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Updated: 2017.11.27 15:59
 
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Interview with a Zen Monk
[ Issue 154 Page 6 ] Saturday, May 20, 2017, 18:29:23 Hyunseung Hwang Staff Reporter aguno@kaist.ac.kr
   
Manhwa Sunim

Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us why you decided to become a monk in Korea?

I myself am just a human being, incidentally Mexican, who chose to be a Buddhist Zen monk in Korea. In Mexico, in the last year of elementary school, we used to have a special class of religion around the world including Buddhism. In the beginning, I tried to find a place to practice Buddhism like a temple in the mountains when I was around 13 years old. I managed to find a Japanese Zen center and practiced there for years until I started to think about becoming a monk. I told my teacher at that time, an American monk ordained in Japanese tradition, and he introduced me to one of his friends and later one of my teachers, Wu Bong Sunim — a Polish-American who studied Zen under Seung Sahn Sunim. I started my practice in 2008 in the Kwan Um School of Zen — a school founded by Seung Sahn Sunim with centers in more than 100 countries around the world, one of them in Mexico. Without knowing how to become a monk, I came to Korea on August 19, 2012.

What is the difference between Buddhism in the East and the West?

In the West, Buddhism is something very new, with a history of less than 100 years. The seeds of Buddhism were sown in many places but although the tree grew deep and strong roots, it is still very young and any fruit can appear. On the other hand, Buddhism in Asia is more than 2000 years old. The tree of Eastern Buddhism is too old and connecting with society is becoming harder and harder especially when people see Buddhism as “something that happens in the mountains”.

What are the goals and teachings of Mu Sang Sa?

If you read the news nowadays, a vast majority of troubles come from the mindset of “I am right, you are wrong!” or “Our country is the best.” So the idea of an International Zen center like Mu Sang Sa is to put that mindset down... In Zen, we say all the questions are just one question: “What am I?” In this whole world, everyone searches for external happiness, but nobody understands their true self inside. Everybody says, “I want this, I am like that...” But nobody understands this “I”. If you sincerely ask “What am I?”, sooner or later you will run into a wall where all thinking is cut off. We call this the “don’t know.” All things in the universe — the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, and people — have different names and forms, but they are all made of the same substance. The universe is organized into pairs of opposites: light and darkness, man and woman, sound and silence, good and bad. But all these opposites are mutual because they are made from the same substance. Their names and their forms are different, but their substance is the same. Names and forms are constructed from your thoughts. If you are not thinking and have no attachment to name and form, then all substance is one. Your ignorant mind cuts off all thinking. That is your substance.

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