Meeting Kun Sunim
When I look back on my life, I feel like some unseen power has been watching over me. It’s so amazing that I, born in here in Germany, could meet Kun Sunim and her teachings. I shudder to think about how close I came to spending my days lost in alcohol; how can I express my gratitude to this power that led me to Kun Sunim?
I’ve always been a very energetic person, but for a long time I didn’t know how to use this energy wisely. Instead I spent my time and energy in destructive pursuits, with a vague feeling that somehow things weren’t quite right. One day it became very clear to me that I couldn’t keep living like that; if I did, I was going to ruin my life. I knew I needed to change, but had no idea how. The turning point came one day in August 2001, when I saw a poster for a Dharma talk that Daehaeng Kun Sunim was going to be giving in Germany. Almost simultaneously, my wife, Kirstin, and I were strongly moved by that poster.
On the day of the Dharma talk, as we got out of our car, we saw a large banner that said, “That we can meet each other like this is the result of a profound connection.” As soon as we saw this, my wife and I felt tears well up from deep within us. “What’s happening?” we wondered, as we both started crying.
We entered the hall where the Dharma talk was held, and many different people greeted us by putting their hands together and bowing. I felt as if I had entered some other world and I didn’t quite know how to respond. The Dharma talk started and I found myself totally absorbed in what Kun Sunim was saying. I had such a strong feeling of something within me. As some Germans began to ask Kun Sunim questions, I found myself feeling embarrassed, for their questions had nothing to do with this fundamental thing she was trying to convey.
It was shortly before the Dharma talk that Kirstin discovered that the German branch of Hanmaum Seon Center was barely 10 minutes from our home. With the whole of Germany to choose from, the Seon Center was founded practically next door. Who could believe this? Kirstin and I took our three year old son and headed for the Seon Center.
Outwardly, everything in my life seemed to be going well. I was employed by a well-established company, my work was well-recognized, and all in all, I seemed destined for success. Nonetheless, I still felt uneasy about life. What would happen to my family if I lost my job; how would I support them? I always felt like some terrible disaster was waiting around the corner. I worked incredibly hard to be successful and take care of my family, but there never seemed to be any security, there was no point where I felt like, “Ah, now I can relax.”
I knew I needed to find something, and was reading a lot of books, including every kind of book about philosophy and Buddhism. And, when I read books, I didn’t just hurry through them. I kept at a book until I felt that I completely understood everything the author was talking about, and yet still, there was nothing that truly moved me.
It’s been about five years now since I met Kun Sunim and started coming to the Seon Center. During that time, as I’ve learned to rely upon my fundamental mind, I’ve found the answer to the worry that plagued me for years. I now see why I was so worried when unexpected things happened, when my plans failed, and when uncertainly overwhelmed me.
Like everyone else, I suppose, I tried to plan my life. I made plans that I thought would lead me to success and then I worked hard to bring them to fruition. Although I tried to live like this, it just didn’t seem to work; no matter what I did, I was always being blocked by something or another. I see now that if I had known about my fundamental mind, if there had been faith in it and if I had been able to rely upon it, I wouldn’t have had to live like that. Now I see that this fundamental mind of ours is what is truly leading us and supporting us. So now even if I’m overwhelmed by something, I can still feel this fundamental mind that is always with us. Could any gift more precious than this?
My Experience with a Chondo Ceremony
When I first started going to the Seon Center and talked with the sunim there, I could really feel that she was trying to help me out of the pit I had fallen into. It’s clear to me now how hard she worked to try to get me to experience my fundamental mind and how it works, and the experiences that resulted have been invaluable.
As I’ve continued to attend Sunday services, all of the little problems in my life have dissolved. For example, not too long ago a friend and I set up our own company, but in doing so there were a lot of hardships and a lot of fear. However, that fear and worry just melted away each time I attended the noon ceremony at the Seon Center.
Like I said, by comparison those were relatively small things, for I have also been confronted by the most difficult things I have ever experienced. The first was my struggle with alcohol, and the second was when my four year old son, Jonas, had a stroke and the entire right side of his body was paralyzed. The pain and anguish of these was really beyond words. But both of these problems were solved through the process of chondo. As I experienced this for myself, I began to feel something of the strange power chondo, of some profound connection with truth.
Struggling with Alcohol
About four years ago, as the senior sunim here in Germany, Hae Jin Sunim, was leaving for a brief visit to Korea, I spontaneously gave her an envelope of money. She offered this to Kun Sunim, and as soon as she did, Kun Sunim said that my family needed to have a chondo ceremony. She told Hae Jin Sunim to go and immediately hold this ceremony in the Anyang Dharma hall. At what must have been the same moment, I suddenly had the strongest feeling that something had changed in my life.
In those days, the biggest problem in my life was alcohol. I grew up in a teacher’s family that was considered successful by normal standards. But it did have a history of problems with alcohol, with one relative even dying on the side of the road, drunk. From my earliest memories, alcohol was present in everything the family did. Even later, when I had no idea of what I should do with my life, and was so frustrated, I drowned those feelings in alcohol, drinking heavily every evening. I didn’t respect myself and did a lot of foolish, self-destructive things. For example I once drank an entire box of beer, and afterwards went driving on the autobahn at speeds of around 200km/h (120mph). Amazingly enough, I didn’t die. I began to feel that there was something looking over me. It was during this time that I met Kun Sunim, when I was trying to find some answers about what was wrong with my life.
Right after Hae Jin Sunim held the chondo ceremony in Anyang, I was on my way home after work and was stopped by the police and given a drunk-driving test. My blood alcohol was far over the legal limit and I was going to lose my driver’s license for six months. At that time, my job involved driving all over Germany to visit different offices. In Germany, you may be able to get a leave of absence from your job for one month, but you’ll be fired for sure if you can’t work for six months. I was beside myself with fear. About that time Hae Jin Sunim called me from Korea and asked me how things were going. I told her what had happened and she said that she would bring it up with Kun Sunim. I didn’t find out until much later, but when Kun Sunim heard about my situation she said, “Oh that’s good news!”
I made up my mind to quit drinking, and a week later I received the official results of my blood test: My blood-alcohol levels were just barely below the six-month suspension levels, and so I would lose my driver’s license for only one month. I would keep my job after all.
My Four Year-old Son is Paralyzed
It’s easy to understand why I quit drinking, but my son’s subsequent stroke and his recovery were beyond imagining.
In August 2004, it was my father’s birthday and so our extended family had gathered at his house. Suddenly, my four year-old son became paralyzed on the right side of his body. Apparently he had a stroke. He looked just like my father, who also was paralyzed on one side and had been bedridden for the last ten years. I couldn’t believe this could happen to a four year-old child. In the course of a day my healthy and good-looking son’s face went completely slack on his right side and he was unable to use that side of his body.
Kirstin took Jonas to our local hospital. They thought that perhaps it might be Lyme disease, but couldn’t be sure. So we took Jonas to a specialist hospital, but they, too, couldn’t help him. It was then that Hae Jin Sunim said to me that Kun Sunim would take care of Jonas. Hearing this caused my fear to spontaneously relax.
So, one painful night later, Jonas and Kirstin left the hospital and went to the Seon Center. Hae Jin Sunim took Jonas, Kirstin, and I to the Dharma hall, where, all together, we did three bows from the very bottom of our hearts. You see, my wife and I both had a strong feeling that, somehow, this wasn’t something that a hospital could help with. It appeared that Jonas’ problem wasn’t one of the ordinary material realm. Hae Jin Sunim told us to have a chondo for those spirits whose names were unknown, i.e. not a usual family chondo ceremony. Over the next two or three days, as we prepared for the chondo ceremony, Jonas’ paralysis almost completely disappeared; it was completely amazing. It was like watching a time-lapse film of a flower blooming, as Jonas’ face returned to normal. By the time we finally had the chondo ceremony, Jonas could kneel, make the water offering, and do full bows without any hindrance. It was truly the most amazing experience, and we gained a tremendous insight into the power that is released when all minds and our mind truly become one.
These days, whenever anyone at the seon center holds a chondo ceremony, Kirstin and I always attend. It doesn’t matter whose chondo it is, it is also our chondo. We offer water and participate with our whole hearts, and through participating in those chondo ceremonies, little by little, our own practice has become much deeper.
Jonas, Buddha’s Errand Boy
Jonas is our only child, and has just started elementary school here in Germany.
Last July (2006) our family visited Korea for the fourth time. With every trip to Korea I can see Jonas change. He used to be very quiet, almost never speaking; he was especially uncomfortable when lots of other people were around. But with each trip to Korea, he’s become more outgoing and relaxed. On this last trip, he was very outgoing, and enjoyed buying gifts and giving them to his friends.
On our first trip to Korea we had a chance to greet Kun Sunim with Jonas. While greeting her, she said, “This child has come to this world for a special purpose.” Three times Kun Sunim asked, “Who are his parents?” At first Kirstin and I thought that was all there was to that question, but later we realized that Kun Sunim was talking the fundamental inner Buddha. It felt like she was telling us that we would need to understand this in order to properly raise Jonas.
During this last trip, after we had greeted Kun Sunim, Jonas put his finger in the middle of his forehead and said, “When Kun Sunim looks at us, she doesn’t see us with her eyes, she sees us through here,” indicating the spot on his forehead. Have you ever heard a six-year old say such a thing? The next day it happened that we were again able to greet Kun Sunim, and so while there Kirstin told Hae Jin Sunim what Jonas had said, and she translated it for Kun Sunim. Kun Sunim laughed and laughed, and then asked Jonas, “What am I using to see you now?” Jonas promptly put his finger to his forehead again, and Kun Sunim laughed some more. A child like Jonas really forces his parents to practice diligently!
Honoring My Father
This trip we visited Korea with Hae Jin Sunim and met Kun Sunim, Anyang Juji Sunim, and visited the Kwangju and Jinju branches. While visiting and attending various Dharma talks, we met so many wonderful sunims and lay members. When we arrived in Korea, I felt like my head contained a cargo truck full of worries and concerns; but three weeks later when we left, all of those burdens had melted away and my mind felt peaceful and relaxed. During our trip, I had experience the sincere love and support of all my Dharma brothers and sisters in Korea. I could feel their arms around me and their unconditional support. It felt like my heart had been scrubbed clean. It felt as if the shadows, difficulties, and stubbornness in my heart had completely melted away, leaving me feeling light and happy. This is what I really noticed about our Korean Dharma brothers and sisters: they seem to have a gift for uplifting people’s spirit as soon as you meet them.
This past June, as we were on our way to Frankfurt to leave for Korea, my phone rang. I was my older brother: my father had died last night. As I heard this, the thought arose that, “This isn’t a coincidence. My father passes away just as I’m leaving to spend three weeks in Korea exploring the truth that leads to freedom. This didn’t happen by chance.” It was absolutely clear to me that going to Korea would free my father’s spirit and open his path for him. The rest of my family could attend to his funeral in Germany, while I would go to Korea and help guide him to a completely different dimension. I felt like I was really able to serve him. My mother and my brother both said, “Go to Korea and see Kun Sunim, and do what should be done.” This was why they hadn’t told me the night before when father passed away, and only told me now as I was about to leave. My wife’s mother, too, passed away just three weeks before we were to leave for Korea, and so the 49th day ceremony was held in Korea. None of this was a coincidence.
For the Sake of Our Ancestors
We had already prepared offerings on behalf of Kirstin’s mother, together with the expenses for traveling to Korea, and so when my father suddenly died, there was no money left to prepare an offering for him. Hae Jin Sunim told us that, “Nevertheless, just entrust all of those problems to your foundation.” Thus, we tried to do this, and went to Korea. We met Kun Sunim and told her about everything that had happened, and gave her the offering we had prepared for Kirstin’s mother. Kun Sunim put her palms together, and told us to make frequent offering to Buddha as our financial circumstances improved. Doing this, she said, would greatly befit us and our even our extended families. I completely believed her; I understood immediately what she meant. At that moment I felt an aspect of life that I had previously overlooked. After I met Kun Sunim and started putting her teachings into practice it felt like so much garbage in my life had been swept away, freeing me to move forward. Thus, as I listened to Kun Sunim, it occurred to me that, having been born into the Thuemmel family, I wanted to do something to repay that kindness, and felt that my role in that family was to help lead everyone forward to a spiritually better place. The instant I had that thought, I had the strangest feeling; it seemed like all of my ancestors and my whole family became closer to me, somehow we had all become spiritually brighter.
We had a second chondo ceremony for my father’s ancestors, my mother’s ancestors, and my wife’s ancestors, and each time we did, I felt a little bit lighter, as if something had melted away. And I felt the same way about my father. Although he had passed away in Germany, and I was in Korea, I could feel that he had benefited from the Dharma teachings of the ceremony. I felt his fear disappear and he became very peaceful. If it hadn’t been for the chondo ceremony, I wouldn’t have been able to help him at all.
Germany is a country based upon Christian culture. So when someone dies, a lot of money is spent on a big funeral with a nice coffin and lots of flowers. They are buried in a cemetery with a farewell from their family. And that is the end of it. Once they’re buried, there is nothing more that can be done for them. This, to me, is the real limitation of Christianity. And I think this is why funerals always felt so bleak and overcast to me. The feeling is quite different at places where the people understand about their fundamental mind. Through this foundation, there is no end of communication, of connection.
Gratitude towards My Teacher
During this trip to Korea, it became even clearer to me that, to the extent I can empty myself and let go of “I” and fixed thoughts, my path will open before my eyes. My path becomes clearer with each day that I can live without fretting and worrying about the things that arise in my life. Each day in Korea I experienced how this practice fulfills and guides and purifies me. Honestly, during the three weeks we were in Korea, I felt as if I was being continuously purified. As we visited the different branches of the Seon Center, it felt like I was leaving everything behind. However, if there was one thing I could take with me, it would be the ability to deeply accept things as they are. I would like the ability to accept everything, regardless of good or bad, and completely entrust it all. Through Daehaeng Kun Sunim, I was able to learn about my fundamental true self, and as I do this, I feel like I am becoming complete. Now I want to do my best to live in accord with that true self.
My eyes fill with tears when I think about how I, who had so many faults and failings, was able to do something to truly help me my family and our parents. As I go forward, I am trying to be awake and learn from everything that happens.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Kun Sunim, along with all of our other sunims and Dharma brothers and sisters for all of their help in guiding us and teaching us about this profound world of mind. Thank you so much.
The Korean-language version of this story originally appeared in the 2006 Sept/Oct. edition of Hanmaum Journal
. It was translated from Korean by the Hanmaum International Culture Center.
The purpose of a chondo is to help lead the dead to a brighter level of consciousness, thereby helping to free them from the level of consciousness they are currently stuck at, and allowing them to move forward on their own path. This is possible because all beings share the same foundation, so to the extent we are able to become one with that spirit, we can help lead them to a higher level of consciousness.
People sometimes get stuck at the level they were experiencing when they died, which is often lower than the general level they lived their lives at. However it is not possible to raise them to a level higher that what they achieved while alive.