Today I made the great decision to attend a lecture in Griffin Hall by Zen Master Jok Um. Yes, that’s his real title. This guy is legitimately a Zen Master. You could feel in the air how he turned Griffin 6 into a holy space just by his presence. The audience of about 20 was silent and still, awestruck, trying to emulate the Master’s breathing, posture, and laughter. He alternated effortlessly between personal anecdotes, Zen tradition and stories, casual conversation, and wisdom that went over all of our heads. In short, he was everything I expected a Zen Master to be.
So what did I learn? I can’t claim enlightenment or Nirvana from one hour of lecture, of course, but there were valuable lessons to be had. I wish I could remember all of the quotes and wisdom that came pouring out of him. He mentioned escaping the cycle of cause and effect, which was directly tied up with the cycle of suffering and craving central to Buddhism. He also said that Flatland should be required reading.
The essence of Master Jok Um’s lecture seemed to be the importance of maintaining the mindset of a student. To be open, curious, non-judgmental. Several times he phrased it as “being a disciple” of everyone and everything you meet. He also answered the logical follow-up question: “how do I maintain the mind of a student?” The answer: “avoid distraction and notice the world around you.” This ties in with mindfulness and awareness, a core tenet of Zen to my understanding. Notice the people and things around you, and be a disciple of them. It’s not enlightenment in itself, but I will follow this lesson in the future and see where it takes me.