A Day in the Life of Sunim, Washington D.C., Day 3 (May 8, 2024)

May 8, 2024: Washington D.C., Day 3, Meetings in NED, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brookings Institution

Hello. Today is the third day of Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s meetings in Washington D.C. with U.S. government officials, members of Congress, and think tank representatives for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Sunim started his day at 5 AM with the 1000-Day Practice and meditation at the Washington Jungto Center.

After breakfast, the Jungto practitioners residing at the Washington Jungto Center presented Sunim with flowers in celebration of Teacher’s Day (May 15th in Korea) although today is actually Parents’ Day (May 8th in Korea). However, since he would be in Korea on Teacher’s Day, they gave him flowers in advance.

“We promised to spread the Dharma worldwide during the second 10,000- Day Practice, you are still doing a lot of the work. From now on, we will take over the responsibility of spreading the Dharma globally.”

Sunim will also be meeting many people today. We left for Washington D.C. at 8 AM.

At 9 AM, we arrived at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) office. Lynn Lee, the Deputy Director, warmly welcomed Sunim.

Lynn Lee had helped edit the English translation of “North Korea Today” for a year in 2008 when it was regularly published by Good Friends. NED staff members in charge of North Korea were also present.

After exchanging greetings, Sunim initiated the conversation with a smile.

Sunim then explained in detail how North Korea’s national economic structure operates. He pointed out that U.S. economic sanctions often fail due to a lack of understanding of this structure.

Sunim continued by explaining various perspectives and examples on a practical approach to improving North Korea’s human rights situation.

After two hours of conversation, Dr. Lynn Lee expressed her gratitude to Sunim.

“Yes, thank you. Next time you’re in the U.S., I’d like to arrange a session for the U.S. Congress members and think tank representatives to hear your lecture.”

They concluded the meeting, agreeing to arrange discussions during Sunim’s next visit to Washington D.C. to foster a correct understanding of North Korea. After taking a group photo, we left the NED at 11 AM.

We immediately headed to the U.S. Capitol for the next meeting with Brad Sherman, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who proposed the “Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act.” They went to his office in the Rayburn House Office Building next to the Capitol.

Last year, due to the federal government shutdown, Sunim had been unable to meet Congressman Sherman and had to convey his message to Sherman’s East Asia aide. Fortunately, today, Sunim could speak directly with Congressman Sherman.

“It’s okay.”

Sunim emphasized the importance of the U.S. quickly stopping North Korea’s nuclear proliferation for peace on the Korean peninsula and in East Asia.

“North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction are proliferating as its military cooperation with Russia strengthens. The Biden administration is virtually neglecting this situation, so the U.S. needs to intervene quickly to halt this. I hope you can add this to your efforts.”

Congressman Sherman directly asked what the U.S. needs to do now.

“If you could tell us just one thing America should do right now, what would it be?”

“I have now reached the same conclusion as you because the goal of denuclearizing North Korea has failed over the past 20 years. I also thought about maintaining the nuclear weapons that have already been developed but reducing their quantity. But does Kim Jong-un really want to normalize North Korea-U.S. relations?”

“I’m very happy because your proposal is the same one I’ve been advocating for the past 20 years.”

“Please advocate for this more strongly in Congress so that it can be swiftly implemented. The longer it takes, the more weapons of mass destruction will proliferate.”

Although short, the key message was fully delivered. Due to his next appointment, Congressman Sherman couldn’t continue the conversation but asked his aide to receive more detailed explanations from Sunim. After agreeing to keep communicating for peace on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia, we left the office.

At 1 PM, Sunim’s meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee aides took place at the Dirksen Senate Office Building next to the Capitol.

It had been almost 10 years since Sunim last visited the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He used to visit frequently to appeal for aid for North Korean refugees and humanitarian assistance during the mass starvation in North Korea. He came to meet the Committee again today due to the recent increased risk of war on the Korean peninsula.

For 30 minutes, Sunim emphasized the necessity of improving North Korea-U.S. relations and freezing North Korea’s nuclear program.

The aides then asked Sunim questions about various concerns. One aide expressed concern about how to control nuclear development in other countries.

How Should We Respond to Other Countries Also Wanting to Become Nuclear States?

“If North Korea’s nuclear weapons are tolerated, other countries will also want to become nuclear weapons states. What do you think about this?”

More questions followed. The aides asked Sunim how the recent constitutional amendment in North Korea, which specified South Korea as a primary enemy, affected South Korea’s policy, how he assesses the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s North Korea policy, and the extent of China’s influence on North Korea. Sunim answered these questions, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aides looked very encouraged by Sunim’s suggestions.

After an hour of conversation, Sunim made a final request.

“We will always think about the suffering that North Korea’s 25 million residents are experiencing.”

We agreed to continue exchanging frequent communication and concluded the meeting.

After the meetings with the NED, Congressman Sherman’s office, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we felt a growing sense of hope.

At 2 PM., we left the Senate Office Building and had a boxed lunch. Sitting on a bench in front of the Botanical Garden, we quickly finished lunch in 10 minutes and immediately moved to the next meeting location.

At 3 PM., Sunim had a meeting with Dr. Andrew Yeo at the Brookings Institution, a highly influential social science research institute in the U.S.

Dr. Andrew Yeo has conducted extensive research focused on U.S. foreign policy towards Korea and its relationship with North Korea. Recently, he asked Sunim for advice on various security issues, including North Korea’s hardline stance against South Korea and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.

After a 90-minute conversation, Sunim made some concluding remarks.

“Your suggestion that a new approach is needed has inspired us. Thank you.”

After the conversation, Sunim gifted his English-translated book to the Brookings Institution staff.

After taking a commemorative photo, we left the institution, promising to meet again.

We moved to the next meeting location for the last meeting of the day.

At 5 PM, Sunim met Professor Hyun-sook Kim at a café in Washington D.C. She had heard that Sunim recently began a sustainable development model project in Bhutan and wanted to offer some good ideas based on her experience working in Bhutan. They had a conversation when Sunim visited the U.S. last September, and today was their second meeting.

Professor Kim greeted Sunim with a smile.

“Thank you so much for making time to meet with me despite your tight schedule. I’ve read about your visits to Bhutan for sustainable development in ‘A Day with Sunim.’ I read your updates every day.” (laughter)

Sunim explained the ongoing sustainable development project in Bhutan in detail. After listening to Sunim’s explanation, Professor Kim asked questions and offered her ideas.

The Importance of Providing Consciousness Education to Bhutanese Residents

“Bhutanese people need sustainable development that you’re working on, but they also need everyday happiness. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) index is a national discourse, but Bhutan has only had 14 years of democracy, and most Bhutanese people I’ve met don’t know what GNH is. Thus, awareness education for Bhutanese people is crucial. To prevent the climate crisis, Bhutanese people must understand the global importance of the Himalayan mountains from an environmental perspective to avoid being swept away by capitalism. I’m curious about your thoughts on this.”

Sunim spoke about Bhutan’s current situation, which he had observed during his five field visits.

“I hope the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) pays close attention to what you’re doing in Bhutan because it’s one of the most representative cases of Buddhist social engagement.”

Professor Kim expressed how deeply she was impressed by Sunim, who embodies Buddhist teachings through social practice, and wished more people could learn about his activities.

They discussed the sustainable development project in Bhutan for 90 minutes. Professor Kim agreed to provide feedback on the project’s progress whenever Sunim shared updates, and they concluded the meeting.

We headed back to the Washington Jungto Center. As we got into the car, Sunim said,

A person who had accompanied Sunim all day spoke with a tired expression.

“After attending meetings from early morning to evening, I don’t have the energy to even say one word, but I’m amazed that you gave a passionate speech until the last meeting. You must really love doing this.” (laughter)

After a few words of conversation, Sunim soon fell fast asleep.

After arriving at the Washington Jungto Center at 8 PM, we had dinner. Kim Myeong-ho and Yoo Jeong-hee, who provided lodging, meals, and transportation in New York, brought a cake to celebrate Teacher’s Day in advance. We all sang the “Grace of the Teacher” song together and expressed our gratitude to Sunim.

We shared tomorrow’s schedule over dinner and wrapped up the day.

Tomorrow, we will visit Congressman Andy Kim’s office in the morning, then meet John Brunsch, the Director of the Washington Office of the World Food Programme (WFP), in the afternoon, and finally stop by a hospital to visit Dr. John Merrill, a former State Department official, who is currently in the hospital.