the journey of spirit: a Korean monk opens our hearts

Water doesn’t stagnate when it flows. In the same way, humans should move so they will find their relationships with others. If you take a test you’ll know how well you’ve studied. If you overcome a limitation you will know your heart; tears are opening my heart. My pilgrimage is not only my path, but also a journey to connect with the lives of others.”  Daeung Sunim

Ever-astonished by the power of the human spirit to challenge itself, Daeung Sunim, a Korean monk in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism has certainly helped me reach the pinnacle of astonishment.  Sunim is bicycling across North and South America, a feat which in itself may not strike us as monumental except for the fact that Sunim does not speak English, French, or Spanish.  Nor does he have more than what you see in the picture to the left.  

Daeung Sunim set out to bicycle from Vancouver BC to St. John NL with nothing more than two contact names – both in the Eastern part of Canada.  That’s a journey of 7,500 km that most cyclists I know train for a year or two to complete!  Why would he do this?  “To test my spirit,” he tells his first host, Dave Pope.  You can read the whole story here of how Dave found Daeung Sunim on a dark highway in Vernon BC.  Not satisfied with simply helping Sunim on a small leg of his journey, Pope set into motion a Canada-wide call for host families and assistance which now includes the US and parts of S. America.  You can also read Adam Tebbe’s interview with Pope here on Sweeping Zen.  Sunim’s blog has posts written by him and generously translated into English by Ian Haight.  There are blog posts by the host families.

Last week, Sunim was traversing the long and often scary route over the top of Lake Superior.  He left Dryden Sunday morning headed for Thunder Bay Ontario.  Last I heard there were no hosts found for the long stretch between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.  We’ve driven that route and even in a truck of “don’t mess with me” proportions, it’s a daunting drive.  So if you know of anyone who can open their hearts and home to Sunim, contact Dave Pope.  If you are part of a cycling club and can help out by accompanying Sunim over parts of his journey, let Dave know.  If you can help in any way at all, let Dave know!

I have to admit that in the moments brief worry after I offered to host Sunim in Ottawa, I asked a Korean monastic friend if he knew of Daeung.  After all, I half-joked, “What if he’s a crazed Korean monk?”

My friend replied, “He’s bicycling across N. and S. America without speaking any of the languages and with no contacts and you want to know if he’s crazy?”  Point and match!

We are frequently called upon to stretch out into the world.  Our tendency however is to see the world stretching its tendrils into our lives.  Because of that perception, we pull back, retract, or turn away.  I find myself often wanting to play the guest to someone else’s hosting.  In my little cramped mind, there is scant room for other people.  It’s too often only ever about this-Me-in-this-Moment: this Me who wants, who desires, who is rejecting of my experience in this moment.  The idea of throwing myself at the mercy of the world is unthinkable.  The idea that Daeung Sunim set out on this journey without an entourage of safety nets and bubble-wrap to buffer him from the reality of the world is equally unthinkable to me.

But he has.  And in that moment of his decision, he became the host to all our fear, clinging, and confusion.

I can’t wait to meet him!


Some interviews and information:

In the Shambhala Sun:

In Buddhadharma:

In Sweeping Zen:

Sunim’s route
Google Maps:
Route updates:
Press clippings:

6 thoughts on “the journey of spirit: a Korean monk opens our hearts

  1. Amazing! Interesting: not just the monk’s spirit, but that of all those who hear of him too. I’ve sent this to a friend in Quebec………..

  2. I have followed this a little but it takes you to investigate and to suggest hooking him up with bike clubs and making all the connections, Lynette! Nice You are so right about our relationship to the world, mostly I am dragging kicking and screaming into it and then, after reaping the benefits, wonder why. Many bows to you.

  3. Thank you so much for your insights Lynette! I am amazed and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for Sunim. We now have host offers from Nippigon, Marathon and Wawa! Everything that I originally envisioned is happening and all due to kind hearted people such as yourself! As we hear of all the pain and evil in todays world we need to trust our hearts, push through our fears and open ourselves to truly experience all that life has to offer. Sunim’s quest is a testament for all those that stay contained within their own lives in fear of stepping out into the unknown.

    • Dave, your hard work has carried Sunim along like a wave in the ocean. I do feel anxious about his health and feel better knowing that we are all linking together to care for him and his vision!

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