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Korean Seon Teacher and American Buddhism Pioneer Ven. Samu Sunim Dies, Aged 81

Venerable Samu Sunim, a beloved Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhist master, passed away on 6 August at his temple in Toronto after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for the last six years. A cremation service was held for him in Milton, Ontario, where followers, family, and friends chanted and offered him a final farewell on 11 August.

Samu Sunim was born in Korea on 3 March 1941. He was orphaned at a young age due to the Korean war (1950–53). He entered a Buddhist monastery and in 1958 was ordained as a novice at Namjang-sa in Sangju. In 1962, he was ordained as a disciple of Tongsan Sunim (1890–1965) and began his Zen training under Solbong Sunim (1890–1969). In 1965, he left Korea, spending time in Japan before making his way to the United States.

While working nights at United Parcel Service (UPS), Samu Sunim founded the Zen Lotus Society in 1967, later to be renamed the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom. His efforts there were successful and he would go on to found Zen temples and communities in Toronto, Chicago, Mexico City, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

After four years in Montreal, Canada, Samu Sunim moved to Toronto. He wrote of the time there:

Samu Sunim. From facebook.com

It was in the basement apartment on Markham Street in Toronto in the winter of 1974 that I began my three-year solo retreat. After experiencing a number of worldly troubles and suffering a serious illness and two operations, it seemed I had come to an end of my worldly journey as Solbong Sunim had predicted. The basement apartment in Toronto was radically different from a mountain monastery in Korea or from a meditation hut in the traditional setting. But it was quiet and isolated from the outside by way of three doors which led to the underground apartment.

It was also cold and damp and it occasionally flooded when there was a heavy rain. . . .

For nearly ten years I lived in the turmoil of events. It was training in the ‘market place’ of the world and the events were my Dharma teachers. Now the days, months and seasons followed each other quietly. I lived uneventfully.

(Zen Buddhist Temple)
Ordination of Dharma teachers and precept-taking ceremony with Wolha Sunim, 15 October 1983 in Toronto. Image from zenbuddhisttemple.org
Summer training retreat at the Ann Arbor, Michigan temple, summer 1983. From zenbuddhsittemple.org

Those close to Samu Sunim will hold a 49-day observance from 6 August to 23 September, following the belief among many Buddhists that the deceased remains in a transitional realm for up to 49 days after death. Followers are recommended to prepare an altar with his picture, a candle, incense, and flowers, reading or chanting a prescribed set of Buddhist texts.

Students and friends have expressed condolences on social media following Samu Sunim’s passing:

A “Celebration of Life” ceremony will be held on 24 September at the Zen Buddhist Temple in Toronto.

See more

Passing of Dear Venerable Samu Sunim (Zen Buddhist Temple)
History (Zen Buddhist Temple)

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