if you set the bar too high, even a capable child can become discouraged. Because they feel unable to achieve those objectives, no matter how hard they try.

If there’s anything to learn in the United States, you simply learn it. You came to a prestigious university in the United States, known for gathering intelligent people from all over the world. However, if all those people are inferior to you, you’ll have nothing to learn. Wouldn’t there be more to learn if there were more people smarter than you?

‘When I go to the U. S., I  feel inferior, and when I go to Southeast Asia, I have nothing to learn.’

If you hold this perspective, you can’t help but suffer.

‘When I go to the U.S., it’s nice to have something to learn, and when I go to Southeast Asia, it’s nice because I can teach them.’

With this perspective, you can lead a consistently happy life. Life should be appreciated in all its forms. If there is something to do, it is good to have something to do, and if there is nothing to do, it is good to be free. However, some people loudly complain when they have too much to do and say they’re overwhelmed, and when they have nothing to do, they say they’re bored to death. This is the kind of life many of you are living.

Effort is not always a good thing. When a child reads comic books or plays games, we don’t say, ‘He’s working hard.’ Instead, we might say, ‘He’s crazy about games’ or ‘He’s crazy about comic books.’ When someone genuinely enjoys something and focuses on it, we describe it as being ‘crazy.’ However, when it comes to studying or doing something they don’t like for the sake of the future, we say, ‘They’re working hard.’ Approaching things in this way can lead to stress. When it comes to why South Koreans have a low happiness index and experience a lot of stress, it’s because they work hard in this manner, starting from a young age.

The life of a person who works hard can be unhappy. Because it’s very stressful. I don’t work hard. I approach everything as a form of play. That’s why I can do one thing for a long time, and sometimes without even sleeping. Normally, playing can be enjoyable even if you stay up all night. So even if you can’t study all night, you can play all night.

When you approach things with a playful mindset, you don’t need to use the word ‘hard work.’ By adopting a playful mindset, you can understand other people by thinking, ‘This person does it this way.’ or ‘That person is talented.’  However, seeing others’ talents and trying to imitate them by thinking, ‘I should sing as well as that person’ or ‘I should excel in sports like that person’ is driven by greed. Giving in to greed can lead to feelings of inferiority, physical exhaustion, and mental stress. Sabbaticals are meant to provide time to rest and have fun. The United States has a very beautiful natural environment. Visit Yosemite National Park, visit the Grand Canyon, visit Yellowstone, and visit  Alaska. If you don’t have money, you can use public transportation to get around.

I think people who work hard while living in a place like the United States are fools. If you want to live hard, why come all the way to the United States when you could live in Korea? In a vast country like the United States, there’s no need to strive for high status or earn a lot of money. The best way is to work moderately, live moderately, and have leisure time. In Korea, even if you want to live with leisure, you can’t because you can’t compete with the expectations of those around you. However, when you come to the United States, nobody interferes in your life. Whether you wear jeans or go barefoot, have messy hair, nobody cares. Americans don’t even look at you like a cow looks at a chicken. How free and wonderful it is. If you’ve come to the United States, why not enjoy its advantages instead of struggling so hard to make a living?

If you worked hard in Korea, then take a break here. In the United States, I think it would be a good idea to let go of your hard-working mind and learn to be more relaxed. However, many Koreans who come to the United States continue to work diligently. As a result, they may achieve material success, but conversely, their mental happiness index is often quite low. Having a big house and a nice car may seem appealing, but the high levels of stress and pressure can reduce your overall quality of life.”

“Thank you.”

The audience gave a big round of applause to Sunim who delivered an enlightening lecture for two hours.

Tomorrow, as the final stop of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s overseas Dharma Talk Tour in 2023, Sunim is scheduled to deliver a lecture in Maryland with an English interpreter for the American audience.