First uploaded in Korean on 2015.11.27
Dharma Talk: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim
Record in Korean: Lee JunGil
English Translation: Rei Yoon
“I thank the father and other brothers and sisters who allowed us to use this cathedral. Last year, I traveled 115 cities of the world for 115 days. In the US and central and south Americas, cathedral was the place I used most often for talks. They don’t have much public facilities, so use the cathedral for those purposes.
Each time I used the cathedrals, I joked that ‘we are using Catholic churches but indeed we are not indebted.’ When Catholic first arrived in Korea, running from persecution, they hid in the Buddhist temples in the mountains to study the bible. That is why the first place where Catholicism took root was Cheon Jin temple. When Catholics were persecuted, Buddhists suffered together because they provided the venue. This is our history. I don’t see much problem in Buddhist monk using Catholic buildings. (Laughter)
I am delighted to meet you in a Catholic church. Today I wish to talk about life in general; not about certain religions like Buddhism or Christianity. Let us talk open-heartedly about life itself.”)
The atmosphere warmed up as Ven. Pomnyun’s began speaking. People were impressed with the history of friendship between Buddhism and Catholicism.
“We all think that waste is waste. We think compost is valuable and waste has no value. But I tell you, waste is compost. Waste is compost and compost is precious for giving plants life. In Buddhist terms, we say ‘suffering is enlightenment.’
Say there is a poop. Is this waste or compost? If it is waste, you have to get rid of it. If it is compost, you would bring it home. When we were little, we would play in friends” houses but come back home to take a poop. It was valued as compost.” (Laughter)
“I thank God for allowing me to ask this wise and kind monk.” (Laughter)
“It is a good start.”
A lady came forward to ask. “My husband is a Christian priest. He is a fine man with such a kind soul. It breaks my heart to see him suffer. He finished master’s degree in Korea and obtained a doctor’s degree from a famous foreign university. It was not easy for him, as he was born with many brothers in the poor countryside. His scholarship was cancelled before leaving Korea to study. We learnt later that the sponsor switched the beneficiary to someone else he was close with. My husband was disappointed, but he studied hard. After he came back to Korea with a doctor’s degree, he had an opportunity to become a professor. He was first in research records and evaluation standards. However, the person in the second place was employed as a professor because the person had close relationship with the decision-makers. The result disappointed us. We endured, thinking that the God’s will exists somewhere else.
My husband was invited to an infamous church that had kicked out quite a few pastors before my husband. The poor management of the church caused most of the attendees to abandon the church. The remaining few stayed because of family connections.
Most of them were elders or deacons. My husband worked from early morning to late night, cared for the believers, and rebuilt the church for 6 years. But 5 years into service, the church elders started to harass, insult and abuse him. My husband quit this March. I tried to forgive them but then cannot help thinking ‘how can those people, elders and Christians, do such a thing?’ It has been so unfair. I am greatly discouraged. (The lady sobs.)
Two years passed. I am experiencing physical and mental challenges. How shall I pray for my husband’s success? What shall I do to change my husband’s fate where he always does the right thing yet is deprived of everything? What shall I do for God to open up a path for my husband so that he can be a leader?
Another question is about family. My mother-in-law is also tired of this life; consequently, she vents her anger on me. I tried to understand her, but I can’t stop thinking that she is not helpful. It is so hard. It is embarrassing to admit that I sometimes dream of committing suicide. I know I shouldn’t think like so as a follower of Christ, but I feel worthless. What shall I do?”
“Let us first give a big hand of encouragement for this lady.” (Audience applauds.)
“This is a matter of choice; whether you choose to walk the path of Christ or the path of the world. The problem originates from lacking a clear choice.
If you choose the path of Christ, everything you said does not matter. But if you walk the worldly path, your life indeed is full of suffering. You keep looking at things from a wordly perspective. Things do not turn out as successful as you would desire – from a wordly criterion. It means that even though you go to church, your faith has not gone much beyond praying for benefits. You are at the center and God is an outsider, someone who should give you blessing. In such circumstance, I will not be surprised if you were to bear grudge against God.
However, is it not true that your husband has forsaken the path of secular pursuits, but rather chose to live after Christ, along the path of suffering? In this perspective, your life is blessed. The problem arises because you confuse the two perspectives.
Jesus Christ has walked the path of suffering. Not once in his life was he welcomed by the rich and powerful. How did his life end? He was sentenced to death on a truly unfair conviction and was crucified. What did Jesus say then? ‘Father, forgive them.’
I used to go to church as a child. Every Christmas we’d put up a play; I always played the wise man from the east. (Laughter) I remember vividly how we used to sing looking at a baby doll laid in the manger. That is how Jesus came to this world; he has come in the lowest of all positions and has risen to the highest of all. Jesus walked a path of anguish. Never being welcomed once in his life.
I had been tortured in the 80s. These people just took me and beat me and tortured me with water. They would simply say ‘you know what you did wrong, admit it.’ I knew that I was innocent. I was so angry that if I had a gun, I would have shot them all. That was when I looked at myself clearly. These people were threatening to kill me but it was only words. What about me? My desire to kill them was real. The recognition of my resentment surprised me greatly.
I read the bible before and it didn’t catch my eyes; but after that experience, the first phrase to catch my hearts was ‘Lord, forgive them.’ It was something I could not, in the least, emulate. Whether I believed in Christ or not, I could kneel down in respect for Jesus. It was words that came out of someone with a human body, but it was not something that could come out of a human soul. What about myself? I was living, pretending to be some ascetic, but encountered with unfair circumstances, my mind was at once full of wrath. What about Jesus? He wasn’t just beaten like me; he was hung on the cross, yet his words were ‘forgive them’ – this is already divinity.
I learned an important lesson through the experience of torture. Amidst my anger and pain, the three torturers to me looked like demons. Remember, it was two people that hung Jesus on the cross, but there were three for me. (Laughter) There was a break in the middle of the torture. The break was not for my wellbeing, it was for themselves. They’d have a smoke and chat with each other to gather energy to continue their jobs. The date was November 15, the date for national scholastic assessment test. With me trembling beside them, they casually talked about the test. One person said to his colleague. ‘My daughter is taking the test today. I really wish she’d make it to a university in Seoul. If she goes to some unknown university in the countryside, how can I support her with my small wage?’
I was in shock. I thought they were demons. In reality, they were just any fathers you see on the streets. The torturer was just another father who worried about his daughter over a cigarette. If he goes home, he is a daughter’s loving father, a wife’s loving husband, an old man’s loving son. When he sits at his desk, then he would be another regular employee.
This recognition dropped my anger and rage. Without such an experience, the torture would have left me an inerasable scar. I would have sworn a revenge. After our society became democratic, I probably would have searched the torturers to punish them. But you see, a monk should not harbor grudge. It was this experience that made me let go of anger.
After that, this phrase in the bible shook my soul. Before, I had read it but it did not really come into me. ‘Forgive them.’ What did Jesus say after that? ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ I considered those torturers deserved to die. But I changed my thought; they were just doing their job for they knew not what they did.
Going back to the Bible, the executioners of Jesus on the cross were correctional officers in modern terms. There was a death conviction, so they had to execute it. Method of execution at that time was not hanging or shooting; it was crucifixion. They hung people on the cross until they died; brought them down and hung new people. It was part of their daily routine; just like a fisher would catch fish every day. Jesus understood them in full: that was why such a saying as ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do’ was possible.
As for myself, I did not try to let go of my anger or try to forgive them. It was the moment I understood them that I was relieved. Listening to them talking about their daughter’s exam made me realize that they were just another ordinary citizen. They were doing their jobs.
If your husband has chosen to walk the Christ’s path, all these sufferings and pains are not the result of God’s hatred or some bad karma or sin from past life or being born with ill fate. If you choose to go this way, that is how you walk. If you go a path of welcoming and applause, just like the pastors of big rich churches, that is not walking the Christ’s path. They are no different from the Jewish rabbis and scholars that Jesus condemned. In my view, your husband is walking a normal path.
I suggest that you change your perspective. You are too attached to the idea of ‘my husband’; instead try to look at him as ‘someone who walks the path of Christ.’ Looking at the matter from a different perspective, nothing is a problem. Same for the trouble with mother-in-law. She is looking at ‘her son’ instead of ‘‘a follower of Christ’s path.’ She is disheartened so wants to blame someone. So she starts to say ‘my son was smart and good, it is all because of you that he is unsuccessful.’ Your life as a wife is tough enough; imagine a life in mother’s position. Do not expect your mother-in-law to understand your hardship. Think of it this way. How difficult would it be for your mother-in-law to watch the ordeals of her son? Try to understand her because you are also a mother.
A word about praying. There is a problem in how we pray – either to Buddha or God. People think that praying is about ‘give me this, give me that.’ They say their prayer was answered when their greed was fulfilled. They say ‘praying is useless, faith gives you nothing’ if their wish is not granted. They are denying the essence of their faith.
‘Please give me this’ sounds polite but it is in fact an order. (Laughter) You are saying ‘Give me this or I won’t believe you.’ This is not faith. Lord is wiser than you. Lord knows everything. Lord decides what is good for you, and you follow. If passing the test is Lord’s will, so be it; if failing in test is Lord’s will, so be it. Failing now might be painful but somehow in Lord’s long plan, it is definitely good for you. Leave it to Lord. That is why praying cannot be anything but ‘thy will be done.’ Whatever the circumstance, whatever the predicament, always pray ‘thy will be done, I will follow.’
Only pray for appreciation. If you prayed ‘give me this’ that means you are ready to love God it is granted and hate God if not. Thank God that you are alive and breathing. Is that not enough to thank? Praying as such, you are already blessed. People think that when their wish is granted their prayer has been answered. They think that blessing comes from granted wishes. That is not so. I am already blessed; I am living and breathing inside God’s blessing. God is always with you. This path of predicament is no longer predicament; you are already blessed. Accept everything for they are Lord’s will. Thank everything and things will flow as they should.
You think your life is tough because you look at your life from an ordinary, a non-believer’s perspective. I fully understand that you are heartbroken. You have crossed seas of suffering and are still crossing it. But please look at life from a divine perspective. All these suffering means that you are faithful to the path of Christ. You said your husband was kicked out of church after years of devotion, but he wasn’t crucified, was he? (Laughter)
“You are right.”
“Jesus said ‘forgive them’ as he was being executed. Compare that to being kicked out of church. It is nothing. And you said it is not even a good church. (Laughter) If you voluntarily walked out of the church out of disappointment, that is not love, it is discrimination. But those people kicked you out, so you are not to blame. How good is that? Lord has opened the path for you. If your husband could not endure the ordeal and walked out on his will, that would have meant a lack of faith on your husband’s side. Now, let us hear a little more from you.”
“My husband actually told me something similar. He said that he has to carry the cross as long as he is Lord’s disciple, that blessing from Jesus does not come in secular forms, that he cannot refuse to walk this path just because it is painful. Now that I have heard from you, I understand that my perspective caused the problem. To be honest, my husband seems to be uncomfortable with me because he is walking his path as his conscience guides him but I keep thinking that he could be more successful with all his talents.” (Sighs)
“That talent you say, it could be used for financial gains, but is that what you want? Imagine, if I had a wife, would or would not she complain about my lifestyle? (Laughter)
If I go and speak in a company or government, I can earn 2,000 or 3,000 dollars. However, I made rule to speak only for free. I do not accept invitations for paid lectures. If I had a wife, she would definitely be complaining. ‘Why do you move around in a car all day long, everywhere in the country, in the world, not having enough sleep, undermining your health, and not even receive money they are willing to give?’ (Laughter)
She might be right. But look at the life of the Buddha. Followers can build temples if they desire. A monk is not allowed to accept anything other than food, clothes, medicine and rags for sleeping. Of course it did change a little with time.
If you cannot endure your parents’ reproach or wordly temptations, you cannot walk this path. If your mother grabs you and begs you not to walk this path, even if she says ‘you are going to kill me’, you should say ‘Mother, you are an adult, you make your decisions, I will give you a good funeral.’ That is how firm you should be. You see me smiling but I tell you, I am a very cold and decisive person. If I were not, I could not have walked this path. Actually your husband’s biggest mistake was to have a beautiful woman as wife and make her suffer. If he wanted to follow Christ, he should have gone alone. He now has to walk two paths because of you; it makes him suffer more.” (Laughter)
“I think you are right.”
“Since you are already married and walking the path together, I ask you to forget that he is your ‘husband.’ If you keep thinking him as a husband and expect things you would from a husband, your suffering will never end. The Buddha had been married, mind you, but he left her to become an ascetic. The Buddha’s wife, also abandoned the secular world and became a nun. Why don’t you become a pastor? (Laughter)
Change your perspective; that is the only way. Thank him for his existence. Encourage him as you would support priests or monks who live alone. All the churchgoers and believers cheer for the pastor; and they are not even his families. You are his spouse, much closer than the attendees. Why can you not cheer for him? Stop thinking ‘My husband is so talented and it is not fair that he is living this unsuccessful life! He could have become a famous pastor, professor or even a president!’ Living a Christ’s life means to let go of all those positions, gains from talent, and live the insignificant of all lives. You say your path is shut but no, it is wide open. Your husband is a great man. (Laughter)
I understand that as a wife, you would be grieved, disappointed and have some desires. But the tougher things go, the more faithfully you are following Christ. If you live with a man, he looks like a husband and not a pastor. Things he speaks sound like a husband’s words not a pastor’s teaching. Stop considering him as your husband; think him as a pastor. He is a good pastor.
I tried to find a faithful pastor but could not. He is a great man, respect and support him spiritually. Endure the ordeal together with him. What is there to worry? You are already blessed.”
“Yes, Ven. Pomnyun. Thank you.” (Applause)