Ode to a Natural Bodhisattva

In Zen temples and Zen communities, when a practitioner of some kind of death in practice passes into Nirvana, it is customary to offer a poem to them. Some reflection is offered which reflects on the passing or the core point of the dead monk/nun’s life crystallized in their death. (Or a monk/nun, coming close enough to the threshold of death compose a poem themself about their passing: “Moments before he died, Zen Master Kyong Ho wrote the following poem: “The mind moon is very bright and round / Its light swallows everything. / When both mind and light disappear, / What… is… this…?”)

This video is this humble practitioner’s death-poem for his Dharma sister: that is all.

Myong Hae Sunim (her Dharma name means “Bright Ocean”) and I were not close, as human friends in the monastery we shared — she was a completely different generation of trainees, but she was not far away. She was with us in Hwa Gye Sah temple beginning, for her, in 1996, only 2-3 years after I first started living there.

Back in the day, we often said that she was the living prototype for those stories of ancient Catholic saints that one reads about in books, the Holy Ones who would stand in flames for the purity of their faith and goodness. There was nothing she was “doing”, to give off that “air” of a totally tangible “sainthood” (I justly cringe as I write that word) among us. No affectation of anything whatsoever; she just emanated the single-hearted devotion to natural goodness and purity, and quietly helping others. But she was never showy about this, or in the least bit self-aware of any sort of quality or holiness. You hardly ever noticed she was in the room, unless she was handing you something from the background while slicing fruit quietly for everyone to share. She was not about socializing or being involved in chitchat. Just simple girl-like speech with other nuns, maybe sharing stories with a fellow-trainee haeng-ja monk about some ceremony that would make them busy with work later that day. She was so unaired in things, you hardly noticed her leaving the room, off to help or the serve or maybe to see a doctor. She didn’t leave traces. “The nun of no-rank.”

She came, she left. Impermanence. Then what remains? Anything? Go ask the Bright Ocean. It will give you a good answer.

(Thank you to Daniel Kapelian and Jang Jiu OMA Space Seoul for the visual/aural scape of these reflections to design on.)

Several days after this video was shared on social media, I was contacted by Myong Hae Sunim’s Teacher and “nun mother,” the great nun Zen Master Dae Kwan. Though we had been close when I lived in Asia, we had not been in touch in about 15 years, since just before I moved to Europe. Dae Kwan Sunim said that another KUSZ senior teacher had sent her the video with a recommendation to watch it. She felt deeply moved by the experience. She asked if she could use the video to open the big Memorial Ceremony for Myong Hae Sunim which will be held in September.

The Meister Eckhart quote is less relevant to a Chinese audience seeing this publicly, and so to make space for her Teacher to add a teaching-quote that would be more fitting for the Su Bong Zen Monastery community, I went back and produced this version — extended, with no quote.

Here is the super-cut version prepared for Instagram:

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