Thank You for Your Support!

Thank you for the kind support of those who help us to spread these teachings.

We have few to no volunteers, and we do not have the resources to provide salaries to any people who would help. And every single penny which I receive from the Zen Center for the poverty-level salary I am mandated to receive, by law, as legal “head” of the organization, goes directly back into paying for the Zen Center’s rent. 100% of it! My only “pay” is the joy and satisfaction of touching peoples’ lives with the power of meditation. (AND the one meal per day which I eat in the Zen Center’s kitchen.)

Please feel free to join the effort to spread these teachings by becoming an ongoing (or one-time) supporting member on the “donation” link in this blog.

Leaving Summer Kyol Che at Su Dok Sah (’06)

I passed several retreat seasons at Jeong Hae Sah temple, on the high ridge way up above Su Dok Sah, which is my Teacher’s ancestral temple in Korea, and so my own. Su Dok Sah is the legendary home temple of Kyong Ho Sunim (鏡虛 禪師: 1849–1912) and Man Gong Sunim (滿空 禪師: 1871–1946), two of the most significant pillars of Korean Buddhism in the 20th century, and perhaps in its entire history.

On the last day of retreat, as the small community was dispersing in the ten directions until the next retreat season, a very humble and devout Korean man (and professional photographer), Jeon Jewoo, asked the temple if he could be permitted to document the end of the traditional retreat season, with his lens. After consulting with the community, the elder monk agreed. (It had never been permitted before, at least at Jeong Hae Sah.)

The man took shots of various aspects of the last day there. He later sent me these cuts, from his vast pile, documenting my leave-taking of the temple.

Man Gong Sunim’s memorial stupa, located on the mountain path down to the main temple from Jeong Hae Sah.

After this retreat, I never attended practice at Su Dok Sah ever again.

Myong Hae Sunim (1973-2020)

Yesterday was the burial in Vilnius, Lithuania of a truly venerable Dharma sister, Myong Hae Sunim JDPS (“Ji Do Poep Sa” — Guide to the Way). She was a prominent teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen. We practiced for several years together in Korea, at Hwa Gye Sah, in the years when Dae Soen Sa Nim was still active there. She is someone who I witnessed from her very first days entering monastic life in our tough temple culture, and now she is gone from this world.

When she first arrived in Korea, some were not so sure the Sunim could survive: Her spirit and her drive were pure and clear, but she seemed often hobbled by sickness and an unexplainable fatigue. Yet she persevered. She practiced strongly and became such a quiet force of love and compassion, always genuinely helpful to everyone. And she was blooming into such an inspiring mentor for so many. She died last August 1 in a terrible accident on her way home from leading retreat, along with her student, the driver, a mother of two.

Myong Hae Sunim was a wonderful, pure, naturally kind and considerate person, a nun of such perseverance and clarity, who spent some 20 years living and training directly under her Teacher, Zen Master Dae Kwan (Hyang Um Sunim), in Hong Kong. She practiced during the many months of the recent civil strife there, and was just recently able to commit more and more time to the Dharma work in her beloved homeland.

Myong Hae Sunim was actually due back in HK several months ago. She was not supposed to still “be” in Lithuania. The Covid lockdown left her stranded just before her scheduled departure, when she “should” have already been back in Asia. Her Teacher has profound weight gathering on her shoulders. The many months of street protests has unleashed a flood of conflict and there is great fear among many many Hong Kongers — perhaps the vast majority. (Now, just today, the New York Times reports that the biggest internet tycoon in Hong Kong has just been arrested, for criticizing the government and supporting democratization. A hero to many youth, this could drive hotter winds of fury back into the movement for democritization. “Hong Kong Tycoon Jimmy Lai Arrested Under Security Law, Bearing Out ‘Worst Fears”. https://nyti.ms/33FoMhr) There are many many minds to be guided from understandable disappointment, frustration, and rage to the Dharma, in these days when HK’s free society is now frantically caught in the clutching web of totalitarian mass surveillance, CCP-style.

And now Dae Kwan Sunim must shoulder this burden of teaching having lost the disciple who spent so many thousands of hours, right by her side. Myong Hae Sunim even learned Cantonese, overcame years of sickly weakness to become a traveller to other Zen centers to teach in other countries, and is just respected and beloved by the (mostly Chinese) Buddhists who look to this temple for a wisdom-and-help in their hot, chaotic, endlessly noisy city.

Now, with the funeral over, the best I can do is share some of Myong Hae Sunim’s teachings, and share them here. If just a few more people, coming here for others things, can connect with the purity and the clarity and the gentle, unforced wisdom of this angel-nun, then it was worthwhile.

But first, for those who don’t know her, it’s good to share this tiny snippet of her biography, which is taken from a KUSZ page:

Myong Hae Sunim, JDPS, was originally planning on becoming a Catholic nun when a friend invited her to hear a visiting Chinese Zen Master, Su Bong Sunim, in June 1993. Lithuania had recently become independent from Communism and was opening up to the world. She had never seen a Chinese person before and initially went just to meet him. But she was so moved by his message she immediately signed up to sit a three-day retreat. Myong Hae Sunim quickly realized that the Buddhist path fit her better than the Catholic one, and she began sitting retreats in Poland before finally moving to Hwa Gye Sa Temple in South Korea in 1996 to begin her monastic training. The following year, after ordaining as a nun, she moved to Hong Kong to serve at the Su Bong Zen Monastery. Myong Hae Sunim is the first Buddhist nun in Lithuania’s history, and she received inka (permission to teach) in 2016 from Zen Master Dae Kwan in Hong Kong to become a Ji Do Peop Sa. She was the guiding teacher of the Lithuanian sangha in the Kwan Um School of Zen.

This was taken at Mu Sang Sah, in February, March, or April of 2000. It is the beginning days of everyone living and practicing at Mu Sang Sah, probably right after the 1999/’00 Winter Kyol Che finished at Shin Won Sah Temple on the other side of that mountain — our last retreat in that temple. This photo was occasioned by a visit of Dae Soen Sa Nim to the temple. I have noted elsewhere that, in this photo, two of our family are now dead: Myo Ji Sunim (front, third from left) and Mu Shim Sunim (back, second from right). Now a third can be added: Myong Hae Sunim (front, wearing a dark ‘durumagi’). Her Teacher, the great Zen Master Dae Kwan, is to Myong Hae Sunim’s immediate right.

The last retreat that Sunim led, in Lithuania. Rasa, the driver of the vehicle she was traveling in (which was pushed into this collision by some distracted driver) is seated three persons to the right of Sunim. Both Rasa and Sunim have their eyes closed, in this very moment of the photo.

Myong Hae Sunim was the guiding teacher of the Lithuanian sangha in the Kwan Um School of Zen. What a deeply costly tragic loss for them. She was their first native-born teacher, the first Buddhist nun in Lithuania, with so much experience in Chinese and Korean temples in Asia. She was beginning to make such significant contributions to helping the Lithuanian sangha there to realize their dream to build an authentic temple-experience in their land.

Even the photos from her funeral express the vast-mindedness of Myong Hae Sunim in her passing: Her funeral would be presided over by a high-ranking Catholic priest, and a procession with a large cross and chanting. Her ashes would be interred below a large traditional Lithuanian dark-wood crucifix. Yet there would also be her sangha attending in their Dharma robes, and brown kasas signifying the Precepts she kept probably since before her own birth! Yet, following the Catholic situation seamlessly, and even having some chanting happen led by a Zen monk after everything is done, this ceremony itself expressed the big-minded way of Myong Hae Sunim. Interreligious harmony supported her parents and their wishes. A prominent KUSZ teacher, Alma Potter JDPS, flew up from Vienna to attend during a raging pandemic which has caused people to avoid any flying or mixing, during a week when there are reports in the media about spikes happening in Germany and Austria. This all truly inspired me.

So, I will share some Moments from this beautiful Buddhist-Catholic flowing (thanks to her mind) and end with some video-teachings that have been captured from her short life.

In Buddhist ceremonies, it is a custom to play a short record from a Dharma talk of the deceased nun or monk. This is especially true — maybe only true — for departed masters, teachers. In this case, it is a message from Dae Kwan Sunim being beamed in from Su Bong Zen Monastery, which they built together through so much practice, compassionate service to others, ceremonies, workshops, and silent retreats. I think the guy holding his phone so conspicuously nearby means a personal hotspot is being used to data-in some words from HK. I would appreciate someday hearing these teachings.

In the big hat with large flowers is Myoko Jordana, someone who has practiced and helped with so many retreats. Born in Costa Rica, and educated at Moscow University, she teaches in Lithuania and is an all-around full-on bodhisattva. How painful must be this experience for her: She lost her Teacher, the Korean nun Dae An Sunim, in a car crash in Korea, in about 2013. She now is a student of Harada Roshi of Sogenji, Japan. But her Dharma is everywhere, always helping others.

Two mothers simultaneously honoring birth-and-death.

Eternal return to Lithuanian earth. “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.” Jo-Alma Potter is caring for Sunim’s stricken parents at this impossible moment. Compassion.

Jo-Alma Potter JDPS is a practitioner-teacher with a mind as vast as the sky. She travelled up to Vilnius from Vienna, with plane changes, in the very week when the media is filled with reports of coronavirus spikes happening all over Central Europe, when everyone avoids flying and airports and gatherings. Respect.

Brigita B. (extreme right) is a very very dedicated meditation practitioner and a charismatic actress who is very active in her art. She appears in many prominent stage productions, and also TV. She is wearing the complete Zen monastic meditation student temple clothes, right down to the winter shoes — 털신 — muddied with rain. What a terrible loss she endures, being deprived of such a strong nun teacher and sister and mentor. I wonder what she is hearing right now…

…unflinching attention…

There was Zen chanting for the ceremony. The two Lithuanian senior monastics were trapped in Asia due to Coronavirus quarantining restrictions, and could not attend or officiate.

In burial Loreta Kairyte, forever Venerable Myong Hae Sunim JDPS.

Some teachings from Sunim. She did not publish any books, or do things to promote any sort of teaching-voice or profile or “position.” She was just simply and clearly “her.” A true bodhisattva, natural and kind and funny, as well.

A brief encounter with the young LA filmmaker David Andrew:

This is an outtake of a conversation several years ago:

And this, below, is the most recent — and perhaps the last — talk recorded with Sunim speaking English. It is a ZOOM call with Zen students in Kansas, which was held 40 days before she died. She replies to questions on life and death, practice, and she tells how she came to practice in the first place. This video is priceless for those who do not speak Lithuanian to understand her great soul and natural good grace and joy:

This is how I will always remember her: this soft humanity, unshakeable natural clarity and truth, utter sincerity and compassion for others.

Colon:

Here is a translation from the most recent newspaper article on her passing. It has teachings for all of us. I seriously debated strongly against posting this. And I decided to leave out these facts from a post that celebrates a soul and a Dharma of such rarity. But then after listening to her teachings on this ZOOM call with practitioners during lockdown, where she muses on death, it seemed there is some powerful irony in these facts which give new light to her words flowing from Dharma. And so they are added in, to give her teaching-words their context and sense:

On Tuesday, we wrote about a country-wide accident in the Plungė district, near the village of Bereniai, during which, as it turned out, two Vilnius residents, Zen Buddhist teacher Myong Hae Sunim (Loreta Kairytė) and her companion Rasa, were killed.  Police were then just figuring out who was sitting at the wheel of the Mercedes Benz S320, which had provoked the fatal accident.  Soon the work of the officials bore fruit.  It was determined that the culprit of the accident was a 20-year-old Plungiškės native, who blew 1.78ml into the Breathalyzer at the scene of the accident.

As we have already written, the disaster happened late on Saturday evening [August 1], when, on the Mažeikiai – Plungė – Tauragė road, near the Bereniai village, in front of the Mercedes A S2020, the Toyota Auris, being pressured, decided to bend to the right.  This difficult-to-understand maneuver failed, with the Mercedes bouncing into its right rear-fender and pushing it into the opposite lane of a Scania truck driven by a 1970-born man.

 Suddenly the unavoidable turn proved fatal.  Both women in the car were killed on the spot.  The truck driver escaped with bruising to his legs.

The ill-fated Toyota Auris was driven by a woman born in the 1970s, Rasa U.  The second victim was difficult to identify.  From the extremely short hair and clothes similar to men, it was speculated that it was the husband of the driver.

But in the end it turned out that this deceased was the first Lithuanian to acquire the right to teach Zen Buddhism, Myong Hae Sunim (Loreta Kairytė, born in 1973).  Kwan Um Zen School in Lithuania was one of the first to announce this on Facebook, leaving a post on Facebook: “We know that everything is temporary, but sometimes this truth reaches us in the most painful way …  Rasa.  Let’s help them along the way by chanting Namu Amita Bul. “

It is reported that Myong Hae Sunim has lived in Hong Kong, at a center of Zen Buddhism, for several years.  She had come to Lithuania for half a year, where she conducted trainings.  She was planning to return to Hong Kong again soon, but the disaster ended her life.

Five people were driving in the Mercedes that caused the accident.  After the accident, two of them remained at the scene, the other three fled as a frightened beast.  The other two were drunk.  The driver, born in 1993, was found to have a 2.76 blood alcohol content, and his three-year-younger companion had 1.78 per mille in the breathalyzer.  According to preliminary data, both men are residents of Plungė district.

The next day, Sunday, the ones who had fled also presented themselves to the Plungė District Police Commissariat.  They explained someone else was driving the Mercedes, but were in no real hurry to reveal exactly who was at the wheel of the car.

In order to gather the most accurate information possible, the group that was driving together night was divided into separate rooms, and they were interrogated by different officials.  The investigation into the accident is being carried out by the Road Police Service of the Klaipėda County Chief Police Commissariat.

After lengthy interrogations and intensive work by officials, the circumstances of the horrific accident began to become clear.  The suspect has now been identified.  He is a 30-year-old Plungiškis who blew 1.78ml into the police alcohol meter at the scene. Additionally, he has no driver’s license.

The suspect refused the charges. He was remanded in custody on a written oath not to leave and to register with the police twice a week.  According to the ongoing pre-trial investigation, the perpetrator of the accident faces up to ten years in prison.

Finding out who was driving the Mercedes was not easy for officials.  At first, the group was unanimous in silence.  And what they eventually did tell officials was all different.

The culprit was brought to light after experts took DNA samples from the Mercedes driver’s seat and steering wheel.  This betrayed the culprit.  The data available to the officials were also confirmed by the confession of the said thirty year-old.

It was also found out that the accident car was bought on that same fateful evening.  The guy bought the car in Palanga.  The group of friends decided to “dirty up” such a fine purchase.  And after that, thoroughly drunk, they flew home to Plungė. But in their way there were these women from Vilnius.

After being impacted from behind, the car in front of them was shoved under a large truck coming strong in the opposite lane.  As a result, the car was completely destroyed. The women traveling in it were only pulled with metal clamps by firefighters using hydraulic equipment.

I made this little shareable poster on the day of her funeral. Please feel free to copy and share as you wish. The teaching is from the poem “The Human Route,” one of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s most important teaching-poems. It has the whole situation in it.

So, this is how it ends, for all of us: In an instant, at the short end of a sudden chain of ignorance and distraction, probably fueled by the tiring juice of testosterone and its endlessly thrill-seeking sequelae. Years and years and years of unshakeable practice, adapting to strange new cultures and traditions, are snuffed out in the instant of one man’s misplaced neurochemical confusion.

People sometimes feel that the Buddha is being too deterministic when he claimed, “This life is dukkha [“unsatisfactory”, sometimes translated as “suffering”].” No, he was not being too strong. We have only gotten good at papering over the wincing pain of existing — or desperately grasping the too-short fragments of joy and satisfaction that we might be fortunate enough to discover — so that the Buddha’s words seem like such unnecessary kill-joy. But I think of Myong Hae Sunim’s parents, alone in Vilnius, their precious only-child having been robbed from them by some deluded youths out for a joyride…

Though I felt deep existential pangs from as early as I can remember, they were made profoundly deeper by the experience of losing a cousin, one summer one, in a car crash in Wellesley. That crash was also caused by someone drunk on alcohol and some bent emotion of the moment. Kneeling in front of Paul’s coffin several days later, gazing directly on the face I had known so well — his beautiful facial moles which gave evidence of his connection through his father to my own mother! — I realized that this life was not going to be designed for any sort of abiding happiness. His death turned me irrevocably toward looking inside; Myong Hae Sunim’s passing reminds me to further my efforts to trust what is seen there.

Reply to a Reader: “How Can I Become a Monk?” [video]

I get letters like this often: “How do I become a monk?” It’s one of the most consequential decisions that anyone can face, both for themselves and for their families.

Yet, it’s hard to reply when they don’t even provide their own name or reply address, much less a self-introduction!

So, the reply to this query had to come in the form of a public talk. Although I’ve addressed this matter on a number of other occasions, in different forums, and told many of the same stories retold here, this seemed like something that needed to be done again for the sake of this letter-writer. (Begin the video at 1:29:00. An edited version will appear in a few weeks, but I wanted the letter-writer to have their answer as soon as possible.)

Receiving novice monk precepts from the hand of Dae Soen Sa Nim (Zen Master Seung Sahn) on September 7, 1992, in the Main Buddha Hall of the Temple of the Sixth Patriarch, Nam Hwa Sah, on Chogye Sahn Mountain, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China. Co-officiating was Do An Sunim, now known as Dae Kwang Sunim.

Beggar /// 앵벌이

It is always going to be a little challenging trying to build and lead a community of true spiritual Zen (meditation) practice in the West. There are special challenges in this work, whether you are “lay” or “monastic”. Just in the last 6 months of 2019, two of the larger meditation centers in Regensburg shut their doors, due to their inability to generate enough financial support to keep the facilities open. And this is despite the massive boom of interest in meditation-based practices, often designed around stress-reduction, and the not-insignificant fact that were are operating in one of the richest towns in the richest “land” (state) in all of Germany: Bavaria.

Running a meditation center has these challenges, and functioning as a teacher in this context is also full of the challenge of surviving, personally. Of course, there is definitely good money to be had for “teachers”, if you ever have the gumption to exploit to the current mega-market “well-being” Zeitgeist. Yet I am especially loathe to just “make” workshops or programs like high-end yoga experiences that are so popular these days, filled with healthy meals, detoxes, and crystal-massages in exotic locales, just in order to rake in our little slice of the billions in monies which are commonly spent on such trendy environments. We could do it — I have received various plans and prospectuses for this which seem eminently capable of producing super-fat paychecks. But I would die a million spiritual deaths selling this deep existential inspiration, this ancient training, and these wordless insights fermented over decades in freezing Zen halls throughout Asia, just in order to match some market-based impulse, or my own damned imagined needs.

So, there is a natural resistance in the spiritual genes to just “making something” in order to create a forum for “earning money” to survive. The reason is because I just want people to meditate, to have the pure direct unadulterated taste of don’t-know “unborn” meditation for their whole lives (not just a sparkling weekend or “package experience”), no matter what is the “return” or not. For this reason, we have made retreat-fees for our programs here in Zen Center Regensburg (and in Norway, in Greece, and in Austria) very very very low. And though I am mandated by German law to have a small, symbolic monthly salary (at poverty-level), as titularly required as the head of the non-profit organization we created to run this Zen Center, that entire salary I receive is automatically donated by scheduled transfer back to the Zen Center in order to fund the use of an extra apartment for our retreatants and guests to have a less-crowded experience during retreats. I do not keep a single euro of my legally-mandated pittance.

So, the “salary” I receive is given back to the community, 100%. As it should be, for a monk. This has caused not a few of my students to urge me to clarify the means by which I might still remain viable as a teacher for the practice.

So, because many have asked, I can say here just this once, and for all time, and hopefully never again: I do not receive from any organization or school any sort of fiduciary “compensation” for the thirty years of intensive practice and teaching experience that is shared when I live among others in sangha or teach. I receive a roof over my head, I have a warm room and hard bed-mat, and there is enough clothing to go about this crazy world where called. I never fear the exhaustion of our daily supply of avocados, Greek olive oil, and good German bread. Super Kerry Gold Irish butter is always in good supply here (great omega-3!). The occasional jar of ajvar or almond butter are usually stocked on the shelves, when we are lucky. It is an honor to live on this simple plan.

He might be wearing Maui Jim sunglasses…

And yet, with aging comes the rush of more pressing cares and needs related to the body and its declining faculties. There is no central religious order which provides me with any support, whatsoever. Even after 30 years of promoting Korea’s ancient meditation technologies throughout the world, there is no temple somewhere in Asia looking out that my personal, physical needs are answered for. Zero! I do not power this work and this passion with any sort of material funding from any sort of “Zen” foundation or group or institution. I exist on wordless begging alone. In Korea, the word for shameless begging is 앵벌이. It’s the guy standing outside your church door, the guy by the subway entrance, the one who comes to your restaurant table with dirtied palm turned upward. This is simply how I live. Even fees accumulated from folks who attend our intensive retreats are — by constant design — lodged directly in our public bank account, where I cannot touch them for personal uses, there only for the support of rent and heat and water and light for their own precious don’t-know bungee-jump into the nature of pure reality.

Korean temples support themselves through a mixture of memorial ceremonies for the suffering and the dead (jae sa) and chanting kidos. These are nothing I have really trained well enough in, during the long years in Korea, and that whole way of baldly false ceremonial self-support is far, far outside my reasons for choosing Buddhism as a practice, anyway. Anything that makes promises of providing “help” for someone’s karmic journey after death is certainly something that smacks too much of the rotten religious mentalities I left in my 20s. Over nearly three decades of life connected with Korean Buddhism, I witnessed countless cases of otherwise fired-up meditators devolving into high-paid golden-voiced “chanters” whose daily lives revolved strongly and predictably around the cold dolorous ceremonies they performed, and the fat envelopes of cash they received. It’s a really really good living, a great groove. Yet, despite the security of it, and the means it would provide to build some buffed golden temple for myself somewhere vast and far off, I would kill myself instantly to awake one day to find myself practicing this angle on Shakyamuni Buddha’s inconceivable insights and path!

Yet, I’ve got to support our work in this practice, in Germany and (maybe) in Greece. The law requires me to have various mandated insurances, and cellphone/data use and teaching-travel impose their own constant sucking from the digital teat of internet-banking. I am accustomed to sleeping on sofas and floors in the cities where I am invited to teach, and receiving meals and medicines from folks who have only the vaguest sense of my true bodily needs. How does one handle the rest?

The Buddha, himself, established a highly-transparent situation where monks distributed the wisdom of their meditation efforts to laypeople in search of enlightened wisdom. It was never — ever — a transactional relationship: it was merely an interaction of soft mutual interdependence: the nuns/monks meditated, and gained finer and finer insight into the infinite rooms of the mansion of the conscious/unconscious mind, and connected laypeople provided freely the gross material means for nuns/monks to pursue these efforts, and to transfer their cosmonautical insights back into the noise of their supporters’ mundane, chaotic lives.

Can’t be choosy

So, with all this in mind, what exactly is my “begging bowl” in the swarm of current needs and aspirations for people to have access to Dharma, to have inspiration in practice?

Several of my Zen students have posed all sorts of ideas for how we should support this practice and teaching while functioning fully in the busy heart of the world, here in Europe, here in Germany, here in Catholic Bavaria or in Greece or Norway or anywhere the Dharma whispers me to roam. Some people have strongly urged me to “brand” myself through Instagram and LinkedIn. Hmmmmmmm, it’s current, and it’s kind of “sexy,” and cool and “now” — but…. This felt so weird. “LinkedIn?” I thought. “A job-networking site? I should list myself or this meditation center among PR people and marketing people and sales reps?” Several really good people strongly urged it on me, but I had to reject that out of hand. They looked like I suddenly had two heads! And anyway, even if it were successful, and brought me a small mint of support, who in their right minds would have any respect for a meditation monk who is networked with supporters by plying his wares along these decidedly careerist channels? Would I even look well on such a practitioner myself, much less follow her purely?

Then maybe there is the route of podcasts. Yeah, everyone has a podcast. And I’m not against the medium. Though I do not have much time for regular listening, I am a devoted, impassioned fan of the great Sam Harris’s “Making Sense” podcast. I recently subscribed to Peter Attia MD’s podcast. I was strongly urged by several people to make a for-pay subscription podcast, like them. That seemed a little better, because issues and questions could possibly be explored at greater length in a podcast-form than in other social media platforms.

But the Zen students who have urged these things on me have also said that really making a decent podcast would require me to produce regular transmissions of material to really “take off.” No more Zen “spontaneity,” I would need to “schedule” regular talks or interviews for podcast so that sufficient “interest” could be generated and maintained by creating a sense of regularity. That didn’t feel right — I don’t want to “blab” on created topics just to fill a space I have created and advertised for certain functional reasons (to spread the Dharma and to support this work) — and I would prefer that things just happen naturally by themselves, or not. I have always hated small-talk and chit-chat. It is perhaps the only thing I have always truly feared, in social situations. Small-talk online, just to fulfill some purpose, would be no different from the small-talk and chit-chat I desperately fear in human situations — being gussed-up as a podcast would not mitigate that visceral terror and disdain I have always, always experienced in the realm filler-experience.

On top of this, there would be the question of “make-work”: While the podcast concept is certainly something I benefit from, in the few times I get to listen, I’m absolutely sure that, having this obligation, it would add a mountain of work to my own fragile practice in this world. Constantly needing to come up with scripts and questions and themes, I would just make my head busy and frazzled for nothing. I would have to listen to peoples’ background stuff before I dialogued with them on-record, the thinking-works they’ve done, the books and lectures and controversial positions (along with the counter-positions, for “balance” in the conceptual realm). There aren’t a lot of really hard-core serious practitioners whose views I would feel welcome with, and yet just having a podcast would require me to address all sorts of positions about who I invite, and who I don’t. All that pointless human noise!

Or, even without guests, I know that the meditating-mind would constantly need to share a considerable portion of its don’t-know streaming-data to come up with “fresh” material to talk about, just to fulfill some perceived need or audience. I would need to “produce” talky-talky content. And the listeners’ comments, and the inevitable blather that would be produced by my own strongly untethered views and insights, would create its own vast forests of work and confusion to slash through. Does one really want that sort of sorry human noise, in one’s already-burdened hours of spiritual reflection, just for whatever theoretical public benefits it might confer? Tethered to a podcast’s insatiable needs for “new” material, I would lose my super-precious solitude in the common rush to “produce something” for public consumption. I would be required to do research and background checking. A more public profile would be required, and journalists would notice, and want to check-off the box of interviewing or “featuring” me — I would be caught and hanged in the wheel of public novelty, just for some up-and-coming’s career click-bait. (This has already been dangled in front of my face.) And certainly, as I have seen with the podcasters I respect the most, I would also, eventually, certainly need to “reciprocate” some interview somewhere to balance the visit of a guest to my own “production.” There might be a flood of comments, misunderstandings, clarifications. Uggghhh — Headache. It makes me panic just to imagine that!

Someone insisted that I post regular Dharma talks so that I can share them to Instagram or YouTube and become a social media “influencer.” Ha ha ha ha!!! But who would be foolish enough to want to be “influenced” by such a crazy, “wild wisdom” excuse for a monk? I am in possession of various contentious views of religion, identity politics, and social happenings: I wouldn’t want even a theoretical son/daughter of mine to follow such a being, such a person, without constant direct parental guidance being built into the experience — . And exactly what would the influence be? A pointless path, if ever there was one.

There is little that can help, with words, that pure suffering does not itself bring, and the benefit of actually sitting together could have verbal/conceptual reasons for delay, or end-around false intellectual/conceptual expressions of Zen (meditation) “understanding” which would just totally obscure the strong wish and belief that people must sit on their own asses to resolve the inevitable questions which would be posed though such a medium. Just more noise, deflection and delay. Something is viscerally repelled by all of this. “Don’t make anything” is one of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s signature teachings. Having a podcast would just dump totally on the crystalline purity of such a view, again and again and again. I could not stand this. So, I rejected “podcast” and “influencer” routes.

So, after reviewing all the options for how to support my teaching-work going forward, the ideas that have stuck are the three following. These seem the most reasonable way for me to continue teaching without needing to get some janitorial job in a local high school somewhere:

  1. Our Zen Center Regensburg team has set up a “personal” PayPal account where folks can support their errant teacher-guy. That can be used for one-off donations, and for monthly commitments:

    http://blog.mirrorofzen.com/donate/
  2. Patreon: Our team has set up a Patreon page. (Big experiment!) This gives me an incentive to produce at least some potentially useful content that might be worthwhile. (So sorry if said content often sucks or is otherwise offensive or hurtful to sensitivities — but it could be irregular and based purely on more spontaneous inspiration and insight, unlike the scheduled needs of a podcast:)

    https://www.patreon.com/mirrorofzen
  3. Local folks have urged me to make these teachings available to the well-meaning corporate folks and good-minded HR- who wish to bring into their companies the technologies of mindfulness and self-knowledge, but who might understandably shy away from inviting or promoting any sort of religious, denominational, or sectarian voice. I get that, absolutely. So, through various introductions and recommendations, my work has been accepted by the folks at one of Europe’s greatest public-speakers’ companies, the London Speaker Bureau. I was invited to address corporations and major banks in South Korea, back in the day, and have been invited by honors business-school courses in Germany, Norway, Korea, and the US. People do want to wake up, no matter what their tools for self-sufficiency:

    https://www.londonspeakerbureau.de/en/speaker/hyon-gak-sunim/

This is how things stand, right now. When I was active in Korea, from 1992-2012, since I was making an active contribution to the spread of Buddhist teachings in-country, I was supported to do this work. If I needed a plane ticket to fly somewhere to teach, it was provided to spread the Dharma. If I was injured or sick, the temple or my supporters were there to help with the burden. The mundane needs of life were taken care of, so that I could focus entirely on doing strong practice, long retreats, and sharing these insights with the public through talks, retreats, doing translations, and counseling individuals.

That is not the case since I left the temple walls. Let’s see how this new system works.