interfaith and dialogue

I’m always delighted when I see examples of genuine contact and interaction between traditions with which I am familiar. All traditions are not the same of course, that would be like saying that all languages are the same, but sometimes they do come beautifully together, as seen in this event described by Kyōshin at Echoes of the Name:

The end of my formal retreat coincided with a visit by two Korean monks, of the Seon Jogye order, who had come to present our temple with some relics of Sakyamuni Buddha. How this amazing event came about is a rather complicated story which I am not entirely familiar with.  However  the essential point is that despite all the historical problems between Korea and Japan – involving war, occupation and cultural destruction – individual people in the Korean and Japanese Buddhist communities have worked hard over decades to create friendship, understanding and reconciliation between their countries, cultures, and faiths.  The presentation of the relics is just a small chapter in that story, albeit one of huge symbolic significance.

Please do visit Kyōshin’s wonderful group blog, a thoughtful and pretty comprehensive site in the Japanese Jōdo Shinshū tradition, to read the rest of his account of the ceremony. The full blog post is here.


NB: the image for this post was shamelessly stolen from the Japan galleries on Joseph’s amazing photo site here. Thank you Joseph!

notes from the workshop

The profound ability within me
is awakened not by words
but by the determination
to save all beings
– from The Great Compassion Dharani

Phra Pandit Bhikku, who so kindly supported the workshop through Littlebang in the weeks leading up to it, had warned me that some people who sign up for retreats don’t turn up on the day for one reason or another, but my fear was greater than that, I was worried that almost nobody would come at all.

And I was worried when nine o’clock came and went and nothing had started. I was worried about the fact I don’t have a camera and so wouldn’t be able to put up a picture for this post. I was worried about writing this post. About how the chants would work, about the tea and coffe, about a million things.

But after the first sitting meditation I opened my eyes and saw that all my worries were groundless. As we were sitting, Dr Lee Bhikkuni and two other Bhikkunis in their Thai orange robes had come in and taken seats, here from their centre in Rayong to support the event. And behind them sat some 25 to 30 participants, all enjoying that first deep restful sit.

Then Chong Go Sunim spoke about just what we do when we practice. I didn’t take notes, rather I listened intently. The hall was silent and Chong Go was unhurried, he didn’t use a microphone and that helped establish a calm and concentrated atmosphere. I became at ease. I smiled, glad of this chance to hear the Dharma.

“My own teacher” Chong Go Sunim said, talking about Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim, “describes it as having something like a furnace within yourself. But don’t just let go of problems, you can go even further. Let go of your whole self. Let go completely of even what you think you are. And then you can move beyond any limitations.”

There was a short time for questions and then we stopped for lunch – and more questions. Chong Go Sunim talked to everyone, was available to everyone, and spent time listening to everyone. And we all asked questions. About practice, about Karma, about the name and nature of this inner essence, about all aspects of the teachings.

One of the best features of the day was, for me, this encouragement for everyone to talk and to share their experiences. Rather than just a series of lectures, this was a true group workshop. After lunch Chong Go split everyone into groups to discuss how, in our daily lives, we strengthen the light within us and develop our spiritual muscles.

In my group George talked about climbing the steps of the BTS and reciting “here” and “now” with each footstep. Someone else talked about the walking meditation she does around her bed morning and night. Lynn talked about her relationships with friends and family and how, ultimately, no one can carry out spiritual practice for you.

After the feedback session we practiced some walking meditation in the Korean style, which is very different from the slow individual style usually taught here in Thailand. Walking around the Dharma hall in a large circle, each time I passed the window, the red flowers on the trees outside became more and more intensely beautiful. An experience I shared later in the afternoon.

After some tea we split into a singing group (Joe, the Seonwon’s music teacher, kindly came by for this) and a Sutra copying group led by Chong Go Sunim. I joined the writing group with the others afraid of singing, Don, Ralph, Nat, Paul. We copied, in English, from the Great Compassion Dharani. A wonderful way to allow the teachings to sink deep.

Hyedan Sunim then led us in some bowing, and explained the spiritual as well as physical aspects of the practice, and a small choir from the Seonwon sang a Dharma song which Chong Go Sunim introduced by giving us the translation and meaning. The day ended with a small closing ceremony of bows, refuges, vows, and the the Great Compassion Dharani.

It was, for me, the most nourishing English-language Dharma event I’ve ever attended. The atmosphere throughout was quiet but light, there was a closeness between everyone that was almost intimate. Chong Go Sunim led us, but we all seemed to move as one body anyway. And I came away both nourished and refreshed. It was beautiful.

Thank you.


(And thank you to Nat for the image!)

a Bangkok update…

You’d think, from the picture, that we are all in Seoul! But in fact this photo was taken last night in the best Korean restaurant in Bangkok, Jang Won on Sukhumvit soi 12. Twelve people came along to meet and eat with Chong Go Sunim and we were very kindly given a private room and the food and conversation was wonderful.

Earlier in the day some of us travelled down to Nackom Pathom to see one of the oldest and largest Buddhist structures in Thailand, a huge stupa with very beautiful shrine rooms around the outside. We also stopped off at Buddhamonthon, a large Buddhist park with a magnificent statue of the Buddha in its centre.

Today has been equally busy, with another magnificent lunch at the wonderful Indian restaurant Annapurna (on Tanon Pan, near the Hindu temple) with Chong Go Sunim, Phra Pandit Bhikku and a dozen or more people from Bangkok’s ‘Littlebang’ Sangha. At the prompting of the Brits in the group, deserts were had at the nearby British Library restaurant!

Food, and ancient sites, and great weather, form, of course, just a very enjoyable backdrop to the real business of this visit. People are getting to know each other better, friendships are being made, and made stronger, between Dharma brothers and sisters, and everyone is busy listening to and sharing the Dharma.

The full one-day workshop led by Chong Go Sunim takes place this Saturday and if you’re in Bangkok and haven’t already signed up, well, I’m sure we can squeeze in one or two more people! Click on the link on the sidebar for more details. And see everyone on Saturday!

know your root!

I suspect many readers of this blog have been doing yoga for years. For me, it’s all new. And packed full of discoveries and surprises. It started about six months ago during a period when the ‘Littlebang’ Bangkok Sangha had a regular Monday night meditation session. Someone was offering a pre-sit yoga class and I thought I’d go along.

The weekly meditation sessions came to an end sadly (strange, there are stacks of great Dharma talks all the time in Bangkok, but there’s no regular Thai-Buddhist English-language meditation group), but the yoga continued. The teacher, I soon learnt, is amazing. Her name is Nat, she’s Japanese and she speaks great English and Thai.

I have a bad back, tending (after being involved in a collision with a car years ago and decades of neglect) to painful muscle spasm and having very little flexibility. Nat has helped me, in just the few months I’ve been studying with her, to understand my back a little better and work on strenghtening and lengthening it.

She has been practicing and teaching yoga for years and is a breast cancer survivor, and she sometimes talks about how yoga helped in her recovery, physically, mentally and spiritually. And she smiles. She really smiles. And gets her students all smiling too. “Lift”, she says, “higher, higher, and smile”, and we can’t help but grin!

Last month she helped me with something called the tree pose (my apologies to all you yoga practitioners out there, but this is all new to me) in which you stand on one leg and lift your arms above your head! I practiced for a week and then tried again in class. Of course, I wobbled all over the place – even despite using a wall.

“Don’t forget to breathe”, Nat said. “Breathing will bring you stability and balance.” I tried again. It did. Later Nat showed me how to place my feet and said that as well as breathing I had to grow deep roots, that energy and connection comes from those roots. The connection to the Dharma here is obvious to most no doubt, but for me it was a revelation!

Because the tree exists, you can know the root; because the fruit exists, you can know the seed. Likewise, even though the body is only a temporary, karmic combination of the four elements, through it you can know the fundamental place, Hanmaum Juingong, which is the source of all life and all phenomena.
 – Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim

Nat’s blog: A summer day in the city of Angels
The Bangkok Sangha: Littlebang

speaking out – for animals in Korea

There is an on-going merciless holocaust taking place, across the entire world, involving torture, brutality and death on an industrial scale. It’s partly hidden, partly just accepted, and though trying to do what little I can about it has been an important part of my life for the past three decades (since first becoming vegetarian), it’s not something I’ve brought up here on this blog – until now.

And even now, I’m not going to trot out the usual arguments and Buddha quotes supporting the non-killing and non-eating of animals. Rather, I just want to help publicise a campaign against one recent aspect of this daily nightmare which specifically concerns Korea, and which I’m sure all readers, vegetarian or otherwise, will also support.

According to the Asia-Pacific branch of PETA, since the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in late 2010, approximately 1 million animals have been killed in Korea, many of them buried alive in mass graves. Large numbers of pigs have been dumped from trucks into pits and then covered in soil, where they slowly suffocate to death.

Some animals remain alive in air pockets but are unable to move, sometimes for days, before they eventually die from trauma, starvation, or dehydration. Using live burial as a disease-control method violates both the domestic animal protection law and Korea’s obligations under the World Organization for Animal Health’s Guidelines on the Killing of Animals for Disease Control Purposes.

PETA has contacted the relevant Korean authorities to ask for a more humane death for these animals but has received no response. And so are now asking for individuals around the world to contact South Korean embassies to ask officials to pressure the South Korean government to immediately stop burying animals alive and implement humane ways of dealing with the disease.

A suggested letter follows, but it is always better to personalise it, especially the subject line:

I was so disappointed and outraged to learn that a country like Korea, which is known for its forward thinking and modernity, is trying to contain foot-and-mouth disease in such a barbaric way.
Burying innocent animals alive is simply cruel, immoral, and illegal!
These animals slowly suffocate to death in the absence of air.
Worse still, improper burial often allows for air pockets to form, and many animals remain alive, sometimes for days, but are unable to move.
Until this cruel practice is stopped, I will tell my friends and neighbors not to visit South Korea.
Please use your position of influence to help those in need.

I personaly will be emailing the Korean embassy here in Thailand (where I live) this afternoon. And I urge all readers of Wake Up and Laugh to contact the Korean embassy in their countries as soon as possible too. It is, surely, time to speak out.

PETA: Tell Korea to Stop Burying Animals Alive!

1) Thanks to Chong Go Sunim and Adam at Fly Like a Crow, here’s a report of a memorial service for the 1.9 million animals killed, held at the main temple of the Jogye Order in Seoul. One of the banners read “It must have been painful and you cried a lot. I hope that you go to a good place and enjoy happiness.”

2) There’s another report of the same memorial service on the website of the Jogye Order with some excellent photos, including one I’ve used here. During the service Ven. Hyechong said “Lord Buddha taught us to consider all sentient beings as our parents. If beings were to understand that we are born in different circumstances according to our karma, then we could create a Pure Land where we recognize each others’ value.”

practitioners’ questions

At the last meeting of the Bangkok Seon Club I met two wonderful Thai women, friends and long-time Dharma sisters, with a real interest in the teachings of Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim and in Seon spiritual practice. Being new to Hanmaum, although of course far from new to Buddhism, they asked a lot of really great questions. Even better, both these women have stayed in touch with me by email since the meeting, and just today I recieved a list of very nice questions regarding some of the things that came up in the last Zen Club.

I’d like to post the questions here and open them up to all readers of this blog. If any of these questions, even if only one, inspire you to respond, please leave a comment. The idea isn’t just for Chong Go Sunim to come along and provide the definitive answers, but for anyone to say what the response is for them personally. These are genuine questions from two life-long serious Buddhist practitioners coming across Seon teachings for the first time, and they’ll both be following this post with interest! Thank you for your responses!

1) What’s the meaning of Sangha ? 
2) What is the difference between one mind and true nature ? 
3) If Emptiness is nothing, then what is one mind ?
4) Is awareness to realize true nature or not ?
5) What is the difference between Enlightenment and Awareness ?
6) Is One mind and meditation the same ?
7) What does it mean to say that wisdom comes from True nature or Buddha mind that is beyond good or bad ?

good and evil

Not to do evil, to cultivate the good, and to purify the mind.
This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.
 – The Buddha, The Dhammapada, verse 183

You who desire true life
and wish to walk on God’s path:
Depart from evil; do good;
seek peace with all your soul.
 – Psalm 34, adapted by Stephen Mitchell

Having done something evil,
Don’t repeat it,
Don’t wish for it:
Evil piled up brings suffering.

Having done something meritorious,
Repeat it,
Wish for it:
Merit piled up brings happiness.
 – The Buddha, The Dhammapada

Choosing to do good or evil
all depends upon whether I rely upon my One Mind.
 – The Mind of All Buddhas, Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim 

For one who at all times conclusively realizes the Buddha Mind, when he goes to bed, he goes to bed with the Buddha Mind; when he gets up, he gets up with the Buddha Mind…  He functions with perfect freedom in accordance with circumstances, letting things take their way. Just do good things and don’t do bad ones. If you pride yourself on good deeds, however, becoming attached to them and abominating the bad, that’s going against the Buddha Mind. The Buddha Mind is neither good nor bad, but operates beyond them both.
 – Bankei Yōtaku, (1622-93)

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
 – Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

You are to be great teachers, freed from the ego; you must live only to serve all people. Desiring to become as a big tree or a great container of Wisdom prevents you from being a true teacher. Big trees have a big use; small trees have a small use. Good and bad bowls both have uses. Nothing is to be discarded. Keep both good and bad friends; this is your responsibility. You must not reject any element; this is Buddhism. My only wish is for you to free yourself from conceptions.
Zen Master Kyong Ho

Good and evil have no self nature;
Holy and unholy are empty names;
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself.
Seon Master Seung Sahn

The one mind of all Buddhas is my one mind,
 inherently free of stain or purity.
 – A Thousand Hands of Compassion, Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim


Yesterday, at the Bangkok Seonwon, in a truly beautiful and deeply meaningful ceremony, everyone renewed their five lay Buddhist precept vows.  Half a dozen people also took them for the first time, and so gained a new Buddhist name reflecting their new paths and aspirations.

The proceedings were led by Haewon Sunim, who had especially and kindly flown in from Korea, and before precepts were given she delivered a short teaching. Luckily for us non-Korean speakers, we had Young there to jot down some instant translations as Sunim spoke.

The part that jumped out most significantly for me was the bit about everything in life being a teaching – but only if you are making an effort and paying attention. If not, there’s no teaching at all. So, yes, everyday life is itself the Dharma, but you must be an active student.

The problem, for me, is remembering. I mean, just hours later I was engaged in a coffee shop debate with all awareness gone, desperate to get my points across. One minute I was saying how most discussions are a waste of time, the next minute I’d lost all sense of my foundation in the middle of one!

But, as Sunim had said at the start of her talk, the very nature of learning is difficult. And that’s why I’m so grateful to all those in the Sangha around me, lay and ordained, that support me so richly. Sometimes we just need that reminder, that our inner teacher is there and is always available.

As Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim says in the latest Hanmaum Journal, in words that seem to apply especially to this weekend: “Coming to the Dharma Hall regularly will help you a lot in grasping this fundamental essence, and while relying upon it, whatever you need will come forth.”
(Here’s a post with a bit more about the Five Precepts.)

born again

The first stage of practice, letting go of the self that is an unenlightened being, lasts until you know your true self. At this stage, a practitioner ‘dies’ for the first time and, at the same time, is newly born.
 – Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim

Buddhists don’t talk much about being born again, and yet death and re-birth is at the core of our spiritual practices and paths, both literally and as metaphor. However, such language isn’t entirely missing and I remember a few years ago reading an excellent article in Tricycle by Clark Strand, at an earlier point in his spiritual development and within the Pure Land framework, entitled ‘Born Again Buddhist’ in which he rightly claims the term.

“For too long” he writes, in words I can identify with and which have stuck with me, “I used Buddhism to convince myself that I understood something I did not, but now I know the truth. I do not know anything at all. But then, that is precisely the kind of being that Amida Buddha saves — the one who has no choice but to surrender to a power beyond his own.” Daehaeng Sunim describes that surrendering as letting go, and that power as one’s own Buddha-nature.

Of course the giving up of the small self, the letting go of all its concerns and attachments, is the essential teaching of all Buddhist schools. Sometimes it can take dramatic ritual form, as in the Therevadan temple not far from where I live in which people literally step into coffins in order to be re-born anew, but whatever form it takes, when you entrust all your thoughts and concerns and pains and joys to something greater, then, as Daehaeng Sunim puts it, “what you have thought of as yourself dies.”

And this takes faith. Faith in Amida Buddha perhaps, or in the efficiency of the ritual, or in Juingong, the True Self. Faith and practice. Those that have been there have described this death as a return to a previous condition, back to our ‘original face’, a state before we learnt to create and operate and defend a separate and self-centered self. They describe it as a re-birth. And, like all births, it brings with it feelings of great joy and happiness.

The Christian tradition is familiar with this and familiar with the forms it can take, from sudden and dramatic born-again experiences, to something a lot more subtle. Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, tells his followers they need to take up their cross (the symbol of death) “daily”. And as anyone who has ever meditated knows, re-awakening, the re-birth of attention, awareness, and surrender, needs to be practiced even from moment to moment.

“Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, says Marcus J.Borg in ‘The Heart of Christianity’, “we can’t make it happen, either by strong desire and determination or by learning and believing the right beliefs. But we can be intentional about being born again. Though we can’t make it happen, we can midwife the process.” And one way of doing that is through practice. As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it in his commentary on the Lotus Sutra, “When we come to the practice, we are reborn into our spiritual life, thanks to the Buddha.”

Another way of midwifing our re-birth, as well as through faith, mindfulness and letting go, is through ritual and participation in significant markers. New Year, in my opinion, as a time when people re-consider and re-direct their lives, is such an event. Here in Bangkok I went to my favourite temple for New Year and sat and chanted with thousands of people, all linked together into one community with sacred thread. The next day thousands more visited the temple again to make merit and receive a blessing. To be, in some small way, born again.

And next week at the Seon Centre, the Bangkok Korean Buddhist community, and a small group of non-Korean Buddhists, will gather to participate in a formal refuge and precept ceremony, a truly significant communal event that marks a real moment of re-birth for all those involved. This is just the beginning of course, it will feel beautiful, blissful even, but “you must still continue to practice and go forward” Kun Sunim writes. The process of re-birth is ongoing. It is our practice.

Our heart’s garden is sown with attachment, hatred, and pride.
In us are seeds of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lies.
Our everyday deeds and words do damage.
Al these wrong actions are obstacles to our peace and joy.
Let us begin anew.
 – Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Beginning Anew’

Clark Strand: Born Again Buddhist
NYTimes: Thai Temple Offers a Head Start on Rebirth