May 11, 2024

A Day in the Life of Sunim, Washington D.C. (May 6, 2024)

May 6, 2024: North America East Coast Lecture Tour (8), Washington D.C

Hello. Starting today, Venerable Pomnyun Sunim will spend five days in Washington D.C., and will meet with many people to advocate for peace on the Korean peninsula.

He started the day with morning practice and meditation at 5 AM at the Washington Jungto Center.

After breakfast, he departed for Washington D.C. at 8:15 AM. At American University, Professor Park Jin-young, the president of the American Religious Studies Society, had requested a dialogue with the Sunim, which was to be recorded for the society members.

He arrived at American University at 9:30 AM. Professor Park briefly explained the topics for today’s dialogue before starting the recording.

Professor Park requested a keynote Dharma talk on “Violence, Non-Violence, and Social Justice.” Jason provided interpretation for English-speaking viewers.

“Is it possible to achieve social justice through non-violence?”

“Many American college students are protesting against the war in Israel these days. In a society rife with violence, I want to ask Sunim whether it is really possible to practice non-violence. What perspective should one have to implement non-violence?”

Venerable Pomnyun Sunim responded to Professor Park’s question:

Subsequently, Professor Park and Sunim discussed the topic further.

– Why does Buddhism place such high importance on the precept of not killing living beings?

– Isn’t non-violence a tool given to the powerless?

Next, Professor Park introduced questions from the students, and Sunim responded to them.

– How can we distinguish between pursuing hatred and pursuing justice?

– The police have been deployed in recent protests against the war in Palestine, but does this help resolve the situation?

– Many refugees are crossing borders, but it seems their right to survive clashes with the safety of the citizens. How should this issue be resolved?

While addressing various questions, the promised two hours passed quickly. After finishing the recording, Sunim gifted Professor Park an English translation of one of his books and took a commemorative photo together.

After leaving the lecture hall, Sunim headed to the student cafeteria at American University for lunch.

“Today’s discussion is very pertinent to the current situation in the U.S., where violence is rampant.”

During lunch, Sunim continued to converse with the professor. After a brief tour of the campus, they promised to meet again and said their goodbyes.

In the afternoon, Sunim met with Congresswoman Young Kim, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, to discuss policies beneficial for peace on the Korean peninsula.

After leaving the U.S. Congress, at 4 PM, Sunim met with Tom McDevitt, the president of The Washington Times, and Michael Jenkins, chairman of The Washington Times Foundation, at a hotel in downtown Washington D.C. Last September, he visited The Washington Times headquarters and met Chairman Jenkins. Sunim greeted them in English.

“So good to see you again. What a blessing for America! Thank you.”

“It’s okay.”

From 4 PM to 6 PM, they extensively discussed the role the U.S. should play for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Since both Mr. McDevitt and Mr. Jenkins have significant connections with Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, and former Secretary of State Pompeo, Sunim specifically requested that if Trump were elected, the U.S. policy towards North Korea should be modified.

“The North Korean authorities are only focusing on their military goals, especially nuclear technology, while neglecting the suffering of their people.”

“The bigger problem is that if North Korea continues to have nuclear weapons, South Korea will also try to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Then, Japan will also try to arm itself with nuclear weapons. This is something that even China does not want.”

“You’re right. That’s the most important thing right now.”

“I don’t think China wants North Korea to proliferate its nuclear weapons either. In fact, China is more concerned about this than we are. If we get China’s cooperation, wouldn’t we be able to suppress North Korea?”

“We have already lost many opportunities.”

“Yes, I will. But things are not that good right now.”

Sunim’s suggestions deeply resonated with both Tom McDevitt and Michael Jenkins. After urging them once again to take an interest in peace on the Korean peninsula, Sunim took a commemorative photo with them.

“No, of course not. In times of crisis, the most important thing is people-to-people diplomacy. We’ll pray for you.”

At 6 PM, we went to CHÙA GIÁC HOÀNG, a Vietnamese temple located in Washington D.C. Sunim was invited by the International Buddhist Committee of Washington DC (IBC), to hold an English-translated Dharma Q&A at 7:30 PM. Upon entering the temple, we could see that everything from the entrance to the main hall was carefully maintained.

Before the Dharma Q&A, Sunim had conversed with the abbot of the Vietnamese temple over tea for about an hour.

“It was established in 1976.”

They talked about the ongoing exchanges between Jungto Society and Vietnamese Buddhism, and how the abbot was spreading Buddhism in the U.S.

After tea, the Dharma Q&A with English interpretation started at 7:30 PM. Matt Lee, the Secretary-General of the IBC, introduced Sunim to an audience of about 40 English speakers.

Although a chair was prepared for him, Sunim chose to stand to maintain eye contact with the audience.

Before taking questions, Sunim shared with the international Buddhists on what kind of perspective they should interpret the stories of the Buddha’s birth in the sutras, ahead of the Buddha’s Birthday.

Interpretation of the Depiction of the Buddha’s Birth Based on Cultural Anthropology 

Following these introductory remarks, Sunim received questions from the audience. Five individuals raised their hands, many of them asking about the recent anti-war protests in the U.S. that are particularly prevalent on college campuses. One person expressed their observations of students overwhelmed with anger during these protests and sought Sunim’s guidance on the Buddha’s teachings regarding this issue.

How Should We Manage Our Anger During Anti-War Protests?

“I want to follow up with questions about protests. Literally a week ago, I was protesting on my campus in Austin, Texas. In that experience, I gained profound insights into the value of Buddhist practice while protesting. I tried to practice right speech and compassion for the plight of Palestinians, without any hatred or anger towards anybody or any institution. While protesting, I was pepper-sprayed, arrested, and spent two nights in jail. Throughout that experience, I witnessed the profound suffering that I assume is going on every day within the walls of a jail, as well as the profound need for the other young people arrested with me, who were experiencing anxiety and fear. In the hours before I was put in my cell, I tried to teach my fellow students how to meditate and cope with being alone with their minds for so long, as I believe many young people don’t often have that experience. I share this story because I’m curious to hear your advice on how to engage with people at these protests who may express opinions I disagree with, or who may not come from a Buddhist background or believe in Buddhism, and how to demonstrate the value or effectiveness of these practices in such situations.”

“Thank you.”

The questions continued:

– There are many anti-war protests against the war in Palestine on various U.S. college campuses, and my friends and parents are worried about my safety. How should I view their worries?

– I have resented one of my relatives for a long time. Despite listening to many Dharma talks, the resentment hasn’t gone away. How can I eliminate this feeling?”

– I started working at a new workplace where there are many irrational rules and situations. What choices should I make, and how can I find a balance?”

– My mother passed away a few years ago, and I am deeply saddened. I struggle with guilt every day. How can I overcome this emotion?”

It was 9 PM by the time Sunim finished his conversations with all the questioners.

Sunim took commemorative photos, made eye contact, and exchanged handshakes and small talk with the attendees.

One person expressed their heartfelt gratitude to Sunim.

“Things were so bad in my life that I felt like dying, but I survived thanks to you. I am truly grateful.”

After warmly greeting a few more people, Venerable Pomnyun Sunim left the Vietnamese temple.

As he got into the car, Sunim said with a smile, “It seems I have saved several people, so I won’t be going to hell.”

Hearing this, his attendant laughed and said, “But you said you’d go to hell to save sentient beings.”

At 10 PM, we arrived at the Washington Jungto Center. We shared the schedule for the next day and concluded the day.

Tomorrow’s agenda includes a breakfast meeting with Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, a meeting with U.S. security experts, including Frank Jannuzi, at the Mansfield Foundation, an afternoon meeting with the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights, and an evening meeting with peace activist Annabel Park and Pastor Rich Taff.