The Korean Seon (Zen) master Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist, and social activist, to name a few. As a widely respected Dharma teacher and a tireless socially engaged activist in his native South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded numerous Dharma-based organizations, initiatives, and projects that are active across the world. Among them, Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living, and sustainability, is dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering, including environmental degradation, poverty, and conflict.
The following article shared by Jungto Society is part of a series of highlights from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s writings, teachings, and regular live-streamed Dharma Q+A sessions, which are accessible across the globe.
Q: I’m tend toward extreme opposites. I’m extremely happy and then extremely depressed. I’m extremely energetic and then extremely tired. I’ve noticed this trend over the years. Last year, I took a leave of absence from work for the entire year. Now, my energy is coming back. The year before that, I was really energetic. It’s constantly back and forth. I’m wondering if there is some kind of normality? Is this something I have to accept? Is there something I could practice like meditation to regulate it?
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim: There are a lot of people here tonight. Everyone has a different face. We are all the same in that we are human beings, but we have different skin colors, shapes, and sizes. It is the same with our minds. There are people who are more logical than others, and then there are people who are more sentimental. In today’s psychology, the human personality is defined into 16 categories. It is defined all the way from very radical to very emotional. So you probably belong more to the sentimental and emotional category. It’s a tendency that runs across a spectrum, so there is no problem per se in what you experience.
However, there are jobs or types of work that would fit your personality more than others. You probably are not going to do well as the CEO of a company where you’d have to deal with a lot of people. It is because when you are energetic and happy, you would give them lots of love and care, but when you are tired and depressed, you would hate them. So it will be very difficult for them to cater to your needs and wants. So what is right for you? Maybe you could be an artist. You can paint for a year straight, and then when you feel down, you can take a break from it. A perfect career for you will be something you can do independently, on your own, which doesn’t involve working with others. Because when you are energetic and happy, your level of concentration will be higher and you will be able to display your ability at your peak capacity. So it will be great for you if you want to leverage what you have and choose a path that suits you. But if you choose something that doesn’t match your personality, then you’ll suffer.
Second, if you want to improve . . . however, it’s very hard to control your innate personality. This is something that resides deep within your subconscious and most of this was inherited from your parents. There’s saying in Korea that a habit you gain when you are three years old will continue until you are 80. This just means that it’s very hard to change your nature. You have to be aware of your feelings and notice your unique karma. When you are energetic and happy, or when you’re depressed and sad, you have to realize this as it is. You have to control yourself so you’re not too excited when you’re happy. Or when you start going down, recognize that this is your karma acting on you and look for something that will improve your mood. If you do want to fix and control your mood shifts, meditation can be a way. But you will fail if you try to control it 100 per cent. If you want to improve it just a little, it can be possible because during meditation it’s easier for you to observe how your mood shifts. Then, with practice, it may become possible for you to not be dragged around by your emotions.
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