The Korean Seon (Zen) master Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist, social reformer, and podcaster, 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 is part of a series of essays shared by Jungto Society of notable highlights from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim’s writings, teachings, and regular live-streamed Dharma Q+A sessions, which are accessible across the globe.
Q: Can I ask about meditation as well as your peace work? I’d like to hear about how these two are integrated. Obviously this has a huge impact on other work you are doing. Also, how we can introduce meditation into our lives to take steps toward peace?
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim: Say you are angry. Understand that this anger produces hatred toward others. Any action that comes out of that emotion becomes destructive. So if you seek to engage in peace activism, you can’t be angry while doing so.
That’s why it is important for you to gain a peace of mind before you engage in peace activism. If you raise a criticism while you are in a peaceful state of mind then your criticism becomes constructive.
I think the key point of meditation is to gain that peace of mind. There are three necessary conditions:
First is to reduce any tension you have.
The second is to have a singular focus for your mind. For example, maybe focus on the tip of your nose or focus on the in and out movement of your breath.
And third, you have to be aware and awake for that focus. You have to maintain a state of wakefulness.
For example, say we engage in breath meditation. First, try to relax and loosen any tension in your body. Adopt a comfortable posture, and focus your mind on the tip of your nose. Become aware of your breathe—because we are breathing at every single moment but we are not aware.
The focus on breathing: when you breathe in you are aware of the breath going in, and when you breathe out you are aware of the breath going out.
If you are panting after just coming from exercise, you realize that you are panting. And if you are breathing smoothly, you are also aware. So it is not how you breathe, just recognize the natural state of your breath.
To really focus on the nature of your breath is not as easy as it sounds because we have random thoughts always coursing through our heads. If you lose focus, then you lose the sense of awareness of your breath. So forget about the past and don’t think about the futures. Just be here and now.
Focus on the breath and realize the existence of the breath in the here and now. If you manage to do this, you will gain a peaceful state of mind. And with a peaceful mind, our breath becomes even smoother. But if your breath becomes too smooth, then you will lose focus and you will allow distracting thoughts to emerge. That’s why you need intensive focus to maintain awareness of your breath. Then you can gain an even deeper and more peaceful state of mind.
There’s always the risk of losing that focus. That’s why the more you become aware of your breath the more you need to focus.
If you manage to focus, then your breath becomes really smooth, and you can even feel the difference of the temperature of the air. Then you attain a state of truly clear awareness of everything that goes around you. From this state of self-peace, can your engagement with peace activism be constructive? But if you are angry and engage in peace activism, you tend to fight in the name of peace.
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