A Meeting with Religious Leaders and Wednesday’s Dharma Meeting
Dec. 20, 2023
Hello! Today, a meeting of religious leaders for national reconciliation and peace is scheduled. It snowed heavily in Seoul all night. The whole world has turned white.
After morning practice and meditation, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim headed to the Peace Foundation at 7 am. When everyone, including pastors, a priest, a bishop, and a supreme leader, had arrived, the meeting began with breakfast. Before starting the meal, Reverend Kim Myung-hyuk led a prayer. Sunim skipped breakfast due to his enteritis.
After moving to a conference room, they earnestly began their conversation.
They started by watching a video showcasing the turnover ceremonies of elementary school classrooms and schools for children with special needs held during Sunim’s visit to Mindanao in the Philippines last week.
▲ Click to view the video
After watching the video, each of the faith leaders shared their thoughts and feelings.
“The video brings back memories of my childhood when foreign countries built schools, provided school supplies, and even offered snacks. We also received significant help from aid organizations abroad.”
“It seems that Sunim’s actions vividly illustrate the practice of love beyond religious boundaries. Although Aikwangwon in Geojedo is a Christian foundation, Sunim has consistently supported them. Moreover, even though the majority of people living in the Philippines are Catholics, Sunim extends his assistance to them as well.”
“Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is the one who endures the most hardships; perhaps because of this he is the happiest. I think Ven. Bulsim Domun Sunim must be truly happy to have a disciple like him.”
“I am also very proud to have monthly meetings with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, who is engaged in such admirable activities. In fact, he is doing the things that we should be doing on our behalf.”
Upon hearing their joyful comments, Sunim responded with a smile,
“There is someone even happier than I am. That person is Reverend Kim Myung-hyuk. He fears nothing and has transcended both happiness and unhappiness. As we begin this meeting, please grace us with a sermon as an opening remark.”
As Sunim requested, Reverend Kim offered an opening remark.
“I earnestly wish that we, too, can help the needy just as Ven. Pomnyun Sunim helps those in the Philippines.”
When Sunim said “Hallelujah,” the reverend replied with a smile.
“‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Amen’ have slightly different meanings. Amen translates to ‘I think so, too,’ while ‘Hallelujah’ conveys ‘Thank you for allowing me to serve you as your servant.’”
After warmly exchanging greetings, they began their conversation on the issue of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“In our previous meeting, we discussed the possibility of releasing peace messages due to our concerns about the growing threat of war on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the ongoing war and massacre in the Middle East. Meanwhile, international opinion on Israel has deteriorated after they killed hostages. When would be the most opportune time to release our messages of peace?”
Each of them voiced their opinions and a discussion unfolded. Bishop Park Kyeong-jo then shared the outcome of his conversations on the peace issue with other religious leaders over the past month.
“I had personal conversations with other religious leaders. Most of them expressed deep concerns about the situations on the Korean Peninsula and in the Middle East. Everyone agreed that we should release a statement urging the relaxation of tensions and the achievement of peace.”
However, given the upcoming general election scheduled for April 2024 in Korea, it was decided to scrutinize the matter of releasing peace messages more carefully.
Following that, Sunim expressed his concerns about the intensifying conflicts between Korea’s governing party and the opposition party.
“As I observe the current political situation in Korea, it becomes clear to me why the Tang, Song, and Han dynasties of China met their demise. People residing in a nation undergoing decline often fail to comprehend the reasons behind it. It is only with the passage of time that they come to realize their country has indeed faced its downfall. Diplomatic and economic crises loom large and I don’t believe they can be easily resolved.”
“It appears that there is little we can do; we can’t stop the tide of the world.”
“If we were to let the world meet its demise according to the global political tides, why would we have monthly meetings and make all kinds of efforts? We must do our best to prevent it. (Sunim laughing)
“In the past, when I heard the stories of hermits living in the mountains despite their countries facing major difficulties, I was critical of them. However, as I reflect on this now, I believe they did so because there was nothing else they could do.”
The tensions on the Korean Peninsula are intensifying ever more, the massacre in the Middle East continues, and the war between Russia and Ukraine has become protracted. Voicing their deep concerns about the current situation, they engaged in conversations for two hours, striving to create a ray of hope.
After the meeting, Sunim escorted the faith leaders to the first floor entrance and then headed to Seoul Jungto Center to participate in Wednesday’s Dharma meeting.
At 10 am, the Dharma meeting was live-streamed for the members of Jungto Society who were online in their respective video conference rooms. Today’s Dharma meeting was intended to wrap up the year.
First, the president of Jungto Society delivered an opening remark for the Dharma meeting and a member of the Geoje Chapter made a presentation exemplifying their initiatives aimed at benefiting local communities over the year.
“As part of our local environmental initiatives to combat the climate crisis, Gyeongnam Division decided to abstain from using plastic bags and purchasing plastic materials for a month. When we visit markets to buy groceries, we often encounter items neatly packaged in plastic. To implement our initiatives, I brought a container to buy fish and asked the shopkeeper to put the fish in it. Initially seeming annoyed, she eventually complied as I gathered courage and held out the container. This experience bolstered my courage.
“Our Chapter and Division decided to conduct a campaign at Goseong Market. We prepared a survey board to elicit citizen participation, practiced a dance to publicize our activities, and live-streamed the event. We also interviewed several shopkeepers for the live-stream.
“If we continue and expand our campaign, a system of offering discounts or coupons to container users might be established someday. Eventually, it will become natural for people to carry containers when they go grocery shopping. Currently, all groups of Geyongnam Division have adopted the campaign, ‘Gather courage to hold out a container.’”
Afterward, we dedicated some time to sharing our thoughts and feelings in the chat window about concluding the year. Many people expressed gratitude.
Then, with three prostrations, we requested a year-end Dharma talk from Sunim.
Sunim began his Dharma talk by commenting on the presentation of Goeje Division’s environmental activities.
“Today’s Dharma meeting marks the year-end session to conclude 2023. At the beginning of 2023, a year seemed quite long. However, now that most of it has passed, it feels like it went by in a flash. Life seems long, yet time passes swiftly, as if 10, 20, or 30 years ago were only yesterday. On our deathbed, we might feel that our long journey—from childhood, through youth, to our adult years—was but an instant. ‘Life is but a moment’ is something we can say after we’ve lived it.
“As I listened to the presentation illustrating these local initiatives, two thoughts crossed my mind. Firstly, I felt a sense of regret about my actions. Being involved in farming and packaging the harvested produce, I believed that avoiding the use of plastics was nearly impossible. It’s because plastic is lightweight and moisture-proof. Some people have criticized me for using agricultural plastics, and my typical response has been, ‘They criticize me because they’ve never engaged in farming.’ I had previously considered biodegradable plastics as the only solution to this issue. However, today’s presentation has led me to reflect on my actions. While I can’t promise to completely abstain from using plastics, I will make efforts to minimize their use.
“Secondly, I considered it a model case of our initiatives benefiting local communities. One of the 10 objectives of the 1,000-Day Practice of Jungto Society is ‘We engage in initiatives that benefit local communities to help create a happier world.’ We haven’t fully committed to this objective—not because we don’t have ideas, but because we are already fully occupied with other activities. However, the concept behind the campaign, ‘Gather courage to hold out a container’ is excellent and serves as a model case where committed volunteers have worked together. I believe it is a wonderful example that has boosted our confidence in discovering initiatives that benefit local communities.”
Next, a video showcasing Sunim’s visit to Mindanao in the Philippines was played, and Sunim explained the activities JTS has undertaken there. Over the past 20 years, JTS has built numerous schools in indigenous areas and conflict zones occupied by Muslims. While watching the video, many viewers wiped away tears and were visibly moved.
Another video was shown that highlighted the various activities carried out by members at practice sites across the nation.
“I want to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who volunteered at each practice site throughout the past week.”
After that, Sunim shared his thoughts on how we should wrap up the year.
“From a simple perspective, the fact that this year is coming to a close signifies the passage of 2023. In the context of Jungto Society’s history, we’ve taken the first step on our journey through the Second 10,000-Day Practice. From a broader perspective, this year marks the completion of 30 years since its foundation and the commencement of the next 30 years. Although we have concluded our initial 30 years, there were lingering projects and we worked hard to complete this year. As we simultaneously juggled these two distinct activities, our preparations for the next 30 years have been somewhat insufficient, and a significant amount of time has been dedicated to organizing our legacy from the previous 30 years.
The two criteria for reflecting on the year
“Therefore, you might feel a sense of regret, observing limited tangible results as you reflect on the past year. Nevertheless, after the harvest, it’s important to wrap things up neatly and prepare in advance for next year’s planting. Although winter is commonly perceived as a leisure season for farmers, it is, in fact, a crucial period for concluding the current year’s farming operations and planning for the next season. In this regard, this year has been very important for us.
“The most important teachings of Buddhism can be summarized into two concepts: ‘form is emptiness’ and ‘emptiness is form.’ Often, we have a short-sighted perspective on life. From a short-term viewpoint, our daily lives and personal relationships are rife with hardship and conflicts. However, looking back on matters that appear to be life-and-death issues now, in 10 years they will likely be inconsequential. Whether or not your endeavors turn out well, whether or not you have good relationships, and whether you decide to live with or divorce your spouse, it won’t matter. In hindsight, everything is of no consequence. From a short-term perspective, it may seem that disasters occur every day, and you go through hardships every second of every day, but in retrospect, they bear no lasting impact. From the Earth’s perspective, the demise of a country is inconsequential. From a country’s viewpoint, the success or failure of a family holds no lasting import. From a broader perspective, the birth and death of a single person is immaterial. In nature, countless lives begin and end, don’t they?
“We often perceive the world through a very narrow viewpoint, leading to feelings of anger, irritation, hate, resentment, sadness, anxiety, and worry. So I suggest looking at things with a far-sighted view, which involves adopting a broader and longer-term perspective. When we embrace this perspective, everything becomes inconsequential—this is the essence of ‘form is emptiness.’ When you understand that all phenomena are empty, suffering doesn’t arise. There will be no cause for anger, irritation, hate, sadness, anxiety, or worry, allowing us to be free from suffering. This state, devoid of suffering, is known as nirvana.
“However, there is another aspect to life: ‘emptiness is form.’ The universe, although infinite, is composed of tiny particles, and infinite time is made up of short moments. Humans live from moment to moment. These moments accumulate to form extended periods. Consequently, when you are not fully awake to the moment, suffering arises and problems and errors occur. Therefore, ‘emptiness is form.’ From a broader and longer-term perspective, it won’t matter whether you choose to do this or that or if you choose to act or don’t act at all. However, in this specific time and space, the right course of action is determined by causes and conditions.
“From a broader perspective, whether a lot of people live in Mindanao, whether Christians or Muslims live there, whether they perish in a war or live in peace, it doesn’t matter. We need not be angered or distressed by it. When you grasp the principle of ‘form is emptiness,’ you can maintain the state of nirvana without wavering. In our daily lives, however, we should refrain from recklessly cutting down even a single tree. We should provide learning opportunities for children, shoes to those without them, food to the hungry, and medical treatment to the sick. We should strive to halt wars if they occur, and help people to live peacefully without discrimination. Everything is empty, yet according to causes and conditions, everything requires specificity. While comprehending the emptiness of all phenomena is known as the Wisdom Eye, understanding that emptiness manifests in specific forms is referred to as the Dharma Eye or the Buddha Eye.
“Bodhisattvas address the illnesses of sentient beings according to their capabilities and conditions. This means that bodhisattvas fulfill sentient beings’ needs according to their conditions rather than satisfying all their wishes. This implies the necessity of careful examination and execution when performing a task. For instance, when making kimchi, we must meticulously decide on factors such as the salinity of water used to soak cabbages, the duration of soaking, the types and amounts of ingredients, and so forth. Each person can have a different view on these matters. While the overarching principle of ‘form is emptiness’ holds universality, the principle of ‘emptiness is form’ entails specificity.
“When performing a task, technical expertise and profound knowledge are not always needed. However, the ability to comprehend the situation to gain intuitive insights is crucial. Therefore, when undertaking a task it’s essential to first assess the situation and determine the sequence of actions. The correct sequence is paramount in task execution. For instance, when planting seeds, fertilizer must first be applied, followed by plowing the land, and then planting the seeds. Weeding in a timely manner can significantly reduce your workload. In a similar vein, everything has a correct sequence. There is a Korean saying that goes: ‘If you are not smart, your hands suffer.’ This means that with proper timing your workload is reduced, but if you miss the right timing your workload increases.
“The fundamental perspective required for practice isn’t much different from this. However, some individuals, while claiming to be engaged in practice, fail to grasp the principle that all phenomena are empty. They struggle within the perpetual cycle of worldly existence. Conversely, there are also many people around us who, lacking an understanding of the principle that emptiness is form, utter hollow words. Practitioners are not meant to be numb without any feelings or thoughts. Regardless of the task at hand, we shouldn’t become overly attached or indifferent. Setting aside concerns about our performance, it’s essential to give our best effort in any situation.
“In hindsight, everything ultimately becomes inconsequential. Whether you approach something in this way or that way, once it has passed it holds no great import. However, we must avoid becoming trapped in the notion that practice itself is inconsequential. We need to continue to examine our specific reality. Yet if we are too attached to the present reality and succumb to worry, we will lose sight of the principle that all phenomena are empty. Conversely, if we are entangled in the notion that we need not care and that it doesn’t matter which way we go, we will lose touch with reality.
“Most of us experience numerous afflictions because we are attached to specificity. Conversely, those immersed in cultivating the Way may tend to utter hollow words, leaning excessively toward the principle of emptiness. Practitioners should strive for both steadfastness and specificity, upholding both the principles of ‘form is emptiness’ and ‘emptiness is form’ without leaning too far toward either. I mention this to encourage self-reflection, urging you to assess whether you are leaning too much to one side before the year’s end. I hope that you make the most of the remaining time in this year.”
As we engraved Sunim’s Dharma talk in our hearts, the year-end Dharma meeting concluded with the recitation of the Four Great Vows. Subsequently, members of Jungto Society engaged in various programs to bid farewell to the current year in the video conference rooms of their respective chapters.
A cold spell has gripped the nation, bringing daytime temperatures below minus 10ºC. In the afternoon, Sunim took care of various tasks indoors.
At 4 pm, Sunim headed to the Peace Foundation and had a two-hour meeting with the members of the Planning Committee. After the meeting, Sunim returned to Seoul Jungto Center, proofread a manuscript, and attended to other tasks before concluding the day’s schedule.
Tomorrow, Sunim will discuss issues of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the conflict in the Middle East, and the Ukraine-Russia war with experts on North Korean issues in the morning, and spend the afternoon attending to other tasks indoors.