The future of Buddhism in the West

Here’s a talk by the Korean Seon Master, Hanam Sunim, given in 1935.* It’s a wonderful talk for anyone interested in growth and sprititual practice, and is also very relevant to everyone interested in seeing Buddhism flourish in the West.

Buddhism Exists in Experiencing and Applying

Hanam Sunim next to the Manjusri Statue at Woljong Temple

Thank you for coming such a long way to see me.

If you want to see Buddhism prosper, then experiencing and applying are the most important thing. There is a saying, “Cultivating mind isn’t done with the mouth.” Like this, modern people have an incredible amount of things that they’ve learned, but they don’t seem to be so good at actually applying and experiencing them.

People who practice sitting meditation should practice sitting meditation, those who study the sutras should study the sutras, those who practice chanting should practice chanting. If each one upholds their own practice very sincerely and diligently, then regardless of whether they are in the deep mountains or in the cities, regardless of whether many people are interested or just a few, there will always be people who want to learn and help. At this stage, you can truly be called a disciple of the Buddha. If, little by little, people put the things they experience and understand into practice, one person will become two people, two people will become three and so forth. Thus there’s no need to worry about whether Buddhism will prosper or not. In the not-to-distant future, I expect that there will be many people truly practicing Buddhism, and that Buddhism will flower throughout the Korean Peninsula.

I spoke about this before, but you have to make up your mind, tie your belt tightly, and put your understanding into practice. If you do this, then without any lectures or advertising, Buddhism will naturally prosper and spread. As you know, everyone has Buddha-nature, thus it all depends upon making up your mind and making an effort. Anyone can become a follower of Buddhism. There’s no reason why Buddhism shouldn’t prosper. It is just that people are so busy these days that practice isn’t easy, and they often forget about it. However, if you can just remember (about spiritual practice), then it’s possible for you to apply and experience, wherever you are, whether you’re working, standing, or sitting.

Everything is like this. I spoke about seon a little before, but seon isn’t something that is beyond understanding. Just make up your mind to do it and put (what you’ve been taught) into practice. My opinions or explanations about the meaning of seon won’t help you a bit. The essence of seon is determination and application, and in so doing, it’s something that one comes to know automatically. The essence of seon can’t be taught or explained. My only wish is that you give rise to determination and experience it for yourselves.

You asked me about people worshipping at shrines for the mountain god or the big dipper within the temple grounds, but although people are praying or bowing out of a desire to obtain something, even that is a type of faith. It seems to me that faith in those kinds of spirit shrines can naturally grow to include the Buddha. Because Buddhism can include everything, it’s not a problem. While praying at the mountain god shrine or the big dipper shrine, they may gradually develop faith in the teachings of the Buddha.

Manjusri and the 9-story pagoda at Woljong Temple

     I’ve rambled on, but the main point I can’t emphasize enough is that we must practice and apply our understanding.

* Hanam (
han-am) Sunim (1876 – 1951) was one of the leading practitioners in Korea. He was a main  disciple of Kyongho Sunim, Dharma brother of Mangong Sunim, and was elected the spiritual head of Korean Buddhism three times. (He kept resigning!) In this article, he had been asked how the Japanese government could “help” Korean Buddhism (what they meant was “control”.)  He wasn’t fooled, and yet still gave a wonderful talk. This interview was published in Japanese in 1936, and a few introductory remarks have been deleted.