Solitude is, for me, food and medicine and air. It is not a separation, a removing: it is actually a movement of where there is a possibility to connect more deeply with the inner-space of people. I have always treasured it, but as I grow into my sixth decade, it blooms so much more powerfully within me. It is not merely “being alone,” and it is definitely not “being apart from others.” Solitude is the vein of inner-listening. It’s where my wholeness is most fully revealed to myself.
“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person — without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.”
When I was practicing strong austerities in the temples of Korea in the ’90s and early 2000s, we monks and nuns were supported by the temple, by faithful Buddhist believers, even by giving public talks and leading retreats. A country like Korea with such an ancient Buddhist tradition really knows how to provide the day-to-day infrastructure which is fundamental and essential for carrying out this work and this efforts. We have monthly insurance costs, medical costs (especially as this compounded body ages and declines). In an age of greater digital ubiquity, there comes the unending tsunami of requests for replies to correspondence, to requests for video consulting, to the need to provide usable means for folks in far-flung places to connect with a practicing spirit, even to the myriad apps that are always needed to produce teaching-methodologies which help newer generations connect with the Dharma off the printed page that generations like my own depended on to get the seeds and juices of the original masters. A local member urged me, recently, that for our Zen Center Regensburg teaching-posts, I must install this-app and that-app. But they are all requiring monthly charges, adding up to 30 EUR per month, in addition to my monthly phone and data charges to stay in touch with students and practitioners. Where can this come from?
People often ask how they can support this work. It is painfully difficult to answer this question in our Covid Era, and causes me great guilt. And yet the requests for assistance pour in, and the torrent seems more to increase than to show any sign of moderating.
So, after consulting with my humble base of advisors, it seems apt now to list the methods and means (if only to avoid having to answer so many incoming questions):
1. Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and turn on notifications:
This is a general method for moving this work forward. Very very simple.
Recently, YouTube has notified the Zen Center Regensburg and me that I could qualify for monetization. This is due to the algorithm-determined appeal of my talks and teachings, and our twice-daily livestream. Naturally, such a relationship would enable me to continue to receive some compensatory support for the years and years of bitter practice endured in freezing mountains temples, shared as talks and advisors free on the Internet. But it is only an idea — our community, they say, needs to show more “online enthusiasm” in order for them to make this worthwhile and helpful for us.
In the southern Buddhist countries, nuns and monks beg on the street for their food and sustenance. In the ancient traditions of northeastern Asia of China, Korea, and Japan, where I trained, nuns and monks are supported commensurate with their generally recognised efforts at purification and teaching. In the Internet age, that is done by algorithm. I am sorry.
Subscribing to our YouTube channel will be helpful. If we gather enough interest, the algorithm will spread these teachings to other people not yet in our loop, and there will be an amplified effect which will increase exposure to these teachings on a much much greater scale: more people, in different lands, can have contact with the Dharma. That effect is urged even further when our channel membership is perceived — by the algorithm-Buddha — to have reached a threshold relative to other similar sites.
So, please SUBSCRIBE, and if you subscribe, please hit the “NOTIFICATION” bell, so that you get notices about my newest releases and events. If you have comments to share, please make comments. My Team (which means, a sometimes-volunteer or me) will catch that, and I will try to make a response.
This page was set up by some of my students who were worrying about my health and basis. It seems to be a very helpful method for me to cover health expenses and general operational demands. I do not receive or earn much through this method, but it might grow. People say that it is the equivalent of a “group shout-out”.
Actually, I tried this method for the last year or so,. There is not a great accrual from this. And I “get” that, especially in the Age of Covid. But our Team here really really pushed me to set it up, because they claim that “crowdfunding” is something which practicing monks like me should pursue. Someone said that this is “the digital begging bowl for what Buddhist monks did in the Buddha’s time.” I am agnostic about it, but I am giving it a try. Everything else that we share on the Internet is completely free, so why shouldn’t we share some method where some further investment could be given where I could be equipped to something more?
One of our former Zen Center Regensburg directors was shocked to learn that a monk with my experience does not have any consistent or predictable support. (She is German — predictabli. She said, at one meeting, “Sunim, you have 25 years of experience of intensive meditation experience. And you function in our little city here in Bavaria, for nothing. Anyone can ask you questions. Do you know what a German cardiologist with 30 years would charge?” She died the next year from breast cancer.
The very last post she made on social media — literally, the very last post she ever made in this life — was her joy at setting up a donation button for our Zen Center Regensburg.
It is not necessary to say such things, as part of my public teaching, and it is never decisive or necessary to roll out such illusory facts, for the practice of meditation, but today it might be helpful:
I received a degree in Comparative Religions, from Harvard University.
The Tu-104 was the most dangerous Soviet passenger aircraft. Due to the lock-step mentality of Soviet culture, even trained engineers could not criticise its design or testing or fail-rate. The Boeing, and the Airbus, though problematic at times during their history, permitted criticism and design improvements according to publicly acceptable engineering protocols, called out by engineers in the field and commentators online.
There is no acceptable nicety in criticising the design flaws and the engineering flaws and the operation flaws of belief-systems. But there should be. And we should do it. We need to do it, now more than ever.
As usual, I feel automatic congruence with Sam Harris’s brave insights. They are my own selfsame reflections, Harvard degree or not.
I am thankful that the creators of “The Matrix” made so abundantly clear the core issue: Either wake up, or continue the sleep. This is the path of practicing Zen, and it is experienced so powerfully in the experience of silent Zen retreat:
Morpheus explains to Neo that the Matrix is an illusory world created to prevent humans from discovering that they are slaves to an external influence. Holding out a capsule on each of his palms, he describes the choice facing Neo:
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
“It’s most extraordinary that Mahler – with his fine sense of rhythm – cannot walk two successive steps at the same pace. Instead, he changes his speed so often that it is utterly impossible for anyone to keep in step with him. Rowing in a boat is even worse, for he makes wildly irregular strokes – now in quick succession, now quite slowly. What’s more, he becomes quite furious if his rowing companion – who is always to blame for everything – bumps oars with him.”
—Natalie Bauer-Lechner, a close friend and recorder of Gustav Mahler’s life from her first meeting during his days at the Vienna Conservatory through his marriage.
In the Spring of 2020, there was to be the great Mahler Festival in Amsterdam. https://youtu.be/6T90I0ynen0 I had cleared my dense teaching schedule for the month, and was fully prepared not to miss this great opportunity to travel there to drink in the many performances, exhibits and talks as Mahlerians from all over the world were gathering for a slate of concerts covering his entire oeuvre. Though I was too late (and too poor!) to ever be able to obtain tickets to the concerts, I was hoping to at least get some of the sense of what it was to celebrate the Man with others similarly disturbed by his mad, absolutist existential intensity, others inhabitants of his sublimely cosmic liberating hell of truth.
COVID cancelled all that.
However, in support of that, and seeing the surging tsunami of humanity connecting to the gospel of this fantastically tortured priest, the New York Philharmonic — working with Google — had pre-prepared an exhibit of the places Mahler visited during his years in New York City (during the years 1908-11). It is a picture collection and recollection-rich deep-dive into his days in New York, after he had been freed from the conflicts of his position in Vienna.
Thanks so much to this online voyage, I remember spending one night last Spring during the depths of lockdown in near chills, unable to be released, imbibing passionately the scrupulously documented paths he took through a city I have also inhabited and worked in.
Thanks to this fantastic presentation, I have vowed one day to encounter firsthand the places he experienced during his short years in NYC, to experience every street and vantage point he may have tasted, just as I did when I travelled in a mad last-minute decision from the Black Forest of Germany to Vienna by a hitchhiking arrangement in 1989 to at least touch the surface of the city that enticed, enlightened, embraced, enlarged, ennobled, enclosed, enraged, and finally entombed him. There was no Internet then, in 1989: Google was a dream in an Isaac Asimov novel. After travel cramped in a VW van with some Austrian student whose offer I had torn off an A4 poster in some coffee shop in Freiburg, and with zero knowledge of the city (no AirBnB!), I landed there with no basis other than to merely gawk outside the Vienna State Opera (from every single angle: “Was THAT the window he looked through?”, “Was this the doorway he might have frequented?”), touch the stones at the foundation of the building he inhabited from 1898-1909, and gaze on every old-looking coffee shop entrance in the vicinity of the Opera with a glazed wonder. I had no money to even enter to enjoy a cup of coffee in the places near the Opera. The only consolation, the only healing balm in this city of coffee was to grunge out a few Deutsche Marks for a watery coffee in the cafe in the nearest subway stop nearest the Opera. Sitting there, drinking this non-coffee experience, I closed my eyes and conjured up an imagined nearness to his movement and activity. That was it.
During that visit, for reasons I cannot possibly remember, one day I gained admittance to the Vienna State Archives and presented myself (torn sweaty sweater and all) as some sort of Mahler scholar, such that they brought out for my inspection a small wooden, sweat-soiled box containing an orderly filing of the original glass negatives from the famed Moritz Nähr’s timeless shots of Mahler in the foyer of the Opera House in 1907. These shots have graced a million albums covers, posters, articles, essays, and books. Today, looking back, it is as easy for me to understand string theory as it is to grasp how the freak these trained archivists laid out on the long wooden inspection table for some nervous, haunted hitchhiker American with bad German-skills the timeless source-material for the most-viewed images ever taken directly from Mahler’s period of peak influence and glory!
But it wasn’t the images themselves that startled the soul. I had seen these images in books and on record covers. His face was already perpetually burned into my soul from a many-varied experience holding album covers I’d viewed with no turntable ever to play them on. No — it wasn’t the hagiographic image-formation of these photographic relics that moved me, so much as, holding these hundred year-old original one-of-a-kind fragile glass negatives in my hands — and with no gloves! — more than the images themselves, my heart pounded with fantastic unbridledness as I repeated over and over and over and over again: “This! This object that I hold — it absorbed the image from him, directly, from a distance no more than two meters! This thing was in the same room with him. This object vectors with his very, living presence!” It was almost like some palpable confirmation, to my eyes, what my ears had been so aroused to believe was possible about the touching of the cosmic/infinite and the human/historical. There was a visceral trembling. My scientific upbringing gave faith to believe that the micro-faintest traces of his exhaled DNA could still be traceable here, captured by the rude physicality of this pre-modern glass surface. I was profoundly moved by that possibility. I even vaguely remembering a furtive sniffing of the edge of the glass-negative. Tears welled up inside, and brimmed the corners of my eyes, as I sat there holding up for nothing these fragile glass-negatives, fully drinking in the presence of Mahler’s being having been pressed so directly even unto his own CO2 onto this very same glass that stood between my trembling fingertips. It felt like, for my own intellectual and spiritual perversion, what Michelangelo was expression with his expression of the languorous Adam reaching out across the abyss to nearly-touch the finger of his god.
Now, when I see devout Greeks kissing glass-enclosed icons in the churches, and a sardonic anti-religious critique wells up inside, I do back down. Last Summer, while on sabbatical on the Greek island of Evia, I stopped in to a village church during the Sunday services. Something needed a direct touch with the indeftatigable sartorial soul which shaped — which shapes, against all suffering! — their indomitable soul. As believers brought their children in and, marching straight to the essential icons of saints and gods, they literally lifted their children off the floor to kiss the glass-surfaced icons — this, in the midst of a world- wide pandemic! — some part of me automatically recoiled and silently derided the slavishness, in an atmosphere of global, yet silent transmissality. So many others gathered there had already freshly kissed that the surface of that beautifully rendered icon just in the period I sat there — what is the false-faith in outward things which would lead good people to such actions, throwing out logic for pictured images? What causes the leap over reason and common-sense sobriety for this? And yet… Yet, there, after a moment or two, I couldn’t help but notice a turning of the corners of my lips. Kissing a picture?
And yet, “I’ve been there, folks. Go for it.” I would have French-kissed those fragile ancient glass negatives of Mahler, had someone immediately sprayed them with Ebola mist. Sorry to say, that was the mind then. It’s not wholly reformed since.
When this whole pandemic situation passes, you can be absolutely sure that I will use this link as a guideline for a walking tour of Mahler’s New York.