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Korea Blog: Will Korea’s Most Famous Monk and His Tweets of Zen Wisdom Play in America?

“Penguin’s English translation of The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down comes out in America on February 7th,” tweeted South Korea’s most famous monk, in Korean, at the beginning of this year. “At about the same time, it’s scheduled to come out in fifteen other Western countries like England, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Sweden as well. Please understand my frequent tweeting in English.” Up to that point, communicating with his readers in only his and presumably their native language, Haemin Sunim (sunim, or 스님, being the honorific title for a Buddhist monk) amassed a crowd of followers now numbering 1.24 million. That would qualify him as a Twitter celebrity by any standard, but in beginning to tweet in English, Haemin Sunim effectively announced an attempt to take it the next level.

The Korean edition of The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down (멈추면 비로소 보이는 것들), his second book, came out in 2010 and quickly turned bestseller, thus setting up high expectations, easily fulfilled, for his most recent, last year’s Love for the Imperfect (완벽하지 않은 것들에 대한 사랑). Both draw on the original source of this fresh-faced, gray-robed figure’s fame, his stream of tweets (as well occasional pictures of animals or of himself hugging fans), the most liked and retweeted of which — here translated by me, but in the English version of his book surely translated much better — include the following:

Do not beg for attention from other people. As your abilities grow, you will naturally receive attention from other people. When you feel yourself unconsciously begging for attention, think, “I still have to grow my abilities.” Never treat your noble self like a beggar.

When you’re troubled and anxious, ask yourself: is there anything I can change about this future that worries me? Don’t those worries make you miss out on the moment? If there’s nothing you can change, put your heart in the present and feel the preciousness of the moment.

Be good, even to you. While you gold-heartedly take on the tasks others don’t want to, don’t you also have a hard time? Hearing nice words from other people is fine, but being good to yourself is important.

Don’t try too hard to find out what other people think of you. The harder you try, the more you simply hand the leadership of your live over to the thoughts of others. Live life with the confidence to be its protagonist. Hwaiting!

That last term, a Koreanization of the English word “fighting” (English education in Korea having the mysterious tendency to conflate gerund and imperative), functions as an all-purpose cry of encouragement here, and Haemin Sunim provides nothing if not encouragement.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.