Following an inspiring Idler Dinner with Korean monk Haemin Sunim in January, we’re pleased to share an extract from his new book, Love for Imperfect Things.
MY DEAR BELOVED YOUNG FRIENDS: Each time I see your slumped shoulders, each time I hear your listless voices, my heart aches. How are you these days? Did you have another long day at school or work? It seems no one has told you that if you’re courageous, you can create your own destiny; it is entirely up to you to decide what kind of life you would like to have. Instead, you have been told by your parents and teachers that you should just follow the norm and do what the world expects of you. If you say that you want to become a musician or an artist, if you want to travel the world, if you want to have a serious relationship, you might be told: “Now is not the right time. You should concentrate on your studies.” When you started college, you thought you could finally have the life you wanted. But then what happened? You were told to prepare for your career. You had to apply for summer internships and study for qualifying exams. Again you were bombarded with reasons to delay your own life.
We have become accustomed to sacrificing the present for the sake of the future. We consider it a matter of course that the present just has to be put up with until one day that bright future arrives. We have overlooked the importance of enjoying the journey while prizing only the destination. But in the course of our lives, there comes a time when we begin to doubt whether this present that we are enduring will ever lead to the future of our dreams. Even if the dream comes true, will it be worth the sacrifice we made to our relationships and health and happiness in order to achieve it? And what if the dream we achieved was never ours but that of our parents or teachers? What if we were just measuring ourselves against society’s yardstick of success?
Even if we are lucky enough to get a job at our dream company, we will be starting out in an entry-level position, and it might be hard to find senior colleagues who value our perspective. It’s only natural that we won’t get everything right at first, as we are still learning. And when we don’t know how to do something, we will want our colleagues to teach us, patiently—but they only look irritated and reproach us for being incompetent. Soon we will start doubting whether we are right for the job, whether we ought to dedicate our life to this place just to make our parents proud.
Many people have asked me, “How did you find the courage to become a monk?” Well, I didn’t want to waste my life anymore wondering whether it tallied with some socially determined criteria for success. I got tired of trying to satisfy other people’s expectations. Instead, I wanted to discover for myself the answers to questions like “Why was I born?” and “What happens when I die?” I longed to experience enlightenment according to what the Buddha taught. I wanted to meditate more and live simply with like-minded folks. Looked at one way, my decision might seem self-centered, and in another way, like a brave choice. But just once, for just one moment in my life, I had to try to live a life without regret. Even if others scorn me and mock my decision, only having done it can I look at myself and say with confidence that I have loved my life.
Extract from Love for Imperfect Things by Haemin Sunim (Penguin Life, £9.99)