21st Memorial Dharma Meeting in Remembrance of Ven. Seoam’s Passing; A Meeting with the Assistant High Commissioner of UNHCR

April 5, 2024

Hello! This morning, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim attended a memorial Dharma meeting commemorating the 21st anniversary of Ven. Seoam’s passing. Later in the afternoon, he met with the Assistant High Commissioner for Operations at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and his team to discuss the issue of Rohingya refugees.

21st Memorial Dharma Meeting in Remembrance of Ven. Seoam’s Passing; A Meeting with the Assistant High Commissioner of UNHCR

After morning practice and meditation, Sunim left Dubuk Jungto Retreat Center for Mungyeong at 6am. On the way, he made a brief stop at Gaeun Elementary School, which was being used as a polling station for early voting, to cast his ballot for the 22nd parliamentary election.

Sunim arrived at Seonyudong Training and Education Center in Mungyeong at 8:10am. 

Sick sangha members are currently staying at the training and education center for treatment and recuperation. Sunim donated some money to help them purchase organic food to aid their recovery. 

They served Sunim a glass of vegetable juice and a cup of magnolia tea.

“We have these every day. Sunim, please try some.”

While drinking the vegetable juice, Sunim encouraged them with his words;

“Yes, Sunim. I’ll go through treatment with a peaceful mindset and stay well.”

After offering consolation, Sunim made his way to Mungyeong Jungto Retreat Center.

Upon arrival at the retreat center, Sunim sought out Ven. Jahaeng Sunim to offer greetings. Jahaeing Sunim’s health has been deteriorating since she reached the age of 95.

“Sunim, how are you doing? Lately, I’ve just been eating and not much else.”

Pomnyun Sunim warmly held Jahaeng Sunim’s hands and handed her some spending money. 

Jahaeng Sunim was very happy to see Pomnyun Sunim. 

Sunim departed from Mungyeong Jungto Retreat Center and reached Bongamsa Temple around 9:30am. Sunim decided to pay his respects at Ven. Seoam Sunim’s stupa first. Before entering the temple grounds, Sunim followed the winding road on the right until reaching the serene area where the stupa and the memorial stone stand.

Ven. Seoam Sunim lived a life of exemplary simplicity, guiding Jungto Society to practice authentic Buddhism by teaching that a pure mind embodies Buddhism. Sunim prostrated three times before the stupa, reflecting on the simplicity of Ven. Seoam Sunim’s life and the teachings leading to enlightenment.  

After paying respects at the stupa, Sunim had tea with Ven. Jinbeom Sunim, the chief monk of Bongamsa. They discussed recent events at the temple before heading to the Daeungjeon (Main hall) at around 10:30am. 

Seon monks, representing the monastic family, offered tea to the late Ven. Seoam Sunim first, followed by monks from other temples and devotees. 

After performing Cheondojae, a ritual to bring peace and eternal rest to the deceased, the memorial Dharma meeting concluded with three claps of the bamboo clapper. 

Sunim engaged in conversation with other monks over a lunch of bibimbap before leaving the temple. 

Sunim departed from Bongamsa around noon and headed for Seoul. After a three-hour ride, Sunim arrived at Seoul Jungto Center at 3pm.

At 3:30pm, Sunim had a meeting at JTS with Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations of the UNHCR. Last November, Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner of the UNHCR, also visited JTS. 

After exchanging greetings, the Assistant High Commissioner showed a video highlighting the impact of JTS’s supply of 200,000 gas stoves to Rohingya refugee camps, expressing gratitude for the contribution.

“As you saw in the video, we hope the impact of the gas stoves supported by JTS in the Rohingya refugee camps was well conveyed, and we would like to express our gratitude once again. The hygiene products sent by JTS to the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria were also successfully delivered. We appreciate your efforts in convincing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea to provide gas support.”

Then he sought Sunim’s advice on resolving the impasse regarding Rohingya refugee issues.

How can we resolve the Rohingya refugee issue?

“Of all the refugee crises worldwide, the Rohingya refugee issue stands out as particularly dramatic. During my visit to Myanmar last November, I had the opportunity to meet with government officials, and the prospect of Rohingya refugees returning home appeared very slim. Similarly, my discussions with Bangladesh government officials revealed that their patience in managing refugee camps is wearing thin due to inadequate financial resources. Nonetheless, facilitating the return of Rohingya refugees to their homeland or enabling them to work in Bangladesh remains a formidable challenge. That’s why I’m here seeking advice from the venerable on these pressing issues.”

Sunim shared the solutions he had in mind. 

“No, the ban is still in force.” 

Following this, the Assistant High Commissioner shared information about the UNHCR’s ongoing activities.  

“Last November, I had an opportunity to meet with some Myanmar government officials, who acknowledged that they hadn’t encountered any significant issues after accepting some Rohingya refugees. However, due to concerns about public safety, repatriating Rohingya refugees hasn’t been possible. As you suggested, we’re currently working on persuading the World Bank to provide US$300 million and the Asia Development Bank to contribute another US$300 million to Bangladesh. Nevertheless, with the prolonged refugee situation and dwindling aid, we’re witnessing increased violence among refugees, and young people are becoming more hostile toward the Bangladesh government. The UNHCR is actively trying to facilitate neighboring countries in accepting even a small portion of the refugees. We’ll follow your advice and consistently fulfill our responsibilities.”

Sunim also shared information about JTS’s current activities. 

Afterward, Jun Hai Kyung, Director of the UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific made a request to Sunim. 

“Recently, we had an opportunity to negotiate with the Bangladesh government. We emphasized that our goal is to provide safer housing for the refugees rather than long-term accommodation, which facilitated the negotiation process. I hope you’ll visit Bangladesh several more times to demonstrate that not only the UNHCR but also influential people worldwide are concerned about the Rohingya refugee issue. This could encourage the Bangladesh government to be more flexible. It’s a crucial time to make progress on the Rohingya refugee issue, especially with Bangladesh’s upcoming election in two years. I hope you’ll continue to stay engaged with this issue. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of funds, we had to discontinue distributing soap to refugees.”

Sunim replied,

Finally, the Assistant High Commissioner once again expressed his gratitude to Sunim, 

“Actually, we are also feeling quite drained, but we truly appreciate you sharing your concerns and valuable insights with us. We would be grateful if you could review and let us know about any additional support requests.”

Sunim took a photo with the Assistant High Commissioner and his team and presented them with a gift. 

“Thank you.”

Sunim escorted the delegates to the entrance and thanked them for visiting JTS. He assured them of his ongoing commitment to the Rohingya refugee issue and pledged continued support. 

At 4:30pm, Sunim met with the chairperson of the Planning Committee of the Peace Foundation to discuss its 20th-anniversary project. Later in the evening, he attended the live-streamed Friday Dharma Q&A session at the broadcasting studio in Seoul Jungto Center.

At 7:30pm, Sunim greeted approximately 4,400 viewers who were online. 

With that, the Dharma Q&A began. Last week’s session, live-streamed from Bhutan, was disrupted by a power outage. As a result, three people who missed the opportunity to ask questions last week, along with a newcomer, posed their questions today. One of them sought Sunim’s advice on self-healing, mentioning that she tends to be unfaithful while in romantic relationships because she didn’t receive enough love from her mother during childhood. 

Where can I find the love I didn’t receive from my mother during childhood?

“I remember being scolded when I was eight for expressing to my mother that she seemed to dislike me, which reflected my feelings at the time. One of her grievances, often voiced when she was drunk, was that my father showed favoritism toward me over my siblings. From my perspective, my father was strict and didn’t treat me any differently. I resented my mother for criticizing my father’s care for us children. I believe that if my father had favored another sibling instead of me, my mother wouldn’t have been angry with him. As an adult, I find my social relationships, including romantic ones and work life, to be hollow, often leaving me feeling lonely. Despite being in a relationship, I tend to be unfaithful. When I’m alone, this loneliness intensifies, leading me to continuously seek solace in romantic relationships. I’ve been undergoing treatment for depression for several years. How can I cope with feeling sorry for my childhood self, who wasn’t loved?”

“I initially tried counseling but it didn’t seem effective for me, so now I rely on psychiatric medication for treatment.”

“Thank you.”

“As I listen to your advice, I find myself both feeling sorry for and grateful to my mother, who was my age at the time. I will earnestly perform the prostrations.” 

“Thank you for your advice. I understand your point.”

The questions continued and it was 9 o’clock when the Dharma Q&A concluded. 

Tomorrow, Sunim will pack his bags for Bhutan. He’ll depart from Incheon International Airport in the evening, transfer at Bangkok International Airport, and finally arrive at Paro International Airport in Bhutan. The second field trip for the sustainable development project will commence the day after tomorrow.