Anguk Seon Center Saves Historic Fitzgerald House

SeonHouse1913The historic architecture aficionados of West Adams have been waiting for years with fingers crossed, to see what was to become of the James. T. Fitzgerald mansion on the N. W. corner of Adams and Arlington. It was designed in 1903 in the Italian Gothic style by Joseph Cather Newsom and built in 1906 for James T. Fitzgerald a self-made music mogul. It is the oldest reinforced concrete house in Los Angeles.

The mansion has gone through many incarnations starting off as an elegant turn of the century home. It was then passed on to a variety of wealthy owners until the 1940’s when it became a rooming house. In the 50’s it was sold to a troupe of circus performers who held on to it until the 70’s. By this time the house had become an eye sore, broken windows and empty hallways, but Artillian Moody, a successful local seamstress, saw its potential. It was purchased by her son Ronald and turned into an ad hoc community house. There are still people living in our community who remember going to the house for various social functions.  After she died the house came under the stewardship of her son Ronald who unfortunately ran the house ragged and the grand old lady saw her worst days as a site for raucous house parties, motor cycle clubs and two murders.  He eventually lost the house and it was purchased by and resold to investors - until 2015. 

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That brings us to the Anguk Seon organization. Soen is Korean for Zen, an arm of Buddhism known for its style of practice designed to bring the practitioner to an awakened state, here and now. The Anguk Seon organization is headed by
Seon Master Subul Sunim (b. 1953) an influential monk in Korean Buddhism’s Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist tradition in Korea. He was first ordained in 1975, founded the organization Anguk Seonwon in Busan in 1989 and opened a branch in Seoul in 1996. Over twenty-five thousand laypeople have taken part in more than 300 retreats with Master Subul in Korea and around the world. Recently, Subul Sunim has served as the abbot of Beomeosa Monastery and as the Seon master at the International Meditation Center at Dongguk University
 

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Meanwhile, in Los Angeles there were a group of the Master’s students who gathered and practiced in a rented space on Pico Blvd. until a fire put an end to their use of the space. While rummaging through the burnt remains they found, to their utter amazement, a perfectly intact photograph of their revered teacher. Not one edge of the picture was burnt. They took a photo and sent it to their friends in Korea who sent it to their friends until it finally reached the eyes of Master Sunim.  And to the great fortune of the local Seon community, he decided it was time to purchase a proper home for his students.





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So in 2015, the Fitzgerald House and our community breathed a sigh of relief as the LA Anguk Seon Center purchased the house. After a few years of public hearings, the restoration began in 2018.  It was slowed down during the pandemic but by December of 2021 they finally received a passing report and on October 1st of 2022 they had a Grand Opening inviting the community and the heads of all the local spiritual centers. 

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Master Subul Sunum came from Korea to attend the ceremonies so I reached out to see if he might be interested in doing an interview for our community and much to my delight he made himself available despite his busy schedule. I have some experience with Zen practice and although I told him I would be asking the questions of a lay-person or a very beginner student, we very shortly began to dig into the deeper questions. 

SeonMasterDianne2Dianne V. Lawrence:  So first of all, I want to welcome you all to our community. We are so very grateful that you came to our neighborhood and purchased this house. This is a very historic area with a lot of pride in our history and our architecture.  This house has been in disrepair for so many years and we were all sad thinking nobody could afford to buy it and restore it.  So we were not only thrilled that somebody bought it to restore it, but that it was a spiritual Zen (Korean - Seon) community that took possession.

Seon Master Subul Sunim: I’ve been here for only a few days but I feel like it's a really good spot, with a good energy.

D.V.L.:  Yes. So, thank you. Now the questions I'm going to ask are the questions of a lay-person.  First, what is the difference between Seon Buddhism and Buddhism?

MASTER: That’s a complicated question. (laughter) Seon Buddhism, the religion is a vehicle, not the destination. On the other hand, for general Buddhism, in your definition, the religion is the destination.

D.V.L.:  Can you talk to me about the concept of Sudden Awakening?  What are we awakening from and what are we awakening to?

MASTER:  After Sudden Awakening I know who I am.  Sudden Awakening is the flower of the Seon Buddhism.  It's like the butterfly or moth, finally getting out of the cocoon and trying to fly for the very first time, that excitement. 

(He slowly lifts up a tea cup) What makes you lift up the cup?  Once you understand what makes you do this, then you become free.  This is not your hands’ doing. This isn’t “me” who is doing.  It is neither not- doing. Still…I am doing.  But, what makes me do this?

Once you understand this, that's the moment of Sudden Awakening.  There is a big difference between doing something before Sudden Awakening and doing something after Sudden Awakening.

D.V.L.:  Most laypeople don’t have the time to commit to deep Seon practice.  Can they still benefit?

MASTER:  The natural first step would be to educate themselves about Buddhism.

D.V.L.:  So when one achieves an awakened mind or has a Sudden Awakening, do you have to practice to maintain it?

MASTER:  It’s not something to maintain.  This is something to be tasted. It can only be explained once you experience it.  It's a great, tremendous experience.  It's hard to explain, unless you actually experience it by yourself.

D.V.L.:  I've had the experience of natural, spontaneous awakening, where everything was everything. There was no separation between anything.

MASTER:  After you experienced it, how did you summarize it?

D.V.L.:  Surprise. My reaction was...(shocked sound) AHH!! My eyes opened and saw.

MASTER:  After that. How did you practice? That’s very important.

D.V.L.:  I didn't practice.

MASTER:  I acknowledge that your experience was really great. It's not everybody can experience that.  If you know how to practice after that, you're getting even deeper and more open.

D.V.L.:  Life gets in the way, supporting myself, work, problems, people...

MASTER:  That's the Seon. So you can practice while you live your life, at the same time.

D.V.L.:  So many people suffer not just from the condition of being un-awakened, but from the unfortunate circumstances of their life. Can you talk to me about this?

MASTER:  It’s not only the person who suffers. In my case their suffering is also my suffering.  So when I see them suffering, it makes me suffer too.  What can I do to make them better?  So the conclusion is we have to come back to the practice again. Because just turning to religion itself, there is a certain limit, obviously.

D.V.L.:  So, I understand that to see the suffering, the reaction of compassion is because of the connection between all things?

MASTER:  Once there is a practice, compassion naturally flows out.  It's not necessarily, "I did a wholesome deed", you just automatically express it, naturally, you just do it.

D.V.L.:  So at the event here, you had all of the different spiritual practices from the community, which was wonderful to see.  Do you recognize a common theme in all religious approaches?

MASTER:  The religious history is less than 5,000 years. Human history is how long? Do you have any imagination?

D.V.L.:  200,000 years?

MASTER:  300,000 years. Without religion, there are still people who actually have this kind of a Spiritual experience.  So it was not necessary to systematize such experience for those people to take an advantage, but religion is an event which is very recent. Religion became like a guideline to direct to the truth. So my concern is, which religion is most effective and fast for the people to recognize the truth. to have a spiritual experience.  Seon Buddhism was the one which systematize the shortcut for the people to experience that awakening in a much simpler way.

So each religion has cases of having experience such like Sudden Awakening but Seon Buddhism particularly, is unique. Seon Buddhism, is systematized for many people to experience that Sudden Awakening.  So once you have a Sudden Awakening, then you have the value yourself, the understanding of what is true and what is not.  So the encountering is important.


Within the largest group of Seon Buddhism, there are actual meditations but there is no necessity to emphasize Seon plus meditation. Just go straightforward to Zen. Seon already encompasses the meditation but based upon the Sudden Awakening. Without Sudden Awakening, it's irrelevant.

D.V.L.:  So what I'm hearing you say is that there's Sudden Awakening and the meditation follows, back towards Sudden Awakening.  But you are emphasizing Sudden Awakening. Like what I experienced?

MASTER:  Well Spontaneous Sudden Awakening could be very dangerous. It's good, it's still good. But it’s better to have a proper teacher.

D.V.L.:   To look for the, "Oh, this has been done before. Let me talk to those people."


MASTER:  Yes.

D.V.L.:  I'm curious about art.  Because the practice of art, in my understanding, is to ideally get to a place of spontaneous self.

MASTER:  I agree. But art is art, Seon is Seon.

D.V.L.:  True enough.  There are many wonderful spontaneous artists who are not very Seon when they are not making art.  Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

MASTER:  Can you see your own eyes?

D.V.L.:  I would have to understand what seeing is.

MASTER:  When you look at the mirror, do you see your eyes?

D.V.L.:  Yes.

MASTER:  But can you see your eyes without mirrors?

D.V.L.:  No.


MASTER:  But I can see my own eyes without mirrors.

D.V.L.:  To see the true self?

MASTER:  Yes.  I can see things because I saw my own eyes. If I can't see my own eyes, I cannot see anything.  I also see my own mind too. You need to trust that belief.

D.V.L.:  I completely understand it, yes.  (Laughter)  What I like about this master is his joyful, laughing, smile all the time.

MASTER:  It's like meeting old friends, because you experienced Sudden Awakening.  I recognized fully your sense of enlightenment. I felt it as you ask the questions.  Has it been about two decades since you experienced that? When did you experience it?

D.V.L.:  Long time ago. When I was 18.

MASTER:  May I ask you how old?

D.V.L.:  71

MASTER:  Oh!  You did this earlier than me. I was 24.

D.V.L.:  But you took it more seriously.

MASTER:  Because I had a teacher.

D.V.L.:  And you had your enlightenment in a spiritual garden, while weeds surrounded mine. I didn't have a teacher. But around the same time I understood that the spiritual path was the most important path in life and I did find the I Ching which became like a teacher to me. But my other thought was what am I going to do? Join a monastery? I was young, I was crazy, I was wild. And it didn't seem that joining a monastery was the right path for me this life.

MASTER:  That's okay.

D.V.L.:  But the experience gave me a shining light that kept me going in the right direction in my life.

MASTER:  Maybe it could have been better if you could a little bit ignore the light. It could have been better.

D.V.L.:  It was important because my life was a mess and it guided me out of the mess.

MASTER:  Even if without noticing or pay attention to this light, you could have gone to a straight path.  Because you're focused too much on the light, you didn't get the maximum benefit of the experience.

D.V.L.:  Yeah. Oh, I'm sure I didn't. But it did help. Maybe not maximum benefit, but some benefit.

MASTER:  Yeah. But even with Sudden Awakening, sometimes it doesn't come with a hundred percent clarity. Sometimes it comes a little bit ambiguous.

D.V.L.:  For me, it was one idea.

MASTER:  Just one idea?

D.V.L.:  Yes. One idea. This is not a separate world.  There is unity at the heart of everything.

MASTER:   Still you experienced something really great. But if you read this book, [A Bird In Flight Leaves No Trace. The Zen Teachings of Huangbo in which Master Subul provides commentary. It was gifted to me] there's a really good explanation. This book mostly talks about the path after Sudden Awakening.

D.V.L.: Ah. Perfect. Perfect. Thank you so much. So I would love to talk all day but I don't want to take all your time. And we've had half an hour. (Laughing) But I don't want to let you go!

MASTER:  It's okay.
`
D.V.L.:  I know, I know. I will let you go. Thank you so much.

Anguk Seon Center
3115 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018


Saturday English Speaking Program

3.00 Orientation for newcomers

4:00 Sitting Practice. Less than an hour with a break
5:00 Q& A with tea

2023 Ganwha Seon Retreat
Date: April 23-29, 2023
Teacher: Master Subul Sunim

CONTACT   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(213) 358-9420


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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