“I’m having a hard time at school after moving to Germany”
2023.9.3 Casual Conversation with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim (3) Berlin, Germany
Today is the third day of Venerable Pomnyun Sunim’s 2023 Overseas Dharma Talk Tour.
The Dharma talk in Berlin took place at Jugendherberge Berlin-International.
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim began the conversation by sharing his impressions from his recent visit to Bhutan and discussing what kind of life humanity should aspire to live given the current climate crisis.
“The climate crisis is worsening by the day. In the context of Earth’s history, there have been times when climate change was even more severe than it is now. Rapid climate change led to the extinction of the dominant species at that time and the emergence of new ones. Therefore, from a global perspective, we cannot necessarily call the current climate change a crisis because the Earth won’t face a crisis even if all humans were to perish. It would be more appropriate to say that our humanity is currently facing a crisis.
Personal actions to mitigate the climate crisis
Given current climate conditions, if rapid changes were to occur, the dominant species, that is us humans, will likely suffer greatly. To avoid such suffering and sustain human life, we need to reduce consumption levels. But, how many of you can actually take actions to reduce your consumption? First, you should stop using make-up and cosmetic products. You should also avoid dyeing your hair. Buying new clothes should be avoided as well. We even need to reduce how much energy we use for cooking our food, since we need to minimize CO2 emissions to mitigate climate change.
I heard that here in Germany, as of May 1st, you can buy an unlimited pass for public transportation for 49 euros. So, that’s about 70,000 Korean won for getting to use public transportation as much as you want. Is this correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“This energy policy to reduce the use of cars can also be considered a part of Germany’s national policy for tackling climate change. This is an example of the types of ideas we need in the world to provide alternatives and overcome consumerism.
If you think about it, who was the one that overcame consumerism the best? It’s none other than the Buddha. He gave up the luxurious life of the palace, and instead asked for food, wore what clothes he could find, and slept under trees. The Buddha not only lived a frugal and happy life, but also set an example for helping others. Even if we cannot emulate him to that extent, shouldn’t we find ways to reduce our consumption levels and live a sustainable life? Isn’t it time we put to rest the notion that “producing more and consuming more is the key to living well”?
The concept that Jungto Society is trying to show in action in Bhutan is also a model of living a happy life with minimal consumption. I visited Bhutan a few days ago and wanted to share these thoughts with all of you. Now, let’s begin our conversation.”
There were 10 people who were able to ask questions to Sunim today. One of them was a high school student. He talked about his frustration after immigrating to Germany, saying that it was difficult to adapt to school life.
I’m having a hard time at school after moving to Germany.
“I went to elementary school and middle school in China and then moved to Germany as a high school student. I’m being dragged around by my mother when I really want to go back to Korea. Now, I don’t want to go to school, I’m having a hard time adjusting, and I even have to learn a new language again. This situation is so stressful for me and I keep having nightmares where I’m being chased. It’s been really hard, so I wanted to ask you for advice. What should I do?”
“How old are you now?”
“I’m 17 years old.”
“In Germany, when are you considered an adult?”
“Then, you just have one more year until you reach adulthood. So, this year, do whatever your mom says without objecting, and then next year you can do whatever you want. From next year onwards, you will be an adult, so there’s no problem to you deciding to do whatever you want. What do you think? Is even one more year too difficult to bear?”
“If you estimate that you’ll live until 90, you have the next 70 years to live as freely as you wish. So, you just need to listen to what your mom says for one more year. If you feel like you can’t bear it for even one more year, then you should declare your independence from your mother right now and cut off all the support she provides you.”
“Okay, thank you.”
“So, what are you going to do? Will you declare independence in one year or right away?”
“Well, actually, my concern isn’t so much about my relationship with my mother but more about the stress I feel with school.”
“What are the things that are causing you stress in school?”
“I can’t seem to adjust.”
“Why is it hard to adjust? Tell me more specifically what is difficult.”
“First of all, it’s the language.”
“You are new to this country, so how can you expect to speak it well? It’s only natural that you’re not good at it.”
“Yes, but my school doesn’t seem to understand my situation.”
“What if they don’t understand you?”
“That’s why it’s difficult.”
“If the other person doesn’t understand you, it’s the other person who has a hard time, not you. What’s difficult for you when someone doesn’t understand you? You see how my front teeth stick out a little? I remember once, someone at my Dharma talk who must’ve not liked how it looked, said to me, ‘Sunim, why don’t you get braces?’ Do you know what I said in response? ‘Why? For you?’ (Laughter)
I don’t see my front teeth that often. Why should I get braces? It’s not important to me how my front teeth look. What’s important is whether I can chew food properly. If there’s no problem with chewing, then my front teeth do not pose an issue for me. But, for that other person, they felt uncomfortable when they saw my teeth. So, when I said, ‘If you don’t like it, then you should pay for the braces,’ they agreed to pay for it. Then I asked how long it would take to straighten my front teeth, and they said it would require wearing these metal wires for a year. To me, that sounded very uncomfortable. So, I asked to be compensated for enduring that discomfort, and they refused, so I never got braces. (Laughter)
Just like in that situation, if someone at school doesn’t understand you, it’s the other person who feels frustrated, not you. When you see them feel frustrated, take a moment to reflect. If you can’t understand the other person and think, ‘Why are they like that?’ or ‘How can people be like that?’ who feels frustrated? You or them?”
“I feel frustrated.”
“Yes, you feel frustrated. If you can understand where they’re coming from and think, ‘Oh, I see why that person did that,’ whose heart feels lighter?’
“My heart feels lighter.”
“If you can’t understand others, you feel frustrated, but when you do understand them, you feel good. I’m telling you to be understanding of others because it’s good for you. Who is benefiting from what I’m saying right now?”
“Me. I’m benefiting.”
“It’s all advice with you in mind. Look, here’s a beautiful flower. If I say, ‘Wow, this flower is really beautiful,’ then does it benefit the flower or me?”
“The flower benefits.”
“Really? Let me ask you again. When you’re on the beach and say, ‘Wow! The ocean is so beautiful,’ does the sea benefit, or you?”
“What about when you’re hiking and say, ‘Wow! This mountain is really beautiful,’ does the mountain benefit, or you?”
“If you look at a flower and say, ‘Oh, the flower is so pretty’, which one benefits, the flower or you?”
“I think then it’s the flower that benefits.” (Audience Laughter)
“Judging by your responses, I think it may be too early for you to live independently. (Laughter) How would the flower know that I’m saying it’s beautiful? Liking the flower makes me feel good. If I say ‘I love you,’ who benefits, the other person or me?”
“When you applaud for Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, who benefits, Sunim or all of you?”
“We benefit from it.”
“Yes, it benefits all of you. When I have a loving heart, ultimately, it’s something that is good for me. For example, let’s say I hug someone while saying ‘I love you.’ When you love someone, it’s good for you, but there’s no guarantee that the other person will feel good. If the other person doesn’t like me, and I hug them without considering their feelings, it can actually be painful for them. That’s sexual harassment. Loving someone is good for me, but there’s no guarantee it will be good for the other person. In fact, actions that don’t take the other person’s feelings into account often lead to pain.
Do you think when Jesus said to love people in the world, he meant it for the sake of people in the world? Or did he mean to live a good life for oneself? It means to live a good life for oneself. In order to live a good life for oneself, you have to love and understand people in the world. In order to live with a sense of calm inside, you have to understand people in the world, not that people in the world have to understand you.
If teachers or friends at school don’t understand you, it’s their problem feeling frustrated, and not your concern. Whether they get frustrated to the point of distress or not is their business. All you need to do from your perspective is to understand them and think, ‘I must not be expressing myself well, which is why they’re reacting like this.’ Their failure to understand you is not your problem.
For you to expect others to understand you is like having a slave mentality. It’s not that different from begging for the other person’s understanding. Whether you say, ‘Please give me money’ or ‘Can you please help me,’ it all sounds like begging to the person hearing it. What are you lacking in life that you would go begging? When you are the one giving love, offering help, and being generous and understanding, you are living as the master of your own life.
If it’s only been a year since you came to Germany, it’s entirely natural you’re not fluent in German yet. So, it’s fine to speak as much German as you can, and be honest when you can’t or don’t know.”
“What else is the problem?”
“Other than that, everything is fine. My worries have been resolved. Starting tomorrow, I’ll work hard.”
“Don’t work hard. When you’re focused on playing a video game, do the people around you say you’re working hard?”
“No, they don’t say that.”
“It’s when you’re studying all day even though you don’t want to that people will say, ‘You’re working so hard.’ If it’s something you want to do, it’s about focusing, not working hard. So don’t work hard. We only say that when we’re doing something we don’t want to do but have to do, which leads to stress.
The reason people find their life difficult is because they’re trying too hard. The reason my life isn’t difficult like yours is that I don’t work hard. I treat everything I do as play. Even giving a Dharma talk is like playing for me, so I don’t find it difficult at all. Right now, I’m here playing with all of you.
It goes the same for you. Go to school and play. When I say ‘Go to school and play,’ it doesn’t mean don’t study. It means treat studying as play, treat exercise as play, and treat learning German as play. If you don’t know something, it’s okay to admit it. If someone criticizes you for not knowing something, you can respond with, ‘I’m new here, how would I know that? Were you good at everything from the beginning?’
“Okay, thank you.”
“So, are you going to become independent now or in a year?”
“I’ll become independent in a year.”
“Then for the next year, you shouldn’t argue with your mother. After one year, you’ll become an adult, and then it’s up to you whether you want to listen to your mother or not. After one year, you will enter into a contractual relationship. If you receive support from your mother, you will have to accept her interference in return for the support she gives you. It’s similar to when you get a job, you have to follow the company’s instructions in return for receiving a salary. It’s not because she’s your mother, it’s about fulfilling the obligations of a contract. Next year, it will be a contractual relationship between adults. So, if you want to have food, a place to live, or receive financial support for education, you will have to listen to your mother’s instructions. It’s not a matter of having to listen to her because it’s your duty but because of the contractual relationship. If you want to receive support, you need to listen, and if you don’t want to listen, you can leave home and not receive any support. If I were to offer you a scholarship, would you still need to study and be mindful of my expectations, or could you skip studying?”
“I would need to study.”
“That’s right. This kind of relationship is called a contractual relationship. Right now, it’s the responsibility of the mother to take care of you, as a minor, and in return, you have a duty to listen to your guardian’s words. However, after one year, that relationship will come to an end, and then it will be a contractual relationship between adults.
Just because you’ll become an adult next year doesn’t mean you should immediately do as you please. If you want to do things your way, you should achieve independence, meaning you should take care of your own food, clothing, and shelter. If you receive support from your mother, you should be willing to accept her interference at a level corresponding to the support you receive. If you want to do things your way, then you shouldn’t accept any form of support. People who provide support have their own expectations, so when you receive support, you should be prepared to listen to their input.”
“I got it. Thank you.”
“You lived in China when you were young, and now you live in Germany, so you may not be fluent in German yet, but you speak at least 3 languages – Korean, Chinese, and German. Can a trilingual person speak German as well as someone who was born in Germany and only spoke German their whole life?”
“Can a trilingual person speak Chinese as well as someone who has spoken Chinese all their life?”
“You will also be less proficient in Korean than your friends who have only spoken Korean all their lives. If you dig a single well, you can dig a little deeper. Instead, if you dig multiple wells, you have no choice but to dig them shallower than if you were digging a single well. This is the truth. So, you shouldn’t think that you are inferior because you don’t speak Korean as well as Koreans, don’t speak Chinese as well as the Chinese, and don’t speak German as well as Germans. Because you speak many languages, it is inevitable that your language skills will be weaker than someone who only speaks one language. You have to accept this as a fact.
So, there’s no need to be ashamed of not being proficient in German. That’s completely natural. If you continue to live in Germany for 10 or 20 years, you will likely reach a level similar to native Germans. It just takes time. It’s like someone learning to ride a bicycle for the first time. How can they be good right away?. Falling over on the bike is part of learning how to ride a bike. In the same way, what feels awkward now will become familiar over time. It’s through inexperience that you eventually become proficient. No one becomes proficient without first going through a phase where they’re inexperienced.”
“This has been really helpful. Thank you.”
When the questioner smiled brightly, everyone in the audience gave a big round of applause.
Tomorrow evening, the 4th Dharma talk of the tour will take place in Munich.
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