Journey of Spirit – Sunim Daeung’s visit

A little update on hosting Korean monk, Daeung Sunim at our farm.  It was a hectic schedule as Frank and I were leading a teacher training retreat from July 13-15 at our clinic.  Of course it was Friday the 13th which completely explained the sweltering heat, the broken air conditioning at the office, 21 people crammed into an already small space, and no available venue to move to.  We did find a landing place for the retreat (without much a/c) and coped.  By 6PM on Sunday the 15th, the appointed time to meet with Sunim and his other Ottawa host, we were physically limp and mentally fried.  And I truly hoped Sunim was not going to mind if I face-planted in a bowl of mac and cheese for dinner (his host kindly agreed to feed him so as to spare me the embarrassment of serving junk food on his first evening with us).

Sunim arrived at the farm with Frank as I completed grocery rounds.  We had an interesting evening learning about his life at his temple and he was fascinated by our lifestyle.  Two adults with only one child who didn’t live at home, Frank was not retired, and it wasn’t until the next evening that he clued into the big empty room being a “zendo.”  I thought we would have snags in understanding around words or food or the cats who were skittish around new people.  Those didn’t pose any problems; Sunim’s English is relatively good and when propped up with mime gestures or shifts in words, communication flowed quite nicely.

He was totally taken by the number of books in the house.  However, I think he was a bit taken aback by the lack of Korean Zen books.  “Books.  Japanese Zen big.  Korean Zen small small.”  I thought he was talking about the zeitgeist of Zen in Canada so launched into a seminar on the state of Buddhism in Canada.  Communication difficulties always highlight our blind spots.  And yet, there were so many commonalities: relationships with family and teachers, finding a path that challenged us, and not encouraging the fear that can so easily surface to defeat our intentions to practice.

One of the best part of his visit was showing him my little art table.  He immediately gravitated to Kaz Tanahashi’s calligraphy of “compassion” and explained to me how the terms come together in Korean.  Suddenly his English was precise and without hesitation.  We laughed over my herd of Mu paintings (see last week’s series) and he was excited by my attempts at the ox herding pictures.  The next morning, Sunim lead a Korean chant and prostrations as the morning service and declared it “a good experience.”  As I was preparing supper, he came into the kitchen beaming from ear-to-ear: “Ginger and garlic fry.  Good.”  I explained that we were having a Burmese dish normally reserved for weddings and blessing ceremonies.  “Ah,” he laughed.  “No junka food?”

I caught myself wanting to give him a good visit.  In fact, he was quite happy sitting in the library with the cats, plotting his route on his netbook.  I wondered how these somewhat intense connections with his hosts balanced with the solitary long distances he cycles.  And then, it seemed irrelevant as he headed down the Rails to Trails path to Montreal.

Sunim is headed to Newfoundland and then through the US.  If you can help in any way by providing a place to stay or food and rest along the way, please contact Dave via the Journey of Spirit website.   

Sunim’s Canadian route is here.  The US route is here.

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: