The Passing of Daehaeng Kun Sunim

(Seoul, Korea) Hanmaum Seon Center regrets to announce the passing of our beloved teacher, the venerable Daehaeng, on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. She was 85 years old, and was ordained as a Buddhist nun 63 years ago. The funeral will be held on Saturday, May 26th, with more details to follow as they become available.

Daehaeng Kun Sunim* was a rare teacher in Korea: a female seon(zen) master, a nun who also taught monks, and a teacher who helped revitalize Korean Buddhism by dramatically increasing the participation of young people and men.

She made laypeople a particular focus of her efforts, and broke out of traditional models of spiritual practice to teach in such a way that anyone could practice and awaken. At the same time, she was a major force for the advancement of Bhikkunis (nuns), heavily supporting traditional nuns’ colleges, as well as the modern Bhikkuni council of Korea.

Born in Seoul, Korea, in 1927, she awakened when she was around 7 years old, and spent the years afterwards learning to put her understanding into practice. She would wander the mountains of Korea, wearing a ragged set of clothes and eating only what was at hand. Years later, she said that she wasn’t pursuing some type of asceticism; rather she was just completely absorbed in returning everything to her fundamental Buddha essence, and seeing how that affected what she entrusted.

This greatly affected her teaching style later, for she could clearly see the great potential, energy, and wisdom inherent within each of us, but saw that people suffered because they don’t know about this, and instead were looking outside of themselves. Clearly seeing the great light we each have, she taught people to rely upon this inherent foundation, and refused to teach anything that distracted people from that.

Her deep compassion made her a legend in Korea long before she formally started teaching people. She was known for having the spiritual power to help people in all circumstances with every kind of problem. She compared compassion to freeing a fish from a drying puddle, putting a homeless family into a home, or providing the school fees that would allow a student to finish high school. And when she did things like this, and much more, few knew that she was behind it.

She supported many social welfare projects, founded centers in seven countries around the world (15 centers in Korea, and 10 in other countries), and her teachings have been translated from Korean into English, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French, and Vietnamese.

*Kun Sunim is the Korean Buddhist title of respect for a senior nun or monk.

20 thoughts on “The Passing of Daehaeng Kun Sunim”

  1. My condolences on the loss of your teacher. It has only been in the last year that I became aware of her work. She will be missed.

  2. Daehaeng Kun Sunim has been a presence in my life for only the past four or five years, but what a huge and wonderful presence that has been, and one I am sure will continue always.

    In Korea now, and around the world, I know that many of us will be feeling grief at her passing, especially those like you Chong Go Sunim who have known and worked with her for so long and so closely.

    But everyone who has ever come into any kind of contact with her and her teachings will have experienced her deep wisdom and benefitted from it. It is sad that she has passed from this life.

    Daehaeng Kun Sunim gave me a wonderful name, Seok Jeong, Upright Stone, and I know that the best I can do to mark her passing and express my gratitude for her life is to live out the name she gave me.

    Thank you Daehaeng Kun Sunim.

    1. Thanks Marcus,
      Although I’m kind of sad, at some level I know it’s because I’m still not fully capable of truly seeing who she is, and instead tend to think of her as her body and appearance. I know, at least somewhat, that her light and wisdom is still there, waiting for us to knock on the door.

  3. Jijang Bosal Jijang Bosal Jijang Bosal
    Jijang Bosal Jijang Bosal Jijang Bosal
    Jijang Bosal Jijang Bosal Jijang Bosal

    My condolences to you, Sunim, and to everyone who benefited from her teaching. May her words continue to help all beings for many kalpas!

  4. Namu Amitabul. I’m sorry that we’ve lost one of our guiding lights; I hope that we can all learn to follow Kun Sunim’s example and become lights ourselves!

  5. Glancing over the heading of your new post, dear Chong Go Sunim, an ‘oh, no!’ escaped my lips. My thoughts and deep sympathy are with you and your sangha, Sunim.
    Dahaeng Kun Sunim has been one of the Great Masters of our time! In Germany her wonderful thoughts and writings are just spreading. As a bookseller i’d like to tell you that her works always belong to the first writings i recommend to customers trying to get access to the wisdom and heart of buddhism. Yes, she will be missed.
    It’s up to us now to discover her in all and everything around us: her wisdom in the blue sky, her bright spirit in the singing of a bird in front of the window, her warmth in the sunshine and her strongness in a stone that i stoop down for to put it into my pocket as a reminder.
    And, i’m sure, she will soon be here again to further support us on our paths – with fresh energy.

  6. Very sorry to hear of the passing of this great teacher. I never met her, but felt very sad when I heard the news. Sunim, sympathy to you and your sangha.
    Namu Amitabul, Namu Amitabul, Namu Amitabul _()_

  7. Namo Buddha Sakyamuni,

    I am a Vietnamese Buddhist Nun, living in London. I cannot believe when I read the news, I have just subscribe yesterday and today I received the passing news of the most venerable kun sunim. My monastic sister would like to send some complete books that were recently translated form hers “No River to cross” as permitted. The most Venerable come and go from nowhere. She was easy gone but we still miss her so much. We have not enough good cause to meet her alive when we asked to see her last year.

    You, Chong Go Sunim, you promise to continue her torch to light our nature that we are very pleased

    Our condolences to you and the sangha.

  8. Condolences for the death of Daehang Sunim , as i told you i lost my master not so much time agoo and i can really understand your loss .
    May her wisdom and kindness keep on living in you and in the whole sangha .
    A deep bow to her !

  9. Although it is quite depressing, at the same time I feel great light all around, there is limitless love and warms surrounds this event, there is something tremendously vast and incredibly bright, I can feel connection more than ever, and even if I cannot come and see her in person and I cannot send a card or a present anymore, the overflowing light of compassion making the connection stronger than ever. My deepest gratitude meets with her limitless compassion, making connection and unity of one. When Buddha passed away it was not an ordinary death, there was no death, with Kun Sunim it’s the same.

  10. I am so very sorry to hear this Chong Go Sunim. I just became familiar with Daehaeng Kun Sunim a few years back and was very inspired by her wonderful and compassionate teachings. I treasure her presence in this world and am so grateful that I can continue to learn from her through her books and the example she has left behind. Please know that I will be chanting for her and will forever hold her in the highest regard. She has not gone anywhere.

  11. Dear Chong Go Sunim and Everyone in Kun Sunim’s Sangha,

    Please accept my heartfelt condolences on the passing of your Great Teacher.

    Thank you for sharing her words of wisdom with the world.


    – roy.

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