August 12, 2009

Zen Master

Do you ever wonder why we are here? I don’t.


I always wonder why ‘you’ are here...

I always wonder why ‘you’ are in my life. All the people that I meet and know have meaning in my life in one way or another. However, every so often, I meet someone who is in my life to teach me something compelling... To teach me something about myself...

The other day, was one of those days... an influential Korean designer named Heesook called us up out of the blue... BTW...She is a wonderful designer who works with traditional Korean styles and fuses them with a contemporary look. I had met her once, several months ago at a Tango class. Yes...Tango...but that is another story... ;-)

Heesook is a very spiritual woman. I think she sees a world the rest of us cannot. There is a reason she chose us to contact that day.

She told us there was a person she wanted us to meet who was in Seoul for only a few hours...

Well...I was busy with the kids...getting them ready for baseball, this and that... So, likely, it was not going to work out, but we said we will stop by later...we expected her guest to be gone...


Anyway...we finally made it over to her studio. To our embarrassment, her guest waited for us. I think, over two hours!

If anyone should have done the waiting it should not have been Heesook’s guest! So, we arrive, late, and Dae Bong Sunim (his Zen Master name) is sitting there in the studio sipping tea and chatting with Heesook and her sister. Oh, Heesook had made him wait until we arrived.


We immediately apologized and sat down for tea. No, not Lipton tea...real tea. True tea that deserves a ritual. For a long time, I wondered why people drink tea. Well, that is because I never really drank tea until I came to Korea.

Dae Bong Sunim was great! Here he was...a Jewish kid from Philly...now a highly revered monk in Korea. For that matter, revered around the world. Before becoming a monk, Dae Bong Sunim was a hippy psychology major from Trinity College. He started out as an orderly in a mental institution and ended up as a welder. Not an ordinary welder, but a welder building nuclear submarines for the US Navy! This, all during the 60’s and 70’s. But he was still seeking...

...one day he found Zen Master Seung Sahn...to make a long story short...because of Zen Master Seung Sahn, Dae Bong Sunim found Buddhism and has been a monk for over 25 years.

A monk’s seniority is denoted by the number of rectangles in his robe. That’s 25 years worth of robe!

Yes, he had lots of stories. Lots! About himself, his fellow monk buddies, the mental institution, the shipyard, and his Zen Master Seung Sahn. All of which I cannot do justice..but, suffice it to say...with all the tea and laughing I almost peed my pants.


I would assume Heesook made this for him...very nice...

Anyway, I think one of the funnier stories was about his Zen Master Seung Sahn, a notoriously funny man. However, I am not sure humor was his intention. But the way Dae Bong Sunim described him kept me in stitches.

I will try to recount one story for you...in my words...so...here goes...

So, Master Seung Sahn was on a plane, post 911, with one of his assistants, who will remain nameless. Master Seung Sahn had been on hundreds of flights criss-crossing the globe to spread his word. Flying did not worry him. However, this time he seemed quite agitated and listless.

As soon as he sat down, he started punching the seat ahead of him. The man in the seat turns around and scowls. Master Seung Sahn profusely apologizes. The man, taken aback that a monk was punching his seat, turns back, bewildered. Then Master Seung Sahn proceeds to pester the stewardesses and again continues to punch the seat in front of him. Of course, he is asked to stop...he continues to apologize...repeat the behavior and apologize...again and again.


Then, as the plane is taking off and angles up...Master Seung Sahn stands up abruptly and shouts, “BE CLEAR OR DIE!!!! ... BE CLEAR OR DIE!!!!” At this point the whole plane is flipping out scared and no one knows what to do.

His assistant is out of his gourd as well...at first he tries to calm Master Seung Sahn down. Master Seung Sahn curtly rebuffs him and says, “Think with your gut, not your head!”

So, his assistant does as he is told and looks at his gut...hmmm...and the only thing it says was, “eat a banana...” “Eat a banana?” Well, this cannot be...now? ...in a highly volatile situation 30,000 feet in the air...eat a banana? Seriously?

So, he checks again...his gut says, “Eat a banana.” “Are you kidding?” “Yes, eat a banana...” You can fill in what the assistant does next...


So, now we have a screaming Master Seung Sahn, punching the seat ahead of him and his hapless assistant nonchalantly munching a banana with a hundred something terrified passengers flying over the Atlantic...Post 911. So, the plane levels off at cruising altitude and the captain comes out of the cock pit. No, he is not taking any prisoners...

The Captain proceeds to tell Master Seung Sahn, in no uncertain terms, that he WILL be met by the Air Marshall WHEN they land IF he does not CEASE and DESIST his utterly disruptive and obnoxious behavior. Of course, Master Seung Sahn apologizes profusely and the Captain marches back into his cock pit and slams the door.

Well, the bananas are finished off, the plane lands safely, everyone departs, de-boards or whatever they do to get off the plane and away from Master Seung Sahn. However, the banana-eating monk was dying to know what happened.

This is all Master Seung Sahn said to him, “Captain just broke up with girlfriend and had been drinking all night
...he need to be clear.

...No one has any idea how Master Seung Sahn knew this or if it was true...all that was known is that the plane landed safely...

...be clear.

Yes...this is a rare occurrence...I already Googled it for you: Click here if you need to...



OK...I know I slaughtered the story...but you get the idea...besides, I always say, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story!”

I mentioned that Heesook was a very sought-after designer of traditional Korean clothing...


Well...this is how Hines Ward rolls when he is in Seoul. You knew he was half-Korean, didn’t you? Heesook is not your average designer...nor are her clients...

In case you don’t know who Hines Ward is, click here, but you have to allow pop-ups!


Heesook uses lovely hand woven silk for her clothing. She told us that she dyes it, soaks it in rice paste and then irons it “just right” to keep the threading perfectly aligned.

By the way, Heesook was very quiet during our conversations with Dae Bong Sunim, but she was the true spirit in the room...



Every one you meet has a purpose in your life...

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