Sept. 26, 2023

Second day of Washington, D.C., Visit,
Meetings with Experts on North Korean Issues,
and Conversation with Reverend Rich Tafel

Sept. 29, 2023, 18,029 views, 55 comments

Hello! Today is Sunim’s second day in Washington, D.C., where he is meeting people to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. Sunim began his day at 4:45 am with his daily 1,000-Day Practice and meditation at the U.S. Jungto Center. 

After the morning prayer and breakfast, Sunim went for a walk in the nearby Fairland Regional Park. There are several small and large parks near the U.S. Jungto Center. It’s been a while since Sunim last had a leisurely stroll to unwind and stretch his body. 

It was drizzling and Sunim walked for one-and-a-half hours with an umbrella, chatting along the way. 

Meeting with Jon Brause, Managing Director of the World Food Program (WFP)

After the walk, Sunim departed for Washington, D.C., at 9:20 am to meet with government and non-government experts on Korean Peninsula issues. 

Sunim arrived at the Washington Liaison Office of the UN World Food Program (WFO) and met with Managing Director Jon Brause. 

Mr. Brause has been involved in providing humanitarian aid for North Korea for a long time, starting as a special assistant at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He has maintained a long-lasting friendship with Sunim. When they met, they greeted each other warmly. 

“I’m going to retire soon.”

After exchanging greetings, they discussed peace on the Korean Peninsula and humanitarian aid for North Korea. Sunim suggested that humanitarian aid could be considered once the tensions on the peninsula subside, emphasizing the necessity of a significant shift in U.S. policy toward North Korea. However, Mr. Brause responded negatively, stating that the U.S. was unlikely to take action soon due to an upcoming presidential election. Sunim sought Mr. Brause’s advice on providing medical supplies, as it might be more feasible than food aid. 

“They would take it, but it doesn’t have any impact on the people’s health.”

“Yes, I agree. I just think we can do both. Because again, you don’t just want to provide enough for the hospitals and cities, you want to be able to improve healthcare. I always think if you go in big and fair, then they say no, it’s their decision. No matter how much it costs, far achieving than a war.”

“To me, they are doing gamble for both North Korea and Russia, because if one doesn’t deliver, it’s going to be very interesting.”

“I will also try harder in my position. I’m always thinking about North Korea.”

It was touching to hear that North Korea is always on his mind despite the dire situation. Sunim then asked him which country is currently facing the most difficult circumstances. 

“Everybody. Yemen, Afghanistan … In Afghanistan, 15 million people are suffering. And the food-aid money is the lowest in 10 years. So, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia … and Sudan, of course, but you can’t get in there.”

Sunim shared about the aid work that JTS has carried out in areas devastated by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, as well as by floods in Pakistan. He also discussed the challenges JTS faces while working with the repair center for gas stoves supplied to Rohingya refugees and the cyclone victims in Myanmar. Mr. Brause expressed willingness to look into the matter and see if there is anything he can do. Sunim suggested that they make further efforts together to combat hunger, disease, and illiteracy worldwide before completing the conversation. 

After presenting Mr. Brause with a gift of his book translated into English, Sunim left the Washington Liaison Office of the WFP, promising to meet again. The office is located right next to the White House, and Sunim took a photo in front of the White House. 

It would be wonderful if Sunim’s earnest appeals could be directly delivered to the White House, but that is difficult. Therefore, Sunim has to meet with many people and persuade them to convey his messages to the White House. However, Sunim had a smiling face and walked with energetic footsteps. 

Sunim walked past the White House and arrived at the Korean American Grassroots Conference (KAGC). Mr. Kim Dongsuk, the president of the KAGC, greeted him warmly. 

In consideration of Sunim’s busy meeting schedule, Mr. Kim prepared lunch for him. As they conversed over lunch, Mr. Kim shared information about the KAGC’s past and current initiatives and sought Sunim’s interest and support. 

“This year marks the 30th year since I started the Korean American grassroots movement. I began this in 1992 after the Los Angeles riots.”

“I was greatly motivated by the influence that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has on the U.S. legislature and government for pro-Jewish and Israeli policies. We’ve organized Korean communities in areas with a Korean-American presence and assist them in communicating with their representatives. We are setting agendas and working toward their enactment.”

It was an opportunity to learn about the Korean American grassroots movement in detail. 

Before leaving the office, Sunim promised to have more frequent exchanges and took a photo with Mr. Kim. 

Meeting with Dr. John Merrill

Sunim headed to Fairfax, located to the west of Washington, D.C., by car. On his arrival, Dr. John Merrill warmly greeted Sunim. Dr. Merrill has limited mobility and shook hands with Sunim from his chair. 

Dr. Merrill served as the chief of the Northeast Asia Division in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and has written numerous articles as a researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies since his retirement. He has maintained a long-time friendship with Sunim, and they had a conversation about how to ease the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula from various perspectives. 

“There is nothing the US can do.”

“No, there is nothing we can do.”

“We have an old song in English. It’s called “It’s all over now”. It’s all over now. The game is over. You know, we all tried, but we all failed. There is nothing I can do. It’s South Korea’s tragic fate.”

Throughout the lengthy conversation, Dr. Merrill maintained his negative perspective. After carefully listening to his words, Sunim emphasized once more; 

“I’m not going to become successful. All I can do is write for the Korea Times.”

We were touched by Sunim, who continued to express hope with a smile to Dr. Merrill, even as he insisted that there was no solution in sight. Sunim wished Dr. Merrill good health before saying goodbye. 

Conversation with Reverend Richard Tafel

In the evening, a live-streamed dialogue with Reverend Rich Tafel was scheduled at Church of the Holy City, located near the White House. When Sunim arrived at the church at 5 pm, Rev. Tafel warmly greeted him. 

Annabel Park, today’s dialogue moderator, also warmly greeted Sunim. Rev. Tafel and Sunim got to know each other through Annabel Park. Rev. Tafel has been involved in activities not only related to the peace movement but also in leading policy changes to make society more peaceful. He has had a close relationship with Sunim since 2017 due to their shared values. 

After having a conversation with Rev. Tafel and Annabel, Sunim had kimbap prepared by volunteers for dinner and commenced the live-streamed dialogue at 7 pm. 

Annabel Park introduced Sunim and Rev. Tafel. 

“This is really exciting for me because these are two people I really admire and who have helped me personally to find some inner peace. The thing that I find interesting is the Venerable and Reverend Rich Tafel come from very different cultures and religious traditions and of course speak different languages. But I admire them for the same reasons because they try to counsel people to ease their suffering and to live happier, freer lives. And they feel a real responsibility to be public servants as well and really engage in public affairs, and they are strong believers in democracy and human rights. And so I’ve benefited so much from knowing them over many years now.”

As the audience applauded loudly, Sunim and Rev. Tafel took their seats and began the dialogue. Before addressing questions from the audience and online viewers, Annabel posed a question to both of them. 

“I’m going to start with questions. I would start by asking you just to get this out of the way, because I think some of the people here are probably interested in learning about what Buddhism is really about and what Swedenborgianism is about. So maybe if you could just very briefly describe your religious philosophy.”

Sunim explained his perspective on true Buddhism first. 

Rev. Tafel then explained his perspective on Christianity.

“So, what do we believe? It’s a little different than a lot of traditional Christianity. It has a lot of similarities with Buddhism. D. T. Suzuki wrote a book called Buddha of the North, because he found in those teachings similarities with Buddhism, in particular the engagement in the world. We believe you have to be engaged in the world, which is probably why both of us are very engaged in politics and business and change and so forth. Spiritual life is not divorced from engagement. Spiritual life means you’re engaged to make the world a better place. We each have a purpose and we’re asked to live that out. So that would be, in a nutshell, our teachings.”

From their answers, we could see that they have a lot in common. As the dialogue progressed, Annabel mentioned that she had a question she needed to ask. 

How should we live in this era of division?

“So the question that I’m dying to ask is this. I admit that I’m consumed by this question. So many people feel stressed right now because the world seems very divided. People often feel alone in the world and the future just seems uncertain. And it’s really hard to get your bearings and figure out how to create a path, how to survive this. So I was hoping that you would have some advice for us.”

Sunim replied,

Annabel also asked other questions: Does life have a purpose? And what type of love should we pursue? After her questions, audience members also asked questions. 

Should I remain silent in the increasingly confrontational atmosphere?

“Nowadays, if I am silencing myself, not sharing my opinion, because whenever I share my opinion about politically or socially, they think that you’re the enemy. It used to be, a long time ago, it was the acceptance. I accept who you are. You live your life, I live my life. But nowadays, if I don’t support you or advocate for you, you are my enemy, you are a bad person. So nowadays, I find myself, you have to refrain yourself from sharing your opinion. What can I do? Should I keep silencing myself, not sharing my opinion, and listen to other people, ‘ya, you might be right’, and just walk away? Thank you.”

The audience responded with applause to Sunim’s clear and insightful answers. There were also other questions.

  • How can I be more loving and caring toward others? On Mondays, I attend a gathering where we discuss various topics over coffee. I would like the rule of our gathering to be respectful conversation on any topic except politics and religion. How should I go about implementing this rule? 
  • What actions by the U.S. can enhance peace on the Korean Peninsula? What is your opinion on the concept ‘defense is also a form of war.’ Has it become more challenging to maintain awareness now compared to the past? What is the biggest obstacle to maintaining awareness?
  • Due to the pandemic, the world has changed positively in some aspects. It appeared that people reflected on their lives, valued experiences more than consumption, and became more spiritual in the face of the worldwide infectious disease. However, as soon as the pandemic was over, it appears that people have reverted to their previous behaviors. What is your perspective on this? 

The conversation continued for approximately two hours. The YouTube streaming ended as scheduled at 9 pm. Sunim took a photo with the participants and presented his book, which had been translated into English, to Rev. Tafel and Anabel. 

Rev. Tafel asked Sunim to give a blessing. Sunim gave a blessing while clasping the reverend’s hand.

Among the participants, there was a very tall man. Sunim took a photo with him, smiling. 

Promising to organize this type of gathering again, Sunim left the church. Sunim rode in a car and arrived at the US Jungto Center at 10 pm. 

Tomorrow, Sunim will give a Dharma talk for the participants of the live Dharma meeting in the morning, followed by a meeting with Korean media correspondents in Washington, D.C. In the afternoon, he will meet with Julie Turner, the Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues, at the State Department to discuss peace on the Korean Peninsula and human rights issues in North Korea.