The Shim Gum Do Founding Master Great Zen Master Kim Chang Sik Won Gwang

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It’s not everyday we get to meet a Buddha. One day as we were out for a walk, we stumbled upon the headquarters of Shim Gum Do in Brighton. We weren’t sure what to make of it at first. With bright red signs saying “Zen” and “sword”, displayed across what once was a Unitarian church, we had to go in and take a look for ourselves to see what was in this curious place.

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Photo by Carlos Arzaga

We discovered that this was the world headquarters of a system of meditation and martial arts called Shim Gum Do. It was founded by a man whose full formal title is, Shim Gum Do Founding Master Great Zen Master Kim Chang Sik Won Gwang and he was generous enough to agree to sit down with us for an interview. It is important to understand that this man is the 79th patriarch in a dharma lineage of enlightened masters going back to The Buddha Shakyamuni himself (the man we traditionally and historically refer to as “Buddha”). Shim Gum Do came revealed to him from his own mind in a 100 day mediation retreat he did and he teaches it himself here at the world headquarters known as Shim Gwang Sa (translates to “Mind light Temple”) in Brighton. The forms of Shim Gum Do and the organization itself all came to him in that moment on the meditation retreat. None of it was altered since that moment.

Born in 1944 is Seoul, South Korea, Master Kim was 13 years old when he met his teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee and began to learn the importance of clearing the mind and meditation. At 21, he was sent on the meditation retreat on Sam Gak Mountain in Korea. This was the retreat in which Shim Gum Do was  revealed to him. He began teaching Shim Gum Do and its Proclamation in 1971 in Korea and then came to America in 1974 to spread it further. He came to Cambridge first where he did demonstrations and speaking events at MIT, Boston College, Yale, Brown, Harvard and many others. In 1978 the American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association was formed and then in 1991 the World Shim Gum Do Association came together, uniting the other associations he had formed around the world. He is also the author of 17 books of poetry, including one which won the prestigious Korean literary PEN award in 2014.

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Photo by Carlos Arzaga

As he explained to us, “Shim” means mind, “Gum” means sword and “Do” means path. This is “Action Zen” as he put it. “Action means highest truth. If your mind is thinking, with no action, it doesn’t mean anything. Action means proof of what your mind is thinking about. Action is the highest level. People need that kind of thing. Sometimes you think you made a mistake, but when time passes, you see that your action was correct. Without thinking clear your mind will always be in trouble. So, I help people with working clear, eating clear and studying clear. ”

He elaborated: “What is mind? A lot of people don’t know mind. They have a mind, but they don’t know their own mind. Buddhism at the highest level helps people see their own mind.” He went on, “Mind is bigger than the universe. Heaven is where? Inside your mind! Which will be your choice, heaven or hell?”

He spoke on the meaning of Zen: “Zen is not about the past, or the future. Zen means right now. Right now means the zen mind. Zen mind means clear.” He used the example of a cup of water to clarify the simplicity of the zen way of thinking that eludes so many of us. “You may ask, ‘What is this?’ It’s a cup of water! You may ask how to say what a cup of water is in a different language. For a Japanese person, they will have a different name for it. For a Korean person, they will have a different name. For a Chinese person, they will have a different name. Japanese, Korean Chinese… it doesn’t matter. When you are drinking it is all the same. When you are drinking, at that moment, you and the cup and water become one.”

We asked him about meditation. “There are different ways of mediation. There is sitting meditation. There is working meditation. There is reading-a-book meditation. The point is, when you are reading a book, if you are thinking of something, such as your parents or friends, you are not meditating. Meditation is when you JUST READ! When you are working and you are just working, that can be a working meditation. When you eat food and you are thinking of someone or something you do not like, you may have a stomach or digestion problem because you are mixing your bad thoughts with the food. When you are eating food, just enjoy the food.”

He likened meditation to taking a “mind shower”. “When you are dirty, what do you do? You take a shower. Your body smells bad! Meditation is when your mind becomes clear. Same as a body shower, you need a mind shower. Then after that your mind is more clear and focused. How long do you take for a shower? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? Same time for a mind shower. It will help make everything organized and clear. You need mediation for twenty minutes a day. It’s not too long!”

“Everyday life… when you are thirsty… drink water. When you are tired, take a nap. When you need money, go to work and make money. This is everyday life. The point is, when you do these things, don’t think of something else when you are doing them or you will face trouble. If you are clear in your action, everything else will be clear. If you are not clear, other people will know it.”

We asked if he still gets upset or feels some of the strong negative emotions the rest of us can feel quite strongly from time to time. “Yes! Of course! This is true for everyone! Jesus said to turn the other cheek if you are hit. That does not mean he does not feel the pain of being slapped in the face. He can digest it. He is not angry and knows that the pain can go away. Jesus could control himself. You too, can control yourself. The point is, do not keep that pain going. Some people hold on to their pain for one year, two years, longer… Like the ripples in water when you throw a stone, you must clear your mind after a time. If you are angry, be angry, but as soon as your mind can stop, do not keep it anymore.”

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Photo by Carlos Arzaga

When it comes to Boston, this resident of forty three years shares the love of the city with us. “Boston is a great city. People help each other. You do yourself. I do myself. That attitude becomes peace. People love each other here, they help each other. They are compassionate to each other.”

We feel a bit more enlightened.

On the first Friday of every month from 6:o0 to 7:30 you may join Shim Gum Do Founding Master Great Zen Master Kim Chang Sik Won Gwang in a free meditation at 203 Chestnut Hill Ave in Brighton and learn more about Shim Gum Do. He lives at the temple and you can do a residency there too, if you become a student of his. He teaches Shim Gum Do classes Mon – Thurs 6 – 7:30 PM and Sat 10 – 11 AM & 11 AM – Noon

Learn more on their website: shimgumdo.org.

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