“In Korea, I Go to a Buddhist Temple, and in Germany, I Attend Church. Is That Okay?”
2023.9.1 Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim (1) Frankfurt, Germany
Today is the first day of Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s 2023 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour. The first Dharma talk is being held in Frankfurt, Germany.
Starting with the Dharma talk in Frankfurt today, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim will be go to Düsseldorf tomorrow, then to Belin, Munich, Paris, and London, visiting one city every day and holding a Dharma talk in each of those cities. Then, he will travel to the U.S. and hold a Dharma talk in Seattle on September 7th. He will hold a Dharma talk in Vancouver the next day, and then go back to Seattle for another Dharma talk. Then, he will visit Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Dallas in consecutive days, holding one Dharma talk in each of these cities. .
Today’s Dharma talk was held at the Jugendherberge Frankfurt Conference Center, which overlooks the Main River.
The 160-seat conference room was packed full of people. More than 200 people in attendance, so the seats were completely filled, and there were people sitting on the floor and people standing at the back of the room. The audience applauded and cheered when Ven. Pomnyun Sunim made his appearance. There were quite a few Germans with Korean spouses in attendance .
This is the first over Dharma talk held overseas in 4 years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sunim’s voice was full of energy reflecting his happiness to meet people in an in-person Dharma talk.
“Today’s Dharma talk is not a place for life counseling. This is a place for learning about the truth. Truth is nothing special. When a person with suffering is freed from suffering, it is called the truth. The criterion of truth is that it enables people to rid themselves of the existing suffering or to prevent suffering from arising in the future. This is called ‘words.’ The reason that we refer to what Jesus said as ‘the words of Jesus’ is that people’s afflictions disappeared upon hearing those words. The words we exchange in our everyday conversations are different from these ‘words.’
When anyone asks questions about their troubles, afflictions, or problems, they serve as the subject matter that helps us talk about truth, and this is called a ‘Dharma Q&A.’ I am not giving a unilateral lecture on the various problems that arise in human relationships. Instead, when you ask a question, we will take that specific example to converse on ways to free ourselves from suffering are talking about the way to be free from suffering. Now, shall we begin?”
Eight people raised their hands and freely conversed with Sunim. One of them said he had been a Buddhist for 25 years while living in Korea, but after coming to Germany, he has been attending church every Sunday, and asked if that was okay? Sunim replied with a hearty laugh.
In Korea I go to a Buddhist temple, and in Germany, I attend church. Is that okay?
“I am a young man in my 20s and I have been in Germany for about a year and three months. From a young age, I frequently went to a Buddhist temple holding my grandmother’s hand and served as a Buddhist chaplain in the army. When I came to Frankfurt, there were hardly any temples. I tried going to a Chinese Buddhist temple to continue following my Buddhist faith. However, from December of last year, I started attending church. Fortunately, I get along well with my fellow church members. However, I have been a Buddhist and attended a temple for close to 25 years, so after I began attending church in Germany, I began to feel conflicted. When I go to Korea, I go to the temple with my family, and when I come to Germany, I attend church every Sunday. This situation is making me very confused. What is your view on my situation?”
“Why is attending a temple in Korea and attending church in Germany a problem? I don’t quite understand what you are trying to say. According to your line of thinking, we should think it’s strange that people speak Korean in Korea and German in Germany (Laughter).
Just as you speak Korean when you go to Korea and speak German when you come to Germany, you go to a temple in Korea and go to church in Germany. Even if you are in Germany, if you lived in Koreatown and only interact with Koreans, you could only speak Korean. Then, you can speak Korean in Korea as well as in Germany. But when you go out and meet German people, then you have to speak German. Likewise, if there is a temple in Germany, you can attend a temple in Korea, as well as in Germany. But since there are no temples in Germany, you can attend church. Would that be a problem?
Germany has a small population of Buddhists, so even if there were a temple, when a young man like yourself attended the temple, you would probably be the only young man. So, it will be difficult for you to make friends. But when you go to church, there are some young people. If you attend church, you can make friends, so why would you go to a temple?”
“I have always believed that there are many things to learn from Buddhism.”
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t keep your Buddhist faith. What is the problem with going to church while maintaining your Buddhist belief? If you continue to live in Germany and later marry a German woman, you may obtain German citizenship. If you become a German citizen, you would become a Korean-German, right? In the same vein, since you are a Buddhist who is now attending church, you could be called a “Buddhist Christian” (Laughter).
Conversely, a person who used to be a Christian and has now became a Buddhist is called a ‘Christian Buddhist.’ Currently, there are a great number of Christian Buddhists in the United States. There are many people with Christian background who have become Buddhists. There are many of them in Germany also.
Why do we always have to choose one over the other? You can change your religion, keep both religions, or you can believe in one religion based on another religion. Even if you were born in Korea, you can gain Japanese or American nationality. Why do you have to be a Christian just because you were born into a Christian family? And why can’t you become a Christian just because you were born into a Buddhist family? Times have changed, but despite being young, you seem to have very outdated views. Just continue to attend church” (Laughter).
“Do you think that the compassionate Buddha will punish you for attending church after having attended a temple? Will the loving God punish you for attending a temple after having attended church? Will you be burned with fire and brimstone like Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament? That is what people used to belief before the New Testament came out. The God after Jesus is not a punishing God, but a God of love. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them.’ This is Christian love. The idea that you will be punished if you change your faith from Christianity to Buddhism is a threat that originated from sectarianism.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say that you used shop in one store for a long time, but a new store opened nearby. If the new store has better products and better prices, then of course, you will shop in the new store. Then, the owner of the store you used to shop at will be upset. But we have freedom of choice. You don’t have to be conscious of others. You can choose to do what you want. I think that way, but many sectarian shopkeepers may be offended. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
There was loud applause from the audience upon hearing Sunim’s elucidating answer.
The conversations that followed were also full of laughter. Two hours passed quickly amidst much applause and laughter.
As the time allotted to use the conference room came to an end, Sunim hurriedly delivered a closing message.
“After conversing with me, you might think, ‘You’re saying the obvious.’ That’s right. I am saying the obvious. But the problem is that when we listen to other people’s stories, it sounds obvious, but when we are talking about our own, it doesn’t sound obvious. Should students who plan to take the college entrance exam study hard or pray hard to pass the exam?”
“They should study hard.”
“However, when you are the student preparing for the college entrance exam, you think that you should pray to pass the exam. What about when it’s someone else’s situation? When a student, instead of studying, is only praying and doing bows, you will think, ‘That person is so foolish’. If people who do many bows were to pass the exam, all they need to do is bowing, and there would be no need for school. This is common sense. Likewise, truth is just common sense.
How to Live Life More Freely
When your fixed notions are shattered, you will be able to see a completely different world from what you have seen so far. This is not mysticism. Mysticism is mostly based on desire. You have to run your store with your own efforts. So, why would you ask God or the Buddha for your store to be successful. If you can’t even run your own store properly and ask God or Buddha to do it for you, what is your role? If you ask God or the Buddha to find your spouse, what on earth will you be doing? (Laughter)
‘Jongyo’ is the Korean word for religion, and it means ‘the most important teaching.’ Whether there is a God or not is not the point. In the current modern society, religion is necessary more than ever. Perhaps, in today’s age of materialism, an insightful religion is more direly needed. However, don’t be constrained by established religions. You must love yourself more than anyone else in this world. Those who torment themselves are those who don’t love themselves. If you really love yourself, don’t justify your suffering with any reason or excuse, saying, ‘I can’t help but suffer because of my situation.’
All phenomena in this world are based on certain principles. A few days ago, the super blue moon made an appearance for the first time in ten years. In the past, there would have been all kinds of wild talk about this phenomenon. For example, people might have said that it was a sign that a new king would ascend to the throne. However, in terms of the principle of the universe, it is just a phenomenon in which the moon comes close to the earth and then moves away again due to universal gravitation. Just like that, there are principles behind every phenomenon. So, don’t get caught up in mysticism.
If you believe in Christianity, you must learn and follow the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus spoke of six criteria for being admitted into heaven. He asked, ‘Did you feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, give medicine to the sick, clothe the naked, welcome strangers, and visit those in prison? These are the least ones in the world. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of the people in the world, you did it to me.” When you believe in, follow, and put into practice these teachings of Jesus, you can be considered an upright religious person.
The principles taught by Jesus are the same as those taught by the Buddha. Jesus’s state of mind when he said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ about those who hung him onto the cross is the state of non-self in Buddhist terms. Jesus could say that because he let go of the concept of ‘I.’
Therefore, it’s unimportant what religion you believe in. Your focus should be on ‘How can I live my life more freely,’.I don’t know if you came all the way to Germany in search of happiness, but just coming here won’t make you happy. When you observe yourself and become more aware of yourself, suffering will dissipate, and happiness will grow. May you all become happier each day.”
The first Dharma talk of the Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s 2023 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour ended successfully with a big round of applause.
For more detailed information on the 2023 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour: https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/dharma-sharing-ven-pomnyun-sunim-to-give-first-in-person-teachings-in-europe-and-north-america-since-the-pandemic