Mind and Science

This report of one of our regular Bangkok Seon Club meetings was first published on the now-deleted “Marcus’ Journal” in January of this year. I’m re-posting it now as I think it gives a nice picture of the kind of useful discussions we have at Seon Club, and the lovely people I meet there.

The ability of our fundamental mind is the most profound and mysterious thing in the entire universe.”
– Zen Master Daehaeng Sunim

The Bangkok English-language Seon Club is really finding its feet. Thanks to the direction provided by the seonwon, everyone is comfortable with the structure of the meetings, starting with the refuges and some sitting meditation, and with the format of the discussion. Young, who does the translating, is simply amazing, and I think everyone gets a chance to speak and to ask anything they like of our wonderful teacher Hyaedan Sunim.

This month we returned to our study of No River to Cross and looked at chapter three, “Mind and Science.” I’ll admit that when I first read this two or three years ago I was dismissive. “Mars is crowded with lives” I thought, “what is this nonsense?” Hyaedan Sunim asked me on Saturday night if my reaction would be any different now, and I can honestly say that it is. Not only is Mars crowded with lives, but my body is too, there is nothing that is not crowded with lives.

We talked about how the universe functions as one life, about how material is actually energy, and how there is no difference between the particles within and outside of us. Pedro, a Seon Club regular, explained some of the latest thinking in science, and what little I understood was fascinating. Hyaedan Sunim agreed and then talked about how Buddhist teachings have never contradicted science but, rather, how science has evolved towards Buddhism.

Young talked about the energy between people, using the example of Pedro’s smile, which everyone thought was lovely, and about the limitations of language in expressing scientific discoveries. Sunim offered the example of how there were no Chinese characters for negative numbers, and then she brought us back to the relationship between fundamental truth and our developing understanding of it. “But how” Kirsten asked, “do we put this into practice?”

We came into being, Sunim said, because of this Fundamental Mind. It put us here, and after we are gone it will still be here; everything is a reflection of it, and our practice is to return everything to it. I talked about my limited understanding of this, how the theory often confuses me but how, basically, I believe that I and everything else shares this Mind, or Buddha-nature, and my job is to live from that, which is best done by entrusting everything to it.

Kirsten, her first visit to Seon Club, was keen to know more and asked lots of great questions, and Sunim talked about entrusting to Buddha-nature as a practice that cuts through trying to figure things out and Young gave some wonderful personal examples of how this works in her life. Then Joe, a fine poet and a regular here and at the San Fransisco Zen Center, quoted from the poetry of Huang Po on awakening to One Mind, True Self, or Fundamental Mind.

And, talking about what happens when you live not from what obscures it but from your original Buddha-nature, Joe told the story of King Mongkut, the great-grandfather of today’s highly revered King Bhumibol. King Mongkut became a monk at Wat Bowonniwet and then, to the great concern of all those around him, found himself more interested in staying in robes than in becoming King, so much so that he eventually became abbot of the temple.

“There is no manual” Hyaedan Sunim said, “just keep sending everything back to Buddha-nature, again and again.” And in a lovely phrase that raised a smile and gets to the heart of the matter, she said one should “use less and less your head, and more and more your Mind”. We finished by reciting the Four Bodhisattva Vows, bowing in gratitude to our wonderful Sunim and to each other, and left the Dharma Hall inspired and confident in this beautiful practice.

5 thoughts on “Mind and Science”

  1. Bangkok has English-language Seon Club and Toronto doesn’t… interesting. But there is something special about having to dig for it by yourself, it’s like – ‘you wanna Dharma, go get it’- you get the basics and the rest is all yours, through experiencing. I very rarely talk about teachings with the monk here, but we do discuss care for koi and pond, trees and the garden, and it always brings smile to my face when he knows what I am thinking. Working and doing something in the temple here feels like listening to Dharma talk. Did I mention I am the only non-korean there? Makes me special (just kidding)

  2. Thank you Rachel and Tanya!

    Tanya, would you like a Toronto Seon Club? Perhaps you could ask one of the Sunims? All you need to get going is to meet once a month or so.

    You can use ‘No River to Cross’ as the focus of discussion, a different chapter each month, and then just allow people to share their thoughts and experiences and to ask questions of the Sunims.

    Our Bangkok group is only a year old but it started just like that, and it now just ticks quietly along – a lovely little monthly community we draw from in a very real way.

    Before the Bangkok Seon Club was established I was, like you, the only non-Korean in the temple. Sadly it didn’t make me feel special at all – I felt, despite the incredible friendliness of the Korean Sunims and laypeople, like a bit of a freak!

    So the Seon Club here has been of so much help in so many ways. It’s shown the Korean people here that there is great interest in Hanmaum among non-Koreans, many people have come to learn something of the teachings, and it has taken me out of my position as the only non-Korean – with all the dangers that entails.

    (For a lovely essay on dealing with those dangers, take a look at this great post here: http://returntothecenter.typepad.com/the_center/2010/08/i-think-i-get-it-now.html

    Thanks again Tanya and good luck if you do decide to help build a Toronto Seon Club! Let’s have Club Reports here please!

    Marcus _/\_

    1. Thank you, Marcus. I used to want english seon club, I even designed a poster for meditation class, but then my opinion changed, a sunim, who is the abbot, took me to coffee shop (it is a Canadian thing) and he said a few words of wisdom, and surprisingly I totally agreed with him, surprisingly – because it was opposite of my wish for seon club in english. I like it the way it is now, and even though maybe many think I am weird (well, once a guy in camping asked me “what are you doing here with 60 koreans?? (it was funny!)), not only that I am the only one non-korean, but also because I am so different from others in behaviour, for example I don’t spent time in the kitchen like all women in the temple do, but I do, as they say, “men’s” work, I grew up in Russia, where there is no difference in men and women when it comes to work; also my child has many allergies that I have to cook for her everything myself, she cannot eat in the temple or anywhere else most of the times. Also I am not really westerner, for example, I have four ethnicities in me, four cultures, which makes me easily “adaptable”, and the way of thinking, if to be compared in general, Russian and Korean are closer to each other than Russian and English for example, but I don’t even look russian since i am a mixer, so I did not like when in the temple I was reffered as “the russian” because that would kind of offend those ansestors of mine who were not russian
      Actually I was talking about english seon club…so – sometimes english speaking people would come by, but they do not stay – they cannot adapt to different culture I think and that it is not really attractive to just practice, there is no “sitting meditation” times or “retreats” like some other temples have.
      I guess it is all up to people who come to Temple. Since this Toronto temple is kind of “invisible”(no advertising of any sort in english) – not many come; but, as sunim said, who need to come here, will come, so I hope there would be more people interested in the Dharma (it is precious!)

      1. Thank you Tanya,

        Gradually you are sharing more of your story with us here and that’s wonderful. I am sorry to hear about your daughter’s allergies though and I send her lots of metta.

        If the seonwon there has decided they don’t wish to have an English-language Seon Club, that’s just fine of course, but please don’t suggest that all English-speaking people “cannot adapt to different culture” – that’s just plain ridiculous.

        Most people in Canada will be similar to you, in that they have many strands to their backgrounds, and even those like me, who have an unbroken mono-cultural heritage, are still perfectly capable of being perfectly comfortable in others.

        And an English-language Seon Club is not just for native English speakers! It’s for anyone comfortable communicating in English. Here in Bangkok we have had Brits, Americans, various South Americans, Indians, Chinese, Russians, various Europeans, Korean, Japanese, Australians, and New Zealanders all come to learn and share the teachings via the medium of English-language.

        So, in Toronto, I’m not surprised if people come and “do not stay” if there are no activities in English. Such a pity. A real shame I think. Here in Bangkok the Sunims are very welcoming to non-Korean guests – as well as the seon club which takes place every month, if people come along to services there will always be someone to smile and say hello and even do a spot of explaining and translating. We even produced a version of the chant book in English so people can follow along.

        I believe the German and South American Seonwons also have very large non-Korean memberships of people who are active in the temples there. It does strike me as a real pity that Toronto doesn’t want to do something similar. After all, the seonwon has a great asset in you Tanya, as someone who can help welcome newcomers and help them feel right at home.

        All the best,

        Marcus

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