Vineyard Stupa Monk

A good dharma friend Boep Jeon Sunim has built this stupendous stupa in Grafenwörth, Austria. It’s in an active vineyard and (until recently) protected district in the Danube River valley, so he is connected to us at Zen Center Regensburg through the mighty Danube’s vast flow approaching Vienna. He is connected to Castra Regina, the Roman camp directly underfoot our Zen Center building. That base was built for Legio III Italica during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the reluctant philosopher-emperor, practitioner of Stoic wisdom, non-attachment to phenomena and passions and thinking, his main collection known to us as The Meditations. Our Zen Center’s Dharma Room — the Mirror of Zen — straddles the former Praetorium building, the HQ, where the Stoic Emperor sent his thoughts on living the truly awakened life. How fascinating: Stoicism is often referred to as “Ancient Greek Zen.” Meeting in this spot through Korean Zen and Greek Ashtanga Yoga.

Boep Jeon Sunim has therefore a strong connection to the Zen Center Regensburg, the life waking up through silent retreats and daily-practice. He visited Regensburg to meet Dae Bong Sunim in March 2016, and participated in the Precepts Ceremony, where two new Dharma Teachers (“Poep Sa”) from Greece were confirmed, Niko (Bodhi-citta), and Dimitra (Prajna-chandra). Greek Zen (“stoic”) becoming Greek Zen (“true don’t-know”).

Could just be a day-laborer, working for his daily bread. He shouldn’t be up there.

I received this picture just today. A few hours ago. That’s him near the summit, taken today or yesterday. He’s up there hand-painting some soffing or moulding under the recently-joined golden crown. Zoom in on the relentless Arhat’s humble service, monkeyed up scaffolds himself in the early winter air of the Danube plain. What a true faithful student of the Buddha.

This is his second stupa in Europe — the first was in Hungary. Chong An Sunim and Won Do Sunim used to speak about this way back in the Tea Room at Hwa Gye Sah. I think I remember it that way. Or around that time. They were actually so proud of it, to say to other young monks like me how proud they were that in their country, there is already a great stupa. True Tibetan design. His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited formerly Communist Hungary soon after reunion with the West to lead the Opening Ceremony and Blessing or whatever they do. I remember them being really proud of that, among the Europeans. And for all good reasons. There was no hard edge or anything. Yet the Hungarians knew they were well-advanced in having Buddhism in Europe. Legally considered to be one of the official religions of Hungary. Their Buddhist College is fully accredited and the only one of ts kind in Europe. “Hungary have strong Buddhism tradition, already.”

The stupa that Boep Joon Sunim built there is the only stupa of its kind in Europe. That is why the Dalai Lama came to Hungary for the first time, to bless his work. His Holiness often recognizes Boep Joon Sunim in a crowd of monks in Dharamsala or on these teaching trips through Europe — often Sunim is in Tibetan robes, just a wrap. And the Dalai Lama reaches behind Sunim’s neck to cup him behind the head and laugh, and laugh, saying, “My friend. My old friend.” One of the first monks in the Korean lineage to get close to His Holiness in Dharamsala and abroad. And he quickly donated the stupa to a group of Tibetan monastics — maybe even nuns — and maintains no further control or relationship with it. He just built t, and gave it away.

Because he has attained that he never “has” it.

Peace Stupa in Zalaszanto, Hungary, Europe. Sunim built to pray and gave away.
Peace Stupa in Zalaszanto, Hungary: If you build it, they will not come.

He hasn’t had the official Opening Ceremony in Grafenwörth yet — I believe he is holding out hope that His Holiness’s next and last trip to Europe will enable a visit to the old vineyards of Grafenwörth to open this magnificent practice place. (IF there is practice.) But His Holiness has already announced no more European travel in 2020, on health advisory. Sunim is absolutely determined to launch this way, to energize Dharma roots in that part of the world. So, there is some special appeal from an organization or two that even His Holiness cannot avoid, for the Tibetan condition and the ever-more delicate holding-pattern of world peace. Crazily, i.e., still Korean and pure-minded, Sunim believes fervently that some people might convince the Dalai Lama to “break’ his no-Europe schedule, for at least one trip, maybe two. Then he could get the Dalai Lama to officiate at the stupa’s opening. He knows that would be the last visit to Europe, to preserve his health. So, he must come to Grafenwörth. “But that’s it,” Sunim said. “No more Dalai Lama coming to Europe, after. We all know that. So he must come here, visiting our stupa. I pray, very very harder that .”

Actually, I don’t really know Boep Jeon Sunim well at all. I never met or heard of him in Korea — he had gone early to India, to Dharmasala, to Mount Kailash. Not really sure which Korean monastic family he belongs to. Maybe Baek Yang Sah. You know he is/was a real monk in Chogye because of some eminent Teacher trained him, whose name I forgot, and Sunim is clearly a temple-honed monastic. All I know is he is an outlier-maverick in Chogye, and even claims sometimes “I am not in that Order,” even though he is. Like me. Maybe a little trapped by the politics, but also the affiliation that comes from a shared training regimen, lifestyle together, practice, however variant are the techniques. “In” this Chogye Order (ordure?), yet having no place or use for it. Yet, this order is the tradition’s “something” through which all temple families and lineages run. And right up against the politics, the nationalisms, the paralyzed (and paralyzing) temple families (the mun jung). “In this world” of Chogye, “but not of this world of Chogye,” borrowing from Jesus. Boep Jeon Sunim wants nor receives the least bit of support or attention from the Chogye Order, or any Korean temple. Just as he likes it. He’s not at all, it seems, into that whole Korea Inc. thing that is robbing the soul of Korean Buddhism these days.

He’s totally off the grid, nowhere to be found, Buddha-ing strangely in plain sight. It seems he won’t be too rooted down by this pagoda as by the last. There might be other stupas yet coming. He might not have an ambition or plan, but his pure faith compels him on for practicing waking-up.

The Great Dharani
Drunk on samadhi out in the vineyards of Lower Austria.

Ágios Ioánnis tis Thessaloníkis

(Usually, eyes are ‘down’ in Zen. Except for the things that only He sees…)

He’s in the house now.

Ioannis of Thessaloniki took the Five Precepts last March at ZCR with Zen Master Dae Bong. Now, he’s back at ZCR and practicing hard. It’s so great having him on the cushion, looking into don’t-know in silence together.

When he’s not here, Ioannis helps on film production back in Greece. A work he recently teamed on, “Back to the Top” (dir. Stratis Chatzielenoudas) is an award-winning true story about Leonidas (a 33-year old punk rock paraplegic) and his friends, who plan to climb to the highest peak of Mount Olympus. For whom is it going to be more difficult? A real story of total try-mind.

Try-mind. Like Ioannis. Don’t we all have our own Olympus to climb? And are we not all handicapped by some things, disabled by aspects of our karma (“mind habits”)? This is the meaning of the teaching, “Sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation.” Insight is possible, in even a single retreat, and much moreso in decades of practice. But, children of entropy, we are all constantly challenged with the work of reapplying and reapplying the practice in the flow of mind-habits, some of the strongest of which do not always trend in helpful directions. For monks as well as for beginners. This is the patience of “try, try, try, for 10,000 years nonstop — get enlightenment, saving all beings from enlightenment.”

You Must Become Completely Crazy

…meaning, “free.”

Jon Habat-Zinn is one of Dae Soen Sa Nim’s original Western students. Later, he went on to use his meditation work in the service of helping patients afflicted with various physical and mental ailments, and is now internationally recognized as one of the founding exponents of what is called “mindfulness-based stress reduction,” or MBSR.

When I was writing the book Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake, I asked him to please consider contributing a foreword for the book. He agreed without the slightest hesitation.

In the Foreword he offered, he related a funny story from the 1970s about Dae Soen Sa Nim and his insight into “crazy”:

“One night, with [Dae] Soen Sa Nim sitting next to me, I gave the Wednesday evening public talk at the Cambridge Zen Center. When it was over, he answered the questions. It was his way of training his students to become teachers. It was a pretty interesting and challenging training regimen. The very first question came from a young man halfway back in the audience, on the right side of the room, who, in the way he asked the question (I forget entirely what the import of it was), demonstrated a degree of psychological disturbance and confusion that caused a ripple of concern and curiosity to pass through the audience. As usually happens in such situations, many necks craned, as discreetly as possible of course, to get a look at who was speaking. Soen Sa Nim gazed at this young man for a long time, peering over the rims of his glasses. Utter silence in the room. He massaged the top of his shaven head as he continued gazing at him. Then, with his hand still massaging his head, still peering over his glasses, with his body tilted slightly forward toward the speaker from his position sitting on the floor, Soen Sa Nim said, cutting to the chase as usual: ‘You craaazy!’

“Sitting next to him, I gasped, as did the rest of the room. In an instant, the tension rose by several orders of magnitude. I wanted to lean over and whisper in his ear: ‘Listen, Soen Sa Nim, when somebody is really crazy, it’s not such a good idea to say it in public like that. Go easy on the poor guy, for God’s sake.’ I was mortified. All of that transpired in my mind and probably the minds of everybody else in the room in one momentary flash. The reverberations of what he had just said were hanging in the air. But he wasn’t finished. After a silence that seemed forever, Soen Sa Nim continued: ‘. . . but . . . [another long pause] . . . you not crazy ennuffff.’ Everybody breathed a sigh of relief, and a feeling of lightness spread through the room. This interchange didn’t follow a predictable script for meeting suffering with compassion, but I felt in that moment that everyone had participated in and witnessed an enormous embrace of compassion and loving-kindness, Soen Sa Nim-style.”

Here is a teaching-video that Pablo “Yorae” Rodas and I made yesterday in the Zen Center from a recent snippet which was taken while following this great nearly-free spiritual monkey and Zen Center Regensburg resident Housemaster on a midsummer night’s walk after Evening Practice. The video was spontaneously filmed, without planning, unexpected, in the moment; the teaching is eternal. Thanks to Ji Bong.

A Zen Retreat

“What Sees This?” by Jayoon Choi

Many people wonder what it is like to sit a Zen retreat. And others question whether an urban Zen center can ever possibly convey the depth of mountain-temple experience in the middle of a thriving, throbbing city. Several years ago, the London-based artist Jayoon Choi came to Zen Center Regensburg to pursue her own intensive Zen study. After several retreats, she offered to capture the essence of the silent inwardly-seeking mind, using her skills as visual artist, trained at the Royal College of Art. This birthed several short filmic portrayals, one of which is “What Sees This?”

The film was dedicated to the memory of Kerstin Zeise (1965-2018), the former Director of ZCR and one of its co-founders, who passed away from breast cancer in March 2018. Where is she now? This has become such a powerful teacher for everyone in the community. The film is Jayoon’s offering to the work of looking into this Great Question of Life and Death — or, Zen. We are very grateful to have it.

Zen retreat is not difficult, not easy. Zen retreat means just do it, moment to moment. “What sees this?” What hears that? What controls my breathing? Reflecting on this, there only appears “don’t know.” Keep this mind, anytime and anyplace, and then anywhere is already a very good Zen retreat for you.