“Is Four Pillars of Destiny (Sa Ju Pal Ja) based on science?”
2023.9.13 Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim (14) San Jose
Today, the 14th Casual Conversation of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s overseas Dharma Talk tour in 2023 was held in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley in the United States.
Sunim, who returned to Orange County after giving a Dharma Talk in San Diego yesterday, at 7:30 p.m. Korean time, 3:30 a.m. local time in the United States, began broadcasting a live Dharma Meeting for the members of the Jungto Society in Korea.
Four people were able to have a conversation with Sunim. It was still early in the morning before sunrise, but Sunim answered each question with a clear voice. Among them, one person asked a question about why we share our minds and what the principle is.
What are the benefits of mind sharing?
“When I share my mind, I am curious about what happens, how it helps me, and the principles behind it.”
“To understand the principles of ‘mind sharing,’ one must study Buddhism as a discipline and knowledge. For example, when you start a car and press the accelerator, the car moves forward. By learning how to drive in this way, you can drive conveniently. To stop the car, you step on the brake, to move forward, you step on the accelerator, to go left, you turn the steering wheel, and in an emergency, you turn on the blinker. This is what the practice we are doing now looks like. However, the principle by which such action is achieved is a field of study. Why turning the steering wheel makes the car go left or right, why stepping on the brake makes the car stop, why pressing the accelerator makes it move forward – these contents correspond to studying professional skills about cars. You can learn all of those things if you study them, but a person who drives a car doesn’t need to know all of those things.
Let’s say we worked together for an hour. Various thoughts can arise during the work. You liked it, then you disliked it, then you felt bad, then you felt good, then you thought ‘It’s a good thing I came to work,’ and then you thought ‘I came for no reason.’ Mind is always boiling like this. So, after work is over, when someone asks you ‘How do you feel now after working?’ you can just tell him about the state of your mind.
It doesn’t mean that you should blurt out your mind at any time. When you are asked, ‘How is your mind right now?’, it means that you should try to share your feelings with others by saying, ‘I’m sad right now’ or ‘I’m a little nervous.’ Sharing your mind allows you to see that each person’s minds are different.
First, it’s about whether you are aware of your current state of mind. If a person is talking about their thoughts without knowing what their current state of mind is, it can be said that the person is in a state of non-awareness. By sharing your mind, you can self-examine whether you have awareness.
Second, by sharing your mind, you can realize that the mind is different for each person and that your own mind also changes from time to time. So, you don’t overly emphasize the change of mind. When an unpleasant feeling arises, it’s just a momentary occurrence. It’s not a situation where someone is truly at fault or something to be hated. Your mind arises from karma from time to time. So when you get angry, you should not think, ‘The other person did something wrong,’ but rather be aware, ‘My mind is arising like this right now.’
For example, when you’re about to get angry at someone for something, if that person suddenly gives you a very expensive gift, saying, ‘I bought a gift for you,’ your anger will quickly subside. When you repeatedly experience the fact that the mind arises according to ‘limits,’ you’ll realize, ‘There’s no need to be attached to the mind.’ This does not mean that your mind will not fluctuate, but even if your mind fluctuates, you may not be affected by it as much.
When it rains, it’s easy to say, ‘I won’t go today because it’s raining,’ or when it’s sunny, you might say, ‘I can’t go today because it’s hot.’ It’s easy to quit doing something for various reasons. But if you’ve decided to go, whether it rains or snows, just go. If it’s raining, you can use an umbrella. If it’s sunny, you can carry a parasol. If it’s cold, you can wear an extra layer of clothing. If it’s hot, you can wear light clothing.
Like that, through sharing our minds, we learn to live without being affected by our minds even if they fluctuate in one way or another.
Third, by sharing your mind, you can relieve stress whenever it arises, without letting it accumulate in your mind. For example, if something happened in the morning and you were a little upset, you could say, ‘Today, I had other things to do, but I was a little upset because of the sudden call.’ Even if the negative emotions are not severe, if they accumulate inside, they become stressful. When something similar happens once, twice, or three times, you start to hate it. So, by sharing your mind like, ‘Today, I felt a bit annoyed as soon as I received the call, but it got better now,’ the emotions stop piling up in your mind. That’s why mind sharing is essential.
When you engage in practice, you’ll find that sharing your mind with fellow practitioners, rather than listening to Sunim’s teachings, is much more direct in helping you understand yourself. Sunim’s teachings often lead to more thinking. That is why it is said that sharing the mind is the bloom of Jungto practice.
Happiness in Buddhism, does not mean ‘feeling good.’ Feeling good is always accompanied by feeling bad. Happiness is when feeling good is followed by feeling bad, you accept it by thinking, ‘Yes, if you gain something, you also lose something,’ so that there is no suffering. Even if something good happens, you shouldn’t get too excited, so when something bad happens later, you don’t feel depressed.
By doing so, even if you cannot achieve a completely calm state of mind, if we can create just a few ripples, you can live a relatively happy life. It doesn’t matter whether you live a long life or a short life, you are rich or poor. Even the squirrels in the mountains live well day by day, and insects can live well day by day. Why wouldn’t humans be able to live day by day? I hope all of you become people who are willing to live each given day.”
“Yes, I understand. Thank you.”
After an hour of Dharma Talks, the live broadcast ended with an announcement of Sunim’s next schedule.
“After this broadcast, I will be heading to San Francisco to give a Dharma Talk, then I’ll travel to Dallas in Texas for another Dharma Talk, and after passing through Boston, I’ll continue with Dharma Talks in Toronto, Canada, before heading back to New York, USA. I look forward to meeting all of you again at this time next week.”
Sunim departed from Orange County on a flight at 9:55 a.m. While Sunim briefly took a rest, the plane flew above the clouds and arrived in San Jose at 11:15 a.m.
In the afternoon, a publisher came to visit Sunim and had a meeting. They had been proposing to introduce Sunim’s teachings to Americans for several years. Upon hearing that Sunim was visiting San Jose, the CEO of the publishing company who lives in this area came to visit in person. The CEO said that he had been following Sunim’s teachings on YouTube for a long time and asked what he was curious about.
Towards the end of the conversation, Sunim discussed the book he would like to publish for Americans.
“The book I want to publish in the United States is titled ‘The Life of the Buddha.’ Until now, the life of the Buddha has been treated as too religious and mystical. However, through a book introducing the Buddha’s life, I want to let people know how he lived as a person.
To understand the social engagement of Buddhism
At the time when Buddha lived, 90% of the people were slaves. As they grew old and sick, they became useless and were therefore abandoned. Even when they were sick, they received no protection. Usually, when people died, they were cremated, but the slaves were not given this treatment. Their bodies were discarded in the forest like trash. It was through encounters with abandoned old people, sick people, and corpses outside the palace where Buddha lived that he first began to question things.
If we talk about this in the traditional Buddhist way, it would be said that Buddha saw that all people grow old, get sick, and die. However, if we interpret this in terms of social structure, we can understand that the Buddha experienced the suffering and inequality that the lower classes endured in the society at that time. Faced with this harsh reality, the Buddha falls into the question of ‘What should I do?’
“Do I seek a winner’s life to avoid becoming like them? Or do I dedicate myself to creating a world without such suffering?”
The Buddha’s father, King Suddhodana, entrusted a region to the Buddha to rule in order to divert his son’s worries, but the Buddha liberated all the slaves there and released all the cattle. He soon realized that this method was unsustainable for the world at large. The Buddha realized that he couldn’t resolve his dilemma through the ways of this world, and eventually chose the path of renunciation.
If you follow the life of Buddha like this, you cannot help but encounter the social issues of the time. The Buddha faced great resistance from the society of the time because of his views on class and gender discrimination. At that time, women were regarded not as independent individuals but as mere accessories to men. Thus, a woman always had a master, whether it was her father, her husband, or her son. Consequently, permitting a woman to renounce and become a bhikkuni (a Buddhist nun) was an extremely challenging endeavor. It meant that she was no longer someone’s accessory but had her own identity. Because it was a system that had never existed before, it was not easy for even the Buddha to allow it. In fact, it took nearly 20 years after the Buddha’s enlightenment for women to be permitted to renounce. However, that disappeared again 500 years after the death of Buddha. So now, in Theravada Buddhism, the renunciation of women is not acknowledged. It illustrates how severe gender discrimination was in society at the time.
An actual human Buddha who lived in the specific reality
There was also a lot of resistance when slaves wanted to join the sangha. From the owners’ perspective, allowing a slave to renounce meant losing their property, so they often tried to recapture them. For a slave to become a monk meant breaking free from the bondage of his owner and becoming the master of his own life. This was tantamount to a complete denial of the social system of the time.
When you focus on Buddhist ideas or doctrine, you will deal with philosophical issues alone. Only by studying the life of the Buddha can we talk about real-life social problems. This is because Buddha was a person who lived in a concrete social reality.”
“Hearing Sunim’s story makes me want to quickly convey the life of the Buddha to Americans.”
Sunim decided to proceed with practical discussions later and promised the following meetings.
Today’s lecture was held at the Quinlan Community Center, a civic cultural center located in Cupertino. The auditorium was full with no empty seats.
When Sunim came on stage, everyone welcomed him with loud applause. He began the conversation by sharing the news from Libya, where a devastating flood had left many casualties.
“Today, I received the heartbreaking news of a devastating flood in Libya, where a dam burst, causing many dead and missing. The climate crisis is bringing about more extreme heatwaves, heavy rainfall, wildfires, and so on. It seems that our pursuit of convenience, believing that producing and consuming a lot means living well, is ultimately leading to this environmental crisis. To live a sustainable life, we must reduce our consumption, even if it is a little inconvenient. I believe that we can prevent this crisis by not trying to gain joy only by satisfying our desires, but by pursuing a life of satisfaction through appropriate moderation.”
Subsequently, the Dharma Q&A session started. Many people signed up to ask questions, but only nine had the opportunity to engage in a conversation over the course of two hours. One of them mentioned Sunim’s tight schedule and asked what it means to live life lightly. Sunim answered by giving a very simple example.
How can one live life lightly?
“My question is about how to live life ‘lightly’. Sunim advised people to live life ‘lightly’ like ‘grass in the field.’ But you seem to live a ‘heavier’ life than others. Is it just my misconception? I’d like you to clarify what ‘live lightly’ means.”
“If a young boy were to carry a 30kg weight, it would be a heavy object. If the boy continues to carry that weight, it may strain his body and cause him to become ill from overwork. Conversely, if an adult were to carry a 30kg weight, it wouldn’t pose significant difficulty. If you put 30kg of stuff on an elephant, it won’t mind. The perception of whether something is heavy or light depends on one’s ability and physical strength. You cannot label something as ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ based solely on its weight.
Buddha’s mind is like a mirror. For example, let’s say this tray is a mirror. When a microphone appears in front of this mirror, it reflects the microphone. When a cup appears, it reflects the cup. When a flower appears, it reflects the flower. So, how many different images can this mirror create?”
“It can create an infinite number of images.”
“However, we can also say that this mirror does not create a single image. It effortlessly reflects a thousand or ten thousand images. When something comes before the mirror, it merely reflects, and when it passes, it disappears.
Because you are attached with something, you live your life as if you are carrying a heavy burden. When you become greedy, wanting things to happen exactly as you desire, or when you insist on doing things your way, or pretend to know when you don’t, that’s when you exert effort. Letting go of such things makes your life easy.
Of course, since we have a body, there are times when we feel physically overloaded. If you don’t have enough sleep, just sleep. If your body is tired, you can rest. If you get sick, just take medicine. If you do not get better after taking medicine, you can go to the hospital. Eventually, when it’s time to die, just die. So, there’s no big problem. This is what it means to live lightly. It means doing your best but not being attached to the results. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything, it means you should do something and not be concerned about the results.
There is nothing in this world that you must do. You don’t have to do anything, or you can do it if you want. However, once you make a choice, you must take the responsibility for that choice. Just as there are causes, there are effects, and we should accept that responsibility for it.”
The questions continued, and the last questioner asked additional questions after listening to Sunim’s response about karma.
What if you were born into unfortunate circumstances?
“Am I understanding that if I was born as a blind person for example, then am I supposed to accept the fact that I was born in an unfortunate circumstance and live the best I can? How would you advise that person?”
“We must have the perspective that we can lead a happy life even if we are born blind. It’s just a little uncomfortable because you can’t see. And society must come up with a mechanism to compensate for this inconvenience. However, being born blind is not in itself unequal. Is it unequal to be born with white or dark skin? Is being tall or short unequal? It’s not like that. Regardless of how they were born, everyone can live a happy life.”
And he asked whether the Four Pillars of Destiny (Sa Ju Pal Ja) really existed.
Does the Four Pillars of Destiny (Sa Ju Pal Ja) have a scientific basis?
“The last question is ‘do you believe in Sa Ju Pal Ja?’ Is it science-based?”
“2600 years ago, in the time of Buddha, it was very difficult to understand human inequality. At that time, Indian people understood that inequality was caused by karma from previous lives. In China or Korea, people understood that inequalities stemmed from differences in birth date and time. Elsewhere, they understood it as the will of God. So, you can consider Four Pillars of Destiny as one way of understanding the world under the conditions of that time.
Science is how we understand the world today. Currently, the scientific method is the easiest way for us to understand the world. However, in the future, when eras change, things may happen that are difficult to understand even in a scientific way.
The question of whether the Four Pillars of Life is scientific is based on a definite awareness that what is scientific is unconditionally the truth, and what is not scientific is not the truth. However, our happiness today cannot be fully revealed by science. Enlightenment has a nature that transcends even rationality. Rationality is also an absolute concept. You must give up even that to reach true freedom.
If in the past the way we understood the world was to understand 10 percent, the way science understands the world today is to understand 70 percent. Just as in the medieval era, the saying, ‘This is not the word of God,’ became synonymous with not being true. Today, the term ‘nonscientific’ to us has become synonymous with being false. However, we shouldn’t assume that we can understand 100% through science. Because in the future, a new way to understand the world more fully may be discovered. Rather than saying that people back then were foolish and that we have become smarter now, we must understand that the standard of value for viewing things has changed between then and now. The framework for understanding the world has changed.
The reason why the rapid changes in today’s society confuse you is not because the world is confusing, but because the changed world cannot be understood with the framework of perception I have had so far. The world seems confusing because I don’t understand. To properly understand the world, you need to change your frame of perception, but there is no problem with the world. The world just changes. If possible, I hope you can change your karma a little more so that you can see the world as it is.
By doing that, we can live in any world without suffering. This should not be misunderstood to mean that ‘the world is always good.’ If necessary, we must change the world. You may make sacrifices along the way. However, it means that even that sacrifice can be made without suffering. It means that if it’s the path we’ve chosen, we should willingly walk it, no matter the difficulties there may be”
With a big round of applause, the Dharma Q&A came to an end. Sunim left the lecture hall and immediately headed to San Jose Airport. Tomorrow, he will continue his overseas Dharma Talk tour in Dallas.