Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Passing of Daehaeng Kun Sunim

This morning, I received sad news from my friend, Chong Go Sunim, that his teacher, Daehaeng Kun Sunim, passed away last night.

I was fortunate enough to have taken my precepts with her as my preceptor four years ago this May, with Chong Go Sunim carry out the ceremony. My thoughts go out to all the nuns and monks at the Hanmaum Seon Center, who always greeted me with warmth and great big smiles.

Here is the announcement Chong Go Sunim sent out this morning, with a wonderful description of Daehaeng Kun Sunim.

(Seoul, Korea) Hanmaum Seon Center regrets to announce the passing of our beloved teacher, the venerable Daehaeng, on Monday, May 21, 2012. She was 85 years old, and was ordained as a Buddhist nun 63 years ago. The funeral will be held on Saturday, May 26th, with more details to follow as they become available.

Daehaeng Kun Sunim* was a rare teacher in Korea: a female seon(zen) master, a nun who also taught monks, and a teacher who helped revitalize Korean Buddhism by dramatically increasing the participation of young people and men.

She made laypeople a particular focus of her efforts, and broke out of traditional models of spiritual practice to teach in such a way that anyone could practice and awaken. At the same time, she was a major force for the advancement of Bhikkunis (nuns), heavily supporting traditional nuns’ colleges, as well as the modern Bhikkuni council of Korea.

Born in Seoul, Korea, in 1927, she awakened when she was around 7 years old, and spent the years afterwards learning to put her understanding into practice. She would wander the mountains of Korea, wearing a ragged set of clothes and eating only what was at hand. Years later, she said that she wasn’t pursuing some type of asceticism; rather she was just completely absorbed in returning everything to her fundamental Buddha essence, and seeing how that affected what she entrusted.

This greatly affected her teaching style later, for she could clearly see the great potential, energy, and wisdom inherent within each of us, but saw that people suffered because they don’t know about this, and instead were looking outside of themselves. Clearly seeing the great light we each have, she taught people to rely upon this inherent foundation, and refused to teach anything that distracted peoples from that.

Her deep compassion made her a legend in Korea long before she formally started teaching people. She was known for having the spiritual power to help people in all circumstances with every kind of problem. She compared compassion to freeing a fish from a drying puddle, putting a homeless family into a home, or providing the school fees that would allow a student to finish high school. And when she did things like this, and much more, few knew that she was behind it.

She supported many social welfare projects, founded centers in 11 countries around the world (15 centers in Korea, and 10 in other countries), and her teachings have been translated from Korean into English, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French, and Vietnamese.

*Kun Sunim is the Korean Buddhist title of respect for a senior nun or monk.

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