Truly! An interview with Chong Gu Sunim, part 2

[I hope everyone’s been doing good! If you’re in Korea, be sure to stay safe; we’re getting rain by the bucketfull! ]

Chong Gu Sunim has worked as a member of the Hanmaum Seon Center Publications Department for nearly twenty years. As part of the process of publishing the complete talks of Daehaeng Kun Sunim, the Publishing Department transcribes them, checks the transcription multiple times, and then lightly edits them for spelling and grammar. In the course of this, they’ve listened to and read over a thousand Dharma talks, multiple times.

The Korean version of this interview appeared in May/June 2018 issue of Hanmaum Journal(#99). This is part two of two.

Hanmaum Journal: Sometimes when there’s something that I just can’t seem to let go of, if I read one of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s Dharma talks, something just clicks and I can let go of whatever was bothering me and move on.

Chong Gu Sunim: Exactly. That’s because whether someone’s speaking or hitting a bell in the Dharma Hall, it’s mind that’s being communicated, and mind that’s being absorbed. So even just hearing a random sentence, that will sometimes just click as you become one with that, and your stuck parts dissolve and you can move forward. This functioning is such a precious thing, and I’ve often thought about it during the morning bell part of the early morning ceremony.

Among the stories of sunims who awakened, there was one sunim who was chanting during the early morning ceremony, and at the moment he awoke, his chanting was quietly heard in all the surrounding villages. The writers were talking about this mind connecting with other minds. In other stories, their chanting or the sounds of them hitting the bell in the Dharma Hall was heard as far away as China. This fundamental mind of ours truly has no form or shape, so it can go anywhere, embracing anything. This is what those stories were expressing.

Years ago, when I had some issue and I just couldn’t come up with a good answer, I would go ask Kun Sunim, and her answers were so amazing and deep and all-embracing. I aways left feeling that even in a thousand years, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with such a good way of looking at things. The thing is, when we’re confronted with hardship, we tend to become preoccupied with finding a solution. Instead, we should ask why the whole gave us that problem, and what is there in it that we need to learn.

“Raising up our Jujangja,” (the word for a monks staff), can also be read as raising up our center, and means combining the whole into one. It’s the place where the whole is functioning as one, and from this perspective, things just arise, and then pass away. So the real question is, what was the intention of the whole when that situation arose? What was it that I was supposed to learn? That’s what we need to ask inwardly and reflect upon. When you understand that, then you will be able to understand things at another level, and will also move beyond that problem. All beings and things are inherently connected, so true communication is possible.

When I’m struggling to understand something and pondering what it is that I’m supposed to be learning from that situation, then because I’m actively desiring an answer, something a fellow sunim says will be exactly what I need. Or it will be few words from a Dharma talk, or a verse in a ceremony that speaks to me. Because I’m searching for that answer, that meaning reaches out and connects with me. This is why people who are engaged in this spiritual practice seem to grow faster than others. They are searching on their own, and trying to grow, and so this foundation responds accordingly.

The thing is, this is available to everyone. It’s not just for select people. It’s inherent in the functioning of the universe. It’s like there’s an inner teacher that’s trying to direct our attention inwardly, and in order to pick up on this, we need to set aside “me” and what “I know,” and go forward with faith in our foundation. Then it’s like we come to the attention of our foundation.

Hanmaum Journal: Back when Daehaeng Kun Sunim first opened the Seon Center, people would complain because she was talking about things like the Dharma Realm and how it functioned, and it was so far above their own experience and understanding that it seemed pointless to hear about it. But she said that even if they didn’t understand it now, later on when they had brightened and raised their spiritual level, what she was saying would be helpful to them.

Chong Gu Sunim: She mentioned similar things in some of her Dharma talks, when she spoke of the work she had been doing to raise the spiritual level of all people on the planet. She was trying to make this world itself into a Buddha’s Realm. I was left with the impression that to the extent the spiritual level of people here moved more in tune with that of the higher realms, such a transformation was easier to achieve.

To look at the presence or absence of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s physical body and then say that she’s here or not, is just a reflection of one’s limited level of understanding. The essence of Kun Sunim isn’t something that can be approached or known through senses based on the physical, material world. The only way to approach this essence is through our fundamental mind, Juingong. Through what’s inherent within us. You have to truly know what you are, then you can begin to understand what Kun Sunim is.

So we have to keep working at practicing, regardless of whether it seems like we’re making progress or not. We have to keep working at it until we can approach and perceive the world through our foundation. Then we’ll find ourselves the realm of the Buddhas.

When Daehaeng Kun Sunim first started working with people, she would become one with whoever came, and in that oneness, energy would move, resolving whatever hardship had been confronting the person. Those things that people needed to know through their intellect, she would teach them. She would also melt away whatever emotional states and attitudes that were blocking the person, and then teach them how to do that for themselves with whatever came up the next time, so that they could stand on their own and go forward as free and independent people.

This was her purpose in establishing the Seon Center at Anyang, as well as all of the branch centers, in the public Dharma talks she gave, and in all of the events and ceremonies held over the course of the year at the Center.

As people work at learning and applying Kun Sunim’s teachings like this, her intention soaks into them. We sunims, too, work to help new sunims and laypeople learn to use their problems and hardships as a way to deepen their understanding and spiritual practice, so that they can stand on their own.

Although we may not be able to do this as powerfully as Kun Sunim, we can still embrace others with our mind, and work to help them move forward by entrusting their situation to our foundation and raising intentions for their well-being. I don’t have the least doubt that as we do this, Kun Sunim is there working together with us.

Hanmaum Journal: Kun Sunim used to say that the world needed great numbers of experienced practitioners.          

Chong Gu Sunim: That’s right. We each have to work diligent at learning to rely upon our foundation. This is also what other people need to do as well. This need for people to undergo spiritual practice is why Kun Sunim gave so many Dharma talks. We have to learn to connect with our foundation, and then we can truly connect with others.

Everyone is practicing together with us, and it’s such a blessing. Everyone and thing has a different personality, different energy, and a different style of speaking. But not reacting to that, and instead returning it all inwardly is the number one rule of spiritual practice.

We have to keep returning everything inwardly, such that at some point everything bursts open. Then all barriers will disappear, and we can understand anything we are determined to know. This itself is the guidebook and the teacher we’ve been looking for.

We have to take what we learn through this, and use that to look for the habits and viewpoints that we haven’t yet overcome, and then apply ourselves and work hard at cutting through those things. If we let ourselves get caught up in the feeling that we know enough, or that we’ve ‘attained’ something, then it gets very easy to just drift along at that level of awareness. Then we can’t shed our current level of awareness, and we can’t experience this glaringly bright, broad, weightless mind. Further, we start accumulating states of mind that darken our perspectives, and begin to pull us back down.

Perhaps I could describe spiritual practice as always focusing inwardly and resting? Or maybe as completely returning your attention inwardly and always loving and honoring this inner place? As you practice like this, no matter what you experience, no matter how your emotions fluctuate, you look at it all as, “This is something I’m encountering due to just a bit of karmic affinity.” You recognize this yourself, and then go forward without letting it interfere with what you were doing.

My ability to practice has its shortfalls, but I am the one who has to deal with those, and the one who can truly deal with them. We each have to keep pouring our energy into spiritual practice and keep experiencing the functioning of this foundation, and then finally attain spiritual ability like that of Kun Sunim. This is what it means to care for other people. Truly.

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