Between ideal and reality – Buddhistdoor Global

Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님). Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Korean master Seon (Zen) Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, conservationist, social activist and podcaster to name a few. As an internationally acclaimed Dharma teacher and tireless socially engaged Buddhist, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded many Dharma-based organizations, initiatives and projects that are active across the world. Among them, the Jungto Society, a community of volunteers based on Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living and sustainability, is dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, including the degradation of the environment, poverty and conflict.

The following article is part of a series of essays shared by the Jungto Society on notable highlights of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim teachings and regular Dharma Q&A sessions broadcast live, which are accessible worldwide.

Sometimes we feel like we’re falling behind while others are living their lives to the fullest and chasing their dreams. Our inner conflict is amplified when we have dreams we want to achieve and things we want to do, but are forced to give them up because of our circumstances.

A man in his thirties complained that he had to give up his dreams to earn a living and was very unhappy because of his reality.

He explains: “If I had the means, I would like to go back to studying design. However, since being married and having a child, it has become increasingly difficult to quit my job and pursue my dream. Is it okay to give up on my dream and live like this?

Often we think we would be happy if we had a job we had an aptitude for. Aptitude matters for some jobs, but not for others. It was my dream to become a scientist, and I thought I had an aptitude for it. I had never even imagined becoming a Buddhist monk. So you can imagine how much torment and inner conflict I had to go through to live as a monk rather than a scientist.

Ever since I left home at the age of 16 to live as a monk, I have tried to apply science in my life in new ways. Since I had an interest in science, I did not believe in the baseless elements of religion and distanced myself from them. I thought a lot about the question, “What should I do to help people understand the Buddha’s teaching more easily?” Therefore, in my talks, I try to convey the Buddha’s teaching in a consistent and logical way. In sum, whatever type of work you do is affected by your personal inclination.

You can say, “I have an aptitude for science, so I need to have a science-related job. It is a fixed notion.

You can’t be sure your aptitude is right for certain jobs. If you do your best in your job, you can manifest your talents and abilities in any job.

I often say to young people looking for work: “Do what you really want to do. Do what makes your heart beat faster. They need to think carefully about the true meaning of these words. Young people should look for jobs that suit them rather than trying to become doctors, lawyers or civil servants in search of money, a job or security. Also, if there are jobs they think they’ll be good at and really want to get, they should pursue them even if they don’t get paid much to begin with, and they shouldn’t wonder whether or not they are supposedly “good”. “Occupations that most people say are good aren’t necessarily good for everyone, so don’t blindly follow the path that most people recommend.

However, you don’t need to torment yourself with questions like, “Why don’t I have a passion for anything?” or “Why don’t I have something I want to dedicate my life to?” There are passionate people and others not. Maybe it’s better not to have a passion for a particular job. It is because if you can do all that is given to you, you will be more free. Cooking when you have to cook, doing the laundry when you have to do the laundry, giving a lecture when a lecture has to be given and doing the farm work when the farm work has to be done, that’s how the people live at the highest level of enlightenment.

One can become free by not insisting that “this is the only way for me”. Most people cannot achieve such freedom, so they try to focus on at least one thing and try to do it well. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about not wanting to do anything or liking anything in particular right now.

Also, you shouldn’t despair that you can’t do what you want to do. Let’s say you want to study design but your current situation doesn’t allow it. Then you can try to integrate the design into your work instead of worrying about not being able to study it further.

Let’s say that person becomes a monk. Wouldn’t he still be able to conceive? He might be interested in the design of monks’ robes, the landscaping of gardens, or the creative modernization of temple designs that preserve the traditional beauty of structures. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do or what kind of design you do. By working on the things that come your way, you will be able to find your aptitude and employ your talent.

Ignoring reality while pursuing your dream and pursuing future happiness is like building a castle in the air. However, focusing only on making a living in the present will leave you hopeless in the future. Therefore, people are always wondering if they should pursue their ideals or focus on their current situation. Yet the relationship between ideals and the present need not be adversarial. Your feet should be firmly grounded in reality while your eyes turn to your ideals.

Thirty years ago, I opened a Dharma Center with the aspiration to break away from the common practice of seeking good fortune and instead study the Buddha’s original teachings and attain enlightenment. Before opening the center, I tried to follow this aspiration in a Korean Buddhist temple, which caused a lot of conflict. This is because at the temple it was customary to pray for blessings and perform ancestral rites, but I refused to participate. Many people complained about me to the temple abbot saying, “If he continues to do this, we will lose all our lay Buddhists.

I had no choice but to leave the temple, open a small Dharma center and start sharing the Buddha’s teaching directly. Did a lot of people recognize my good intentions from the start and come to the center? No, they didn’t.

First, I distributed flyers that said, “I have opened a Dharma center. Please come and study the Buddha’s teachings. About 10 people came after reading the flyers. After walking through the small center with disappointment, they never returned. However, I continued to distribute leaflets without giving up.

Then, after preparing a three-month program of Buddhist lectures, I invited a famous monk to the opening ceremony. Five people came that day, but after the first lecture, only one person stayed. Since it was a three month education program, most people would have canceled the program. However, I ran the lecture program for the only remaining person for the entire three months.

After the program ended, the person who attended the lectures brought several acquaintances to the Dharma Center. In addition, after distributing flyers again, another 10 people came, five of whom stayed. I gave the three-month lecture program to these people. This is how the Dharma center slowly grew into what it is now.

I was penniless at the time, so how was I able to keep the Dharma Center open? On days when I wasn’t teaching, I worked part-time as a math teacher at an academy to cover the center’s running costs. I continued doing this for four years and only stopped when the Dharma Center finally became financially independent.

If I had compromised because of the difficulty of the situation, I could not have taken the path I wanted to follow. Even when we are sure of our dreams for the future, we sometimes have doubts and ask ourselves, “Am I on the right track? In times like these, we have to work hard while thinking about what things will be like in 10 years and looking for ways to meet the challenges of each day.

Simply waiting will not bring a good future. We make our future dreams a reality by always seeking and overcoming difficulties.

See more

Jungto Company
JTS Korea
JTS America
International Network of Committed Buddhists

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