Samu Sunim, 1986 Toronto
Samu Sunim, 1993 Chicago
Samu Sunim, 2004 Korea
Samu Sunim, 2014 New York City
Venerable Samu Sunim was born in Korea in 1941. Orphaned during the Korean War, he entered a Buddhist monastery following a period of homelessness. He studied as a novice monk and then undertook and completed his Zen training under Master Solbong Sunim at Pomo-Sa monastery in Pusan, Korea. When he was conscripted into active military service even though he was a monk, he left his native country for Japan and finally the West. In New York City in 1967 he founded the Zen Lotus Society (now the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom). After moving to Toronto in Canada in 1971 he completed a three year solitary retreat before beginning his teaching career. He reactivated the Zen Lotus Society from a basement apartment in Toronto serving the Korean-Canadian community and gave meditation instruction during the week. In 1979 Ven. Samu Sunim and a small group of his students moved the Zen Lotus Society into a former flophouse.
The building was extensively renovated through the effort and manpower of those first disciples. Over the years Ven. Samu Sunim and the Zen Lotus Society has provided Buddhist meditation training, held Buddhist art and photography exhibitions, hosted visiting Buddhist teachers and organized public events such as Buddha's Birthday celebrations, benefits for the poor and hungry and peace vigils. In 1985 he established a three year Dharma Student Training Program (now the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary) to provide a consistent study-practice program for serious students wishing to train as priests or teachers.
Ven. Samu Sunim also founded the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor in 1981 and the Zen Buddhist Temple in Chicago founded in 1992. In the tradition of community effort both temples have been renovated and remodeled with the help of many volunteer man-hours always under the strong leadership and spiritual guidance of Ven. Samu Sunim. In 1988 the Zen Lotus Society in Toronto moved to larger premises where in 1989 Ven. Samu Sunim organized "A Day of Celebration in Honor of the Dalai Lama receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace." In 1990 delegates came from across Canada to attend the seven day "Conference on Buddhism in Canada" which he organized and co-hosted. Ven. Samu Sunim's concern for inter-Buddhist dialogue led to his organizing the conference "Zen Buddhism in North America" held at his temple in Ann Arbor Michigan in 1986 for the new generation of North American trained Zen teachers. In 1987 also in Ann Arbor he organized the "Conference on World Buddhism in North America," a historic gathering of ethnic and Western Buddhist leaders of most traditions active in North America. In addition, Ven. Samu Sunim has published two Buddhist publications, Spring Wind-Buddhist Cultural Forum, an international Buddhist quarterly journal from 1983-1986, and Buddhism at the Crossroads, a Buddhist magazine initiated in 1990.
"Sunim", as he is known to many, is a talented and creative person. He is a superior meditation teacher, a poet and storyteller who transforms run-down buildings into beautiful temples. As a teacher, he is a disciplinarian with an eye for detail coupled with a great understanding of his students' Western ways. His frank, straightforward manner, ready smile, helpful attitude and compassionate heart combined with a tireless enthusiasm and determination for seemingly impossible tasks have earned him the respect of whoever comes across his path. He served as Zen Master of the Society's five temples in Toronto, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Mexico City and New York City until summer of 2019. In his old age and illness (Parkinson's) he led a quiet and unconcerned life at the Spring Wind Farm and the Toronto Temple. On August 6 2022 he passed away peacefully at the Toronto temple in the loving presence of his disciples.