J-Pop/K-Pop’s Dark Side


I lived in Korea for over 20 years, and that culture and society gave me much. I am constantly trying to pay it back, and know I never will, so great is the debt. And one of the ways I can “pay it back” is by speaking as truly and frankly about aspects of their human-tohuman treatment which are sub-optimal, at best, and often quite brutal.

One of the first things I noticed, as I developed friendships there after first visiting in 1990, was the extremely harsh working conditions of pretty much everyone. There was no such thing as a Saturday off for everyone I knew, and some 70% of them even needed to put in a few hours on Sundays — without any bonus or extra pay. There was no overtime pay for workers who rarely returned home before 9 or 10 p.m., and I believe that that largely remains so (except for the large American and European companies based there, all who run things by more enlightened labor standards.) I remember seeing, with great horror, clumps of middle- and high school-aged children slumped in bus stops and on subway steps on the streets of Seoul at 10 pm, sometimes even at midnight on a school night, all uniformed up from the classroom, finishing their six-days-a-week regimen of after-class “cram schools” that determine one’s ranking on a national test that determines your entire economic future, right down to the people who will marry you in that intensely upward-mobile society.

Of course, anyone who understands with even a smidgeon of Korea’s history will know how much of this frenzied grow-at-all-costs madness was the efforts of a small nation never to be conquered again, as it had experienced so many times with Imperial China and Imperial Japan — “a shrimp between two fighting whales”, the Koreans describe their geopolitical position. Anyone who loves Korea and her deep traditions — I have sometimes described my first, most inspired years of practice there “a love story” — feels the bitter ground of these soul-killing mentalities.

This recent documentary on Al Jazeera knocked my socks off: The overworking of delivery workers who serve South Korea’s explosive use of home-delivery services for everything they need, all of it delivered on a tight clock through vast canyons of high-rise apartments — literally squeezes the life out of workers who are delayed even a few minutes by traffic. When a worker cannot complete all of the deliveries required of him, and tracked real-time by a central computer, if due to traffic or congestion the package arrives at the destination even ONE minute passed the advertised 9 p.m. delivery deadline, the worker has dedicated from pay the monetary value of the ordered goods! And they are paid a mere pennies, maybe one dollar, for every delivery through every apartment building they are directed.

The dark underbelly of something we all take for granted, this documentary is essential viewing to see better the worlds of pain we are creating to serve our own convenience and safety:

I can imagine the situation might not be much better in Japan.

For years, I have encouraged our Zen Center members to be kind and generous to the people who deliver our packages. I have asked people to be sure to give at least a banana, a fresh unopened bag of nuts, but especially a few Euros, at least two or three if they are around. We have no elevator in our building on Weißbräuhausgasse, and often trudge up the full three storeys if someone doesn’t run down fast enough to catch them (another thing we encourage). I make sure to remember their names (a failing achievement), and I know about the long-term relationship of one of our delivery guys, an immigrant from Tunisia, who says he is happy when he hears that I am away in Greece because “You will bring back nice nuts for me.”



Meditation practitioners often report to me that, as their stability in Meditation grows, they notice they are not only less distracted and swamped with unnecessary thinking or emotions, but they even feel that some close relationships in their life become a little distant, like there is some readjustment going on. The normal feeling they can often have is to fear such a change. “My friends are interested in chitchat that no longer excites me. I’m wondering if meditation practice is causing me to lose my friends!“ One of my students confided this to me just in the last two days. And I hear it all the time.

Change is inevitable; change is natural. Change is often indicative of an evolution, and evolution is a materiallist kind of “enlightenment”.

In such a case, I remind the person always, “If you are outgrowing the dynamic that worked for you before you started to practice, don’t let your change be something that gives you any sort of smugness. Don’t leave anyone behind — even those whose previous interactions with you gave you injury. They were pushing you to this point, after all. So, you should love them as before.”

I guess it is the benefit of having practiced these things for years in a temple, where we had a certain philosophical infrastructure (the Four Great Vows, the 5, 10, and 250 precepts, etc.) that helped me keep the orientation and activation of my practice fairly clear, all things considered. When you wake up every single day of the year, and your first vocalized words of the day begin, as a tradition, with “Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all,” it sort of keeps your ethical rocket pointed in the right direction.

Then your rocket can take many, many beings to a higher, more intuitive insight into their nature, if you can vow, as the navy seals do, “No one gets left behind.” True growth doesn’t liberate you “from“ people; it liberates you completely towards them, away from the nonessential and straight to the core instead.

Energy Moves


For the life of me, it’s hard to understand how people can somehow think that “karma“ (mind habit) is some deep mystery. It simply means cause-and-effect, played out in the mind. Thats all. When that cause-and-effect mechanism is not seen, then it operates as a silent software, directing things to negative ends from a vague control tower somewhere. As we begin to trust awareness of this cause-and-effect, it might disappear as a morning vapor is burned through by the rising sun of a day.

Of course, there is the deeper matter of “trauma“, which is an enduringly affective cause-and-effect suffering — literally baked into the formation of neural pathways in the brain (or, in my own case, a shrunken amygdala from a decade of childhood abuse) — caused by some specific event or set of events. Even 30+ years of hard practice in the mountains did not fully relieve me of the nastiest effects of this kind of truly pernicious injury. Practice certainly relieved me of some of the grosser sequelae from these events of my childhood but it was never a total prophylactic against the effects of this.

Energy moves. Mean or sadistic words and actions transfer their devilish power throughout the entire nervous system. Without practice, these experiences literally affect the electrical signaling of the brain and the entire neurochemical support that buffets us from the suffering of day-to-day life. The dribbled basketball eventually loses its energy if we do not “prick“ the unexamined forces of karma, but rather gain insight into their arising, maintenance, and return to emptiness through ongoing, constant awareness, sometimes called “meditation”.

The Sadomasochism of Everyday Life

A psychological structure or function that is created to meet the demands of one environment — the world of childhood — can outlive its usefulness and become maladaptive in another — the life of the adult.

—John Munder Ross, The Sadomasochism of Everyday Life

Scott Barry Kaufman (born June 3, 1979) is an American cognitive scientist, author, podcaster, and popular science writer. His writing and research focuses on intelligence, creativity, and human potential. Most media attention has focused on Kaufman’s attempt to redefine intelligence. (Wikipedia)