Archive for March, 2011

It’s just about cherry blossom time in Seoul.

I’ve heard from my friend that they’re already out in the southern parts.

When I think about what I’ll miss when I finally leave Korea, mountains, temples, and cherry blossoms are the first things to come to mind.

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I feel like the bells are ringing all around the world right now.

I finally started to understand Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s meaning of entrusting. I’ve stopped paying much attention to the news, it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of concern in the news for a good outcome, but merely sensationalizing the situation and creating panic. I know there’s a whole lot going on in the world, the best I can do is intrust that my intentions for everything to be well, and keep going in my life.

Chong Go Sunim once told us that if you know something bad is going to happen, it’s better not to add to it by just talking about it, but instead to entrust it and know that it will be taken care of. He added that Daehaeng Kun Sunim once said, “Before there was the nuclear bomb [or nuclear power, or demonstrations, if I may add] there was mind.” It would be much more useful to entrust the situation to our fundamental mind right now than to get caught up in the panic.

I’ve been sending many thoughts of Metta to the engineers working in Japan. I feel they are truly Bodhisattvas. They aren’t doing this only for their families, or the Japanese people, but potentially all sentient beings on this planet. What ever their fate may be, may the merit of their sacrifice carry them a great way!

At the risk of sounding like a cheese ball, I’ve been thinking about the Mayan prophecy that now would be a time of great change. The reason I’m not too shy to share that is, well, change isn’t exactly a foreign concept to Buddhism. There is always change, so it’s always a good time to practice, but maybe now more people may start paying attention!

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Next week, Nat from A Summer Day in the City of Angels will be offering a series of yoga classes as part of a fundraiser for quake victims in Japan. This will start Tuesday the 22nd and runs through the 30th; all the proceeds will be used to help victims in Japan. See the link above for details

Although this will be held in Bangkok, I’m writing about it because
A) it’s a good cause,
B) Nat is an incredible yoga teacher,
and C) hopefully, her generosity will inspire others to similar acts.

I’d also like to ask everyone to please keep the people of Japan in your thoughts, and raise as much metta for them as you can. Please remember the workers at the nuclear plant, and deeply input the thought that the situation there should settle down and be resolved without any further problems.

with palms together,
Chong Go Sunim

(Here are some slightly fuzzy shots of Nat’s studio at the Aryasom Villa.
If you’re going to be in Thailand sometime, be sure to check out her classes. She’s great, and the fee is very reasonable.)








Marcus and Nat after class


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The ground may not have moved, here in Korea, but I still feel a little shaken. Not only by the disaster in japan, but all the other recent ones along with it.

Today, I’d like to share one of my favorite shots from my trips to Japan.

May things settle, maybe not exactly as they were before, but to some sense of normalcy for all those who have to keep going on in the midst of their world having been shaken up and washed away.

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Here’s a link to lot of tweets about what’s going on in Japan. The cool thing is that most of these are about the great things people are doing to help each other. Really nice to read about how decent people can be when the chips are down. Here’s one of the first tweets:

* At Tokyo Disneyland
They distributed sweets that are part of their merchandise.  High school girls with heavy makeup took away more candies than they would possibly eat and that raised my eyebrows.  Later, I saw those girls giving the candies to kids at evacuation areas.  Families with kids had limited mobility and couldn’t get to where the candies were distributed.  Go girls!

(Thanks to Monster Island for this link.)


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Marcus, who posts here when time permits, was just caught in the earthquake in Japan. We lost contact with him for a day or so, but it turns out he’s fine, some modest hardships aside. He and Ikumi were together during the quake so they didn’t have to worry about not being able to contact each other, and Ikumi’s parents also came through things without suffering any damage. Here’s Marcus’ account of the earthquake.

(Joseph has already posted this at http://somewhereindhamma.wordpress.com/ but I’ll go ahead and repost it just in case someone’s missed it there.)

Calm though the whole earth trembles
I moved to Japan last week. I came here, after many years of living and working abroad, in Thailand and Korea mostly, to join my wife, Ikumi, to find a job, and to finally start putting something in the bank. I love Japan, the quiet, the cleanliness, the tiny temples tucked into odd corners between brand-new metal and glass skyscrapers. But the economy isn’t doing so well these days and my job hunt is turning out to be harder work than I imagined. Still, I have a few interviews lined up and on Friday morning left early to see a man about a job down in Kamiyacho.
The position turned out be not quite as I’d imagined, with a start date still months away, but promising all the same. My next stop was the Tokyo governments’s help and advice office for unemployed foriegners. They call it ‘Hello Work’, I call it The Job Centre, and Ikumi, taking a day off work to help me find it, came along too. It’s on a street near Shinjuku right next too Tokyo’s Korean town and just past some of Tokyo’s seedier streets. We walked warily around a group of half drunk gangsters going into a girlie bar, and looked into the Korean shops and thought about a second lunch.
The woman at Hello Work explained that the economy is not doing so well these days and that my job hunt might be tougher than I’d imagined it would be and I nodded politely as she took my details. We looked through the listings and after I’d rejected all the jobs that involve teaching two-year-olds (I kid you not) was left with McDonalds (must have fluent Japanese) or toilet cleaner (must be female and have fluent Japanese). But my Hello Work advisor did have a great list of places that offer free language lessons and I put a copy in my bag.
We all stood up and my advisor bowed to Ikumi. Ikumi bowed back. She began to bow to me. I began to bow back. The next thing I know is that me and Ikumi were crouched down under my Hello Work advisor’s desk, wondering how on earth I came to be on an ocean-liner on a particularly choppy stretch of open water. The room, and my stomach, gradually stopped moving and we thought about getting back on our feet. But not for long. During the next few lurches we scuttled over to a more roomier desk, Hello Work advisors really need more work space, and told each other that everything was going to be okay.
Watching the signs hanging from the ceiling was the only way now of knowing if the building was still moving around us as the internal balance mechanism in our inner ears or whereever it happens to be had simply given up on what it considered an unfair workload. We sat on the floor and waited and slowly, slowly, moved back out into the open office space of Hello Work. “If our life was a film or a book”, Ikumi managed to joke, “this would be a really crap ending”.
We walked out into the street and I noticed a temple on the other side of the road. I can’t pass a temple, in any country, without taking a quick look, and, thinking it was all over, we went across. It was a Soto Zen temple with a lovely statue of Kanzeon in the courtyard and we bowed in respect and wondered what to do next. The street was full now, with people in a state of real shock and we walked towards Shinjuku thinking we’d just get a train home. At least that was out plan until the street started moving under us.
The trees were shaking, signboards swaying, I noticed a crane on top of one the buildings swinging wildly from side to side. People were stood in total silence, many were sitting on the curb, the entire phone network was down and so not a single person was talking into their mobile. The oddest thing about the whole event was, for me, the silence. Yet at the same time no one was screaming or running or panicking in any way. The cars had stopped driving, and apart from the sound of distant sirens and the sight of trees flying about on a windless day, everything was somehow very still.
We decided to get as far away from buildings as we could and headed to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. A picture of the crowds around the station made the front page of many newspapers the next day, but we skirted the edge and made for the safety of the trees. A few minutes later we were in a landscape of ornamental lakes and bridges, with not a person or office tower in sight. A group of elderly ladies in formal kimonos came out of a teahouse and asked what was going on. So absorbed had they been in their tea ceremony, they’d missed the entire thing. On the lawn outside a stone lantern had tumbled over, and had gouged a deep hole in the earth.
We left the park and hour or so later. It was getting dark, and bitterly cold, and we knew we had to find shelter somewhere. The entire transport network, buses and trains, was down and we didn’t want to sleep in a station. On my last visit to Japan I’d been deeply impressed by the interior of Tokyo’s St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and I wondered if it might remain open for some of the many thousands of people like us with no way of getting out of the city. It took us about two hours to walk there and they did indeed open their doors to the city’s temporary refugees. All four of us.
We saw on the TV on my mobile phone (thankfully still working) that at nearby Ikebukero, one and a half thousand people were taking refuge in the underground passages of the train station. One hundred and fifty people were spending the night at the Jodoshinshu Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple. But at St Mary’s there were just the four of us. Me, Ikumi, and two students from a nearby university. The young priest and his team provided snacks and hot water and tatami mats to sleep on and turned the heating up and left it on all night for us.
In the end the floor was too cold to sleep on, but we managed a couple of hours and then passed a good night eating and reading. I read a couple of chapters of Ikumi’s novel out loud to her, she’s currently reading Joanna Trollope’s ‘Friday Nights’, and we went over some of the more tricky English. And I spent some time with Stephen Mitchell’s wonderful translations and adaptations of the psalms, a book I’m rarely without these days. And we watched more TV and waited for the morning to come.
We took a couple of trains to get to the outskirts of Tokyo, they weren’t running any further, that were so crowded the breath was literally squeezed out of us. When we got to our interchange though, as we shouted out “sumimasen, sumimasen”, somehow a passageway was found and other passangers pushed and pulled me and Ikumi through the dense crush of bodies to where we needed to go. I felt immense gratitude for the Japanese people here. At no stage had I seen anyone panic, or complain, or shout. The trains were heaving with tired bodies just like ours, but everyone was nothing but polite.
At the end of the line, we started walking. Around us were hundreds, thousands in fact, of people all doing the same, quietly and purposefully walking home. If a helicopter had flown overhead it would have seen all the main streets out of Tokyo, in the blinding early morning sunlight, full of tired commuters making their way on foot from station to station. At one point we found a train that was running and, from its window, looked out at a far off bridge made dark with its line of office workers on their way home.
We finally got back at about noon and had lunch, a hot shower and watched the awful devestation that the earthquake had brought. As we watched TV we felt small aftershocks run through the house. On the way home I’d joked about that being the last time I ever go to the job centre, but now it didn’t seem quite so funny. I checked my email and found my inbox full of messages of concern from friends and family, concern for me and Ikumi, for Ikumi’s family, and for all the people of Japan. Those good, calm, resilient people of Japan.
I’ve taken the title of this account from Psalm 46 of Stephen Mitchell’s adaptations.
The first verse of which runs:
God is our refuge and strength,
our safety in times of trouble.
We are calm though the whole earth trembles
and cliffs fall into the sea.
Our trust is in the Unnamable,
the God who makes all things right.

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Here’s the conclusion to Admonitions to Beginners. It’s quite nice on its own, but since this text has been posted over several months, I’ve gone ahead and added a summary of the Venerable Ya-un’s major points. While these were originally intended for monastics, I think there’s a lot here that would benefit all practitioners. What really strikes me about these admonitions is there emphasis on seizing the day, Don’t miss this chance!   

The moon rises and sets,
urging old age to come. 
The sun comes and goes,
hurrying time along. 
Fame and possessions
are like the morning dew,
hardship and prosperity
like wisps of smoke in the evening.
I most sincerely hope that you will practice self-cultivation,
become a Buddha without delay, 
and save all beings. 
In this life if you ignore these words,
without a doubt, regrets will fill your next life.

My own true self!

Being born as a human being is rare as a blind tortoise rising from the depths of the ocean and putting it’s head through the hole in a wooden yoke that’s floating on the waves. Will you spend your entire life indulging in laziness?! Will you ignore spiritual cultivation?! It’s difficult to be born as a human being and so much harder to meet the Buddha-dharma.

If you lose this opportunity, then even though a thousand kalpas pass, it will be difficult to have a human body and meet the Buddha-dharma. Therefore, you should take these ten admonitions seriously and practice diligently, without stepping back. Realize true enlightenment without delay and save all beings.

My hope is that you will overcome the sea of birth and death so that you will be able to save all beings, not for the sake of your own benefit. From the beginningless past up until your present life, while being reborn and dying as one of the four types of lives, you have always depended upon your parents. Over that immense time, the number of beings that were your parents is beyond imagining. If you reflect upon this, you will realize that among the beings of the six realms, there is not one who was not once your mother or father, your brother or sister, your son or daughter.

These beings have fallen into evil states, and day and night experience unimaginable suffering. If you don’t save them, how much longer will they have to suffer? Thinking about this, I’m filled with sorrow. It’s as if my heart is being ripped out.

My most ardent hope is that you soon develop all-penetrating wisdom and attain great, unlimited spiritual power and every kind of skillful means. I pray that with this you will become a pillar of wisdom that saves all beings lost on the rough seas, that you save all of the confused beings who are lost in the mountains of greed.

Don’t you know that all of the Buddhas and Patriarchs of the past were once ordinary people like us? They were worthy people and so are you. You just don’t practice, it’s not that you don’t have the ability.

There is a saying, The Way doesn’t turn its back on people, people themselves turn their back on the Way. Also, If one determines to achieve the Way, then the Way naturally comes to meet them. This is so true, so true.

As long as you maintain firm belief, how could you not awaken to your inherent nature and become a Buddha? I swear now before the Three Treasures that I have cautioned you on every single point. If you deliberately violate these, while knowing that your actions are wrong, you will fall into hell while still alive. How can you not be careful about these points?!




Summary of Ya-un’s Ten Cautions

1. Refrain from extravagant clothes and food.
2. Don’t be stingy with your possessions, and don’t covet what belongs to others.
3. Refrain from unnecessary speech and travel.
4. Associate with virtuous friends and avoid evil people.
5. Don’t sleep outside the fixed hours for sleeping.
6. Don’t feel that you are superior to other, and don’t look down upon others. (Also, don’t feel that you are equal to others or less than others.)

7. Always maintain a proper attitude towards sex and wealth.
8. Do not associate with worldly people, and so become an object of scorn.
9. Do not criticize others.
10. Always maintain an undiscriminating mind, even among others.

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Sunday Photo; weeds

Weeds are the bane of fields, lust is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of lust yields abundant fruit.

Weeds are the bane of fields, hatred is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of hatred yields abundant fruit.

Weeds are the bane of fields, delusion is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of delusion yields abundant fruit.

Weeds are the bane of fields, desire is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of desire yields abundant fruit.

-Tanhavagga Sutta


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Today over at Somewhere in Dhamma, Joseph talked about the fact that he often knows what something isn’t, but doesn’t necessary know what it is.

I suppose that’s the difficulty with most things: we know what we don’t want, but it’s hard moving towards something that we aren’t used to experiencing.

Daehaeng Sunim often told people to learn what causes flowers to bloom, and then create those conditions for your own tree. In the same way, I guess we have to do a lot of research and meditation to figure out what we do want, and then apply it.

If we behave like rich people, eventually we’ll be rich. If we follow the habits of a poor person, before long we’ll be poor. If I want to be skinny, then even though I’m not now, if I follow those habits, my weight will go down.  If you want to be a better parent/friend/spouse then read like crazy and figure out what behaviors and ways of thinking you need to bring into your life.

 Likewise, if I follow the behaviours of an enlightened person, then eventually I’ll get there, too.  In fact, a lot of the talk about precepts in the sutras isn’t “Don’t do…,” so much as “A Bodhisattva or wise person doesn’t do….”

In Bodhidharma’s Two Entrances and Four Practices, he says exactly this. If you can’t just to go straight in and perceive the fundamental, then make your behaviors and thought habits in line with the fundamental. He goes on to give the four practices:

1. Forgiving injury - know that nothing arises without cause, and that the cause of this too lies with ones own behavior.

2. Following conditions - (I think) this means not getting caught up in the things that arise and disappear in our lives, because these are all conditioned, and thus have only temporary existences.

3. Not seeking - letting go of things as they go, not fearing things that come, and in general making an effort to not get caught up in desires and attachments. The opposite is a life lived in pursuit of desire, of always chasing the next thing, of constantly being focused on accumulation.

4. the practice of according with the Dharma.  I think this is referring to living in accord with the fundamental non-duality of all. Thus, this one is described as the perfection of giving, where one is free of stinginess.  Daehaeng Sunim often reminds us that it isn’t our money, or even our children, rather we are just taking care of them for the benefit of the whole.

A common thread I see in these is the idea to always view things positively.  This may seem a bit simple, but it’s incredibly powerful. Sometimes it’s a struggle to view things in a positive light, but this has an almost infinite power to free my own heart.

On the one hand moving forward towards this unknown really is like taking a step off a hundred foot bamboo pole, or swallowing the Yellow River in a gulp. And yet… We still have to read and study to help with the worldly things that we don’t know.  But from time to time we have to entrust what we’re doing to this fundamental thing that’s greater than “I”.


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In 2009, as part of the Seonwon’s tenth anniversary celebrations, Chong Go Sunim visited Bangkok for the first time and gave a joint talk with Phra Cittasamvaro Bhikku on the subject of Buddha-nature. During his visit I accompanied him to various places in the city, including Wat Chanasonkram, the lovely temple opposite the western end of Khao San. Chong Go Sunim was struck by the good feeling in the main hall, and on the way out he took a few photos of the murals on the interior walls.

One picture came out particulaly well and was used over a whole page a month or so later in the Hanmaum Journal. And last month, at the start of his second visit to Thailand, Chong Go Sunim very kindly presented me with a large print of the photo which shows the colours and details of the mural with great clarity. The scene is a simple one of the Buddha, before his enlightenment, escaping his father’s palace on his horse Kanthaka with his attendant Channa holding on tight at the back.

The horse is not on the ground but, with legs stretched out front and back, is flying through the air. This is no ordinary leap, they are high above a river bend with mountainous shores, under a night sky full of red and orange tinged clouds behind which you can just make out a luminous full moon. Despite the action depicted in the scene it’s remarkably still.  Prince Siddhartha’s royal crown is perched upright on his head, and holding onto the flying horse looks like it involves no struggle or fear at all.

But the most remarkable thing about the picture is not the young prince or his devoted attendant or the magical horse, but five figures, picked out in white outline only, aiding him in his flight. One, with the multiple faces that denote Brahma, stands to the left, holding a gently flowing parasol above the future Buddha’s head. The other four almost ghostly figures, kneeling in traditional Thai sideways style despite being airborne, each hold aloft one of the horse’s hoofs.

I don’t believe, despite the daily chant in temples all over Thailand affirming otherwise, that the Buddha was self-enlightened. Not if by that we mean that his achievement was accomplished single-handedly, and this picture explains what I mean. The entire universe acted in his support. Heavenly figures held his horse aloft through the night sky. Then teachers came to guide him through his first comprehensive meditations. On the point of starvation, a young woman came to feed him and teach him the nature of kindness. Mara even helped him along. After his insight into how we all share the same nature, disciples came. A community was built.

Sangha is essentail to spiritual growth. My friend Roy, in a lovely photo essay entitled ‘Church’ beautifully describes how anything, everything, can be a church or sangha. And he’s right. “The only offering accepted here is presence – your very life” he writes. And “There is nothing that is not our teacher” Daehaeng Sunim teaches. “The resolute and unflinching mountains silently tell us, “Live like a mountain.” The ceaselessly flowing waters whisper, “Live like water.” The flowers that bloom in the midst of any kind of adversity quietly sing, “Live like a flower.” A weed living in harsh soil says, “Live courageously.””

But community in the more usual sense is also essential for most, for me at least, in providing support on the spiritual path, and during the course of my life I have moved through a number of wonderful communities. In various places and periods of time I have been a regular attender at a Quaker Meeting House, in an Anglican Church, in a small informal Therevadan sitting group, at Chong Go Sunim’s Saturday Sangha in Seoul, in the diverse group known as Littlebang here in Bangkok, and for the past two and a half years my main Sangha has been, as well as Littlebang, the wondeful Bangkok Seon Club and Seonwon.

One of the things I want to do in this post is to thank all my past communities for their amazing warmth and support. Especially, on the eve of my leaving Bangkok, to thank Seon Club. I’ve found in Hyedan Sunim, Mrs Nam, Young, all the regular members of Seon Club and Seonwon, and all those that have come along and contributed in so many ways, a truly inspiring and caring group, one that has aided and challenged me on my path. Thank you. And though sad to leave such a vibrant and friendly Sangha behind me, I know their influence will last many years to come.

Later this week I’ll be on a plane, leaving Bangkok, this city that I know better than any other in the world, heading to a new country a new life and to unknown future communities; and I can’t help but think again of that picture of the Buddha-to-be (and we are all Buddhas-to-be) flying away from home. He doesn’t strain forward, lean back, or flee the dangers surrounding him. He isn’t trying to control the horse that’s carrying him. He has set his direction, without which no travel would be possible, and now all he does is let go, and trust the invisible hands that are always ready to carry him to where he needs to go.

What are you looking for?
Whatever it is, you have to start by letting go;
Learn to trust the fundamental source within you.
Whether we call this Buddha-nature, God, or true self
Makes no difference. It has guided you and supported you
For a billion eons. Through it all things are connected,
And unseen energy flows back and forth
Between all lives and things.
Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim

WUaL!: Chong Go Sunim in Bangkok – 1
WUaL!: Chong Go Sunim in Bangkok – 2
WUaL!: Start by Letting Go
Return to the Center: Church

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