Mirror of Zen Blog

The Last Meeting with Zen Master Wu Bong

On April 17, 2013, one of my first teachers in Zen, Zen Master Wu Bong, left his body and entered Nirvana.

Wu Bong Sunim appointed me to be the Guiding Teacher of the Munich Zen Group of the Kwan Um School of Zen in about 2009. We were very close in spirit and I have always been very grateful for the great trust he placed in me to teach in Europe.

In 2010, he visited our little teeny-tiny Zen Center on the Westendstrasse in Munich. He delivered a Dharma Talk and then we went to the biggest Biergarten in Munich to have some beers and watch the World Cup game between Germany and South Korea (or between somebody and South Korea). I remember him staying with us for several days, because we made not one but TWO trips to the Biergarten (Hirschgarten) to watch the World Cup (and have beers).

He relocated to South Korea, and I remained in Europe. I never met him again after this visit to Munich, because he died less than three years after this visit. So, these are the last photos of us together.

Giving the Dharma Talk at our first Zen Center in Germany — the Munich Zen Group, on Westendstrasse.

Zen Master Wu Bong and I had several memorable experiences together. Once, around the time just before his visit to Munich, I attended a gathering of the European Sangha of the Kwan Um School of Zen. The event was held at the temple of my (then) Dharma brother, the Hungarian monk Chong An Sunim. He was building a little temple in the countryside, and there was much construction being done even at the time. So, most all of us needed to stay at a little hotel in the nearest city, Esztergom.

In those days, I was in a crazy phase of enjoying life with as much liberality as possible. So, at the end of the busy day of conference-meetings, when people gathered back at the hotel, I would commandeer a table and some of my closest “spiritual” brothers and a few trusted others would hold the table for a few hours, until deep into the wee hours after midnight. I would order wave after wave of refreshments and snacks, whole plates of food. Everyone was very happy and surprised to connect with each other under such largesse, so liberally imbibing and eating while we discussed important matters in our organization and in our work. Back then, it was the days of really, really “hard practice”, each of us doing thousands of prostrations every day and these insanely-challenging intensive 90-day meditation retreats.

When the bill would come, at the end of the evening, the waiter would ask if I wished to pay by cash, credit card, or put it on my room-charge. That was a question the waiter should not have asked!

I would put the receipt on the table, among the spillage of bottles and plates, and sign the room number for Wu Bong Sunim (at that time, he was the Head Teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen Europe). He was never at the meals, of course, being the Head Teacher of the sangha and in his bed getting rested for the many, many cares and concerns and decisions which would be brought to him for consideration and approval.

I just signed his room number, and then did some fake signature for him. We must have done that about 5-6 times during the conference. Every day there would be this understanding among several of my closest monk-brothers that the hard day of conferencing and burdensome chit-chat socializing would end with one of my “clear the larder!” invitations. All of it put on the tab of the top Zen master of the whole Kwan Um Zen movement in Europe, and one of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s earliest and closest first disciples. What made this even more “meaningful” and even disruptive for the Kwan Um meetings is that, usually, people who normally drank even a glass or two of wine with their meals almost never did when gathered in these sangha gatherings. It was done sheepishly, because there are precepts for that which can be interpreted or engaged with varying levels of liberality. And most erred on the side of just not having a beer or something during a meditation-centered international conference among the Zen masters and guiding teachers who one encountered in retreats and in formal interviews. There was no written rule against it — it was just something that usually happened by itself.

So, at the end of the conference, at checkout, Zen Master Wu Bong got quite a shock when he went to pay his bill. He was still a successful businessman at that point: not fully a monk, but definitely in the transition phase, and still having access to his considerable financial investments while he wound down his business entanglements to enter fully monastic life in Asia.

My monk brothers and friends were more than happy to liberate him of a significant portion of his personal wealth during the delicious nights of that memorable conference. I felt it a better of great merit-making to be able to help this new “baby-monk” enter the life of poverty a little bit more quickly than either he or his financial planner might have anticipated.

For his part, Wu Bong Sunim had a really good laugh when he received the bill. He was shocked, for sure! But when some of his own close disciples (especially from Berlin) reacted with greater anger than him at what I had loaded onto his personal credit card over the course of 4-5 days of a truly extensive tour of traditional Hungarian cooking and “fermentation”-culture, he merely laughed. They later told me, “Wu Bong Sunim said, ‘Hyon Gak Sunim a little crazy sometimes. But his practice helps the whole sangha.” He told me later, “I know you are a senior monk to me, but I am still Zen master in Europe. Please understand if I can’t afford to give you donations in the future.”

Share this on:

Related Posts:

  • IMG_2466

    Many years ago, in an interview with a prominent Korean newspaper, a reporter asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, “Your teachings…

  • Sangha

    Sangha means regulating automatically together with others and what that Community reflects back to you.

  • 0322CF10-2A3D-472B-AEC4-380203B87036

    Thursday, September 30, 2021, 19:49. We got a near-COVID positive test scare. Local membership has been told to stand down…