Habit of the Tongue

Su Bong Zen Monastery

Chung Shim Sunim, a sharing at Su Bong Zen Monastery

After I became a nun in Hwa Gye Sa Temple and practiced there for a year, a senior monk told me: "After the summer retreat, you will become Zen Master Seung Sahn's attendant." I was shocked to hear this because, to me, Dae Seon Sa Nim was high above — someone I could not get close to. I said: "I cannot be his attendant. I don't know anything." But the senior monk said: "No problem. You will be fine." On the first day, I went to Zen Master Seung Sahn's room and bowed to him. He was very enthusiastic and happy and said: "Don't worry, no problem. Just relax."

In the beginning, I was nervous to be his attendant because I didn't know anything. At first there was another nun with me, and she taught me how to be an attendant. But she soon left, and I was Zen Master Seung Sahn's only attendant. In the first month, when Zen Master Seung Sahn went out with other sunims, I would stay at the temple. After a month, Dae Seon Sa Nim said to me: "You come with us for lunch today. Go get ready." That was the first time I went out with Zen Master Seung Sahn. We went to a restaurant with Zen Master Dae Jin, Zen Master Dae Bong and a few laypeople. I felt quite uneasy, sitting there and just looking at the table. After a while, the food was served, and I just ate. It was my first time to have cheese omelet. It tasted funny — not spicy, not salty, but, in fact, quite oily. Usually in Korea, we would have tea during lunch, so eating more was okay. But at that time, no tea was served, so my stomach just felt very full and not comfortable at all.

A few days later, Zen Master Seung Sahn said to me: "Today's lunch I will order special food for you. Whatever you like, you tell me. I will order it for you." I said: "Yes, sir." An hour later, he said it again: "Today's lunch I will order special food for you. Whatever you like, you tell me. I will order it for you." Same speech, twice. When we arrived at the restaurant, Zen Master Seung Sahn said it again: "I will order special food for you. You choose from the menu, I will order it for you." This was the third time that he said the same thing. Very strange. So Zen Master Dae Bong showed me the menu and recommended something, and I decided to order that. Then, when the waiter took orders, Zen Master Seung Sahn said, "We will have seven cheese omelets." Zen Master Dae Bong was a bit shocked to hear that. While eating, I thought: "Why did he say it three times that he'd let me choose the food, but he still ordered cheese omelets? He never asked me what I wanted!" From then on, whenever we went out for meals, Zen Master Seung Sahn would order cheese omelets. After eating it so many times, I began to get used to its taste.

Zen Master Seung Sahn had long-term illness. Though his body condition was not very good, he kept a busy traveling schedule to spread the Dharma overseas. Therefore, the Hwa Gye Sa abbot sunim decided that I should follow Zen Master Seung Sahn to take care of him. That was my first time traveling aboard, and we stayed in America for about a month. During our time there, we went out for meals quite often, and every time we had cheese omelets. However, since I had had it so many times before, I knew the taste and even started to enjoy eating it. After that first trip, I followed Zen Master Seung Sahn to many countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, including Hong Kong.

In the beginning, I didn't understand why we always had to have cheese omelets, and I didn't like its taste. But later on, I understood that Zen Master Seung Sahn might have been training my tongue. I am Korean, and Koreans cannot do without kimchee or gochujang ( chillie paste ) at every meal. I know some Korean sunims who carry kimchee and gochujang with them when they travel. Zen Master Seung Sahn never took Korean food with him. Wherever he went, he ate the local food. He retrained my tongue's habits and helped me put down my attachment to kimchee. Now, wherever I go, I don't have problems with food.

Dae Seon Sa Nim, thank you very much for your teaching!

(Chung Shim Sunim is a Korean nun. She met Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1995 and started practicing at Hwa Gye Sa Temple, where she later became a nun. A year after ordination, she was appointed Zen Master Seung Sahn's attendant. She accompanied him to spread the Dharma in many countries. Since Zen Master Seung Sahn passed away in 2004, Chung Shim Sunim has stayed at Hwa Gye Sa, where she continues her practice today.)