Myong Hae Sunim’s Very Special Tea

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A good friend in Lithuania sent me this tea. It just arrived at the Zen Center today.

This tea is from flowers and herbs which were picked, sorted, and dried by Myong Hae Sunim in the days just before she got in that ill-fated car on August 1. They come from her mother’s garden at Sunim’s childhood home. It was her final project in the last weeks of her life — making a truly medicinal tea for her students to boost their immune systems to resist coronavirus. Sunim did not live long enough to see these herbs gathered and packaged. The project was completed by a sincere practitioner named Jordana Gonzalez, who helped Sunim’s grieving mother bring her daughter’s last service of love to fruition.

Containing peppermint, marigold, rose petals, black currant, thyme, sage, rock rose flower, linden flower, lemon balm, and raspberry leaves (among others), this is truly a pure cocktail of life prepared by a hand that no longer exists anywhere — the hand of a nun who devoted her entire short life to waking up and helping others to wake up. Now, I’m not much of a tea guy. But this is definitely something I am experiencing with a very special feeling.

Tomorrow is the 49-Day Memorial Ceremony for Sunim. There will be a very big Dharma gathering at Su Bong Zen Monastery in HK, her base-temple. At the same hour as this ceremony, our Zen Center residents and guests will enjoy together this blessed elixir with mindfulness, gratitude, even reverence — tomorrow and over the next few weeks. In the sipping of tea, we join with her generous soul and Great Vow.

Thank you, Myong Hae Sunim. (And Jordana.)

Reply to a Reader: Becoming a Monk

Become Monk Moment

Question: Becoming a monk has always been something I felt I wanted to do since I started my Zen practice. But how does one know when they are ready to take on the challenges of a monk’s life?

Reply: When I first told Dae Soen Sa Nim that I wanted to become a monk, he asked, “How much percent do you want to become a monk? 99%? or 100%”

I thought, for a moment (big mistake!), “Be honest! Be honest!” So I answered, “99%,” thinking that this would be enough – I could work out the other 1% as years rolled by. It wouldn’t be a steep hill to climb.

“If only 99%, then that’s not enough. One day, this 1% will kill you, kill your monk-mind. When you have 100% become-monk mind, then come back, I check you. Until then, not possible.”

I was totally crushed

So, after some more practice (and a lot more suffering), I came to his room one day. “Sir, I want to become a monk. My mind 100% wants to become a monk.”

He took off his glasses, and scanned my face.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” he said, with a big smile. “This 100%-mind then anytime, anyplace have no hindrance.”

September 7, 1992. A day that will live in infamy.
Become-monk moment, Temple of the Sixth Patriarch, Nam-Hwa Sah, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China, September 7, 1992. Dae Soen Sa Nim brushes my head with water before tapping it with a small sword, symbolizing the act of cutting the hair. From this moment on, you’ve been stuck with what he did there that day.

That was 27 years ago.

So, “feeling” that you want to become a monk and actually needing to become a monk – as if you suddenly discovered your head on fire – are two vastly different things. It would be much better not to become a monk if the reasons are not clear. I have met many, many people as monks (and nuns) who ordained for reasons that were not clear when they ordained, and their whole monastic lives just reflect those unclear reasons. This is especially true in Asia, where Buddhist monasticism is more institutionalized: Maybe they ordain because they come from a poor family, and see it as a path to better education. For some, it is chosen because of family expectations. For some, being a monk can be a kind of job which takes care of your living conditions for life.

Among Westerners, you meet some who chose the monastic path because of some spiritual fantasy. Then they often get disappointed to see how much hard work is required, how little (actually, no) privacy you have, how much you must be aware of hierarchy, etiquette, and form; there is very very little “free time,” at least for the first 5-6 years, and you really have to give up your freedom altogether. But this is just your “outer” freedom, your opinions and likes and dislikes. Yet many people who experience this get too disturbed, and they end up leaving the monastic path soon.

Becoming a monk is a process of great disorientation and destruction, and if your reasons are not clear, then this great disorientation of your conventional thinking and expectations never orients itself toward wisdom and compassion, and the destruction of your illusions and ignorance never become recreated as Dharma. You really have to have a very strong intention in order for the medicine of monastic practice to fully penetrate to the root. And it requires great patience, suffering, and endurance for this penetration to happen fully.

Anyway, this is too many words: I think you get the point. The best way to know if you can become a monk is to be perfectly frank with yourself: How much do I need to do this? How much am I willing to truly give body and soul to this Path, no matter what the heavy burdens and trials I am given? There are many other paths in life which can be just as fulfilling – even more – for practicing Zen than becoming a monk.

99%? or 100%?  Only you can know that for sure.

Good luck.