The Korean Seon (Zen) master Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist, social activist, 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 shared by Jungto Society is part of a series 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: If there is anything you would recommend any of us to do in our lifetime or one thing you would really encourage us to do, what do you recommend?
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim: Nothing special. I think it’s good for you to just live the way you do.
This is because there is no right answer in life. You live life the way you want to live. But there is a teaching from the old sages who told us to please adhere to these four rules:
First, you have the freedom to do whatever you want to and live the way you want to, but you don’t have the right to hurt others.
Second, you have the right to pursue profits and to live the way you want to, but you don’t have the right to cause others to take a loss.
Third, you have the right to be happy and to love, but you don’t have the right to cause suffering in others.
Fourth, you have the right and the freedom to say whatever you want, but you don’t have the right to commit fraud or to lie to others.
These are the four rules we should follow. This is because we live in a community with other people. If you live by yourself on a deserted island, you don’t need these four rules. But society is based on human relationships. So in order to have healthy relationships, you must adhere to these four rules.
If you want to follow one more rule, although it isn’t at the same level, you shouldn’t get drunk. it’s okay for you to drink alcohol, but don’t drink to excess and become drunk because if you are drunk, you put yourself at the risk of breaking the first four rules. Those who are drunk often deny the fact that they’re drunk. That is why the sages taught us not to drink. The basic teaching isn’t to avoid drinking alcohol but to avoid becoming drunk. If you start shaking when you drink, you should stop drinking. Also if you start talking too much, you should stop drinking. Basically, you should not get drunk but enjoy drinking in moderation as you would eat food. If you go beyond treating alcohol as food, you will become drunk. Actually, in a social setting, it’s very hard to control how much you drink, so when you think you are little bit drunk, go to a room and sleep it off.
You have to be able to control yourself. That’s why you need the four rules. But beyond these four rules, there are no rules you should absolutely follow. Be as free as you want. And beyond these four rules, don’t interfere in other people’s lives because human beings all have the same right to lead free lives.
For teachers or parents, when a student falls asleep in class, does that go against the four rules or not? No it doesn’t. So don’t scold him. Let’s say that he receives poor grades, does it break any of the four rules? No, so don’t scold him because by getting low scores, he is actually helping other students achieve a higher ranking in class. So it’s not something that you should scold him about. However, by getting low grades, the student is bringing loss to himself, which is foolish, so he needs to be enlightened.
You must be able to differentiate between foolish behavior and bad behavior. You must correct bad behavior, but you have to enlighten the person who behaves foolishly. You should be able say the same thing five times or even 10 times to enlighten someone, but you should not become angry or scold that person. Because we are confused about the difference between bad behavior and foolish behavior, children are confused about their values.
Besides adhering to the four rules I mentioned, live as freely as you want and live happily. Furthermore, if you have the means, try to contribute to making others happy as well. There are three types of people in this world. First, there are people who are better off not being in this world. And then there are people who don’t make a difference in the world. Lastly, there are people who are essential to the world. So at least, don’t be somebody who shouldn’t be in this world. You can strive to become a person who is essential to the world. You should help others if you have the means, but if you don’t, I think it’s sufficient for you to just take care of yourself and lead a happy life.
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