Beginner’s Mind

Buddhism in Canada Montreal Teacher Stories Teachers Zen

The first time I met Samu Sunim, he was living in a very sparsely furnished walk-up apartment on l’Avenue du Parc near the mountain in Montréal. It was 1969 and I was 18 years old. Eastern religion was sweeping the west. I had been writing articles in our high school newspaper about Krishna consciousness and transcendental meditation (which, I might proudly add, caused its publication to be banned by the Principal). Then I heard there was a real Korean Zen master in town.

With my head full of stories of Zen patriarchs thumping ignorant students with sticks, yet still somehow knowing I was Buddhist after reading Philip Kapleau Roshi’s newly-published Three Pillars of Zen and Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh Zen Bones, I sought out my first teacher. Climbing the stairs to Sunim’s apartment, I was so nervous I trembled. I planned out how I would grab onto the railings in case he threw me down the winding staircase.

Sunim ushered me in to a living room with no furniture. On the floor were several mats cut out of broadloom, where we sat. He offered tea. In a quavering voice, I explained my reason for coming, expecting at any moment to be set upon. Sunim (only 28 himself at the time) explained very gently that his English was bad, that he wasn’t taking students, but that he knew a Canadian fellow who had started a meditation group I might find to be good beginning for practice. He gave me the phone number and wished me on my way with great gentleness.

There is so much I didn’t know that day. Three things I didn’t know were that Samu Sunim would become a great Canadian Buddhist teacher, that our paths would cross many times, and that he would be a beacon for me even forty years later. I hope I am able to share these stories with him for another forty!

A Sumeru story. To be continued…

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