1. Bruce, hi! Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a very complicated person, I’m a human being. (Laughing)
Generally, I practice acupuncture and Asian herbal medicine in New York City. Lately, I’ve been teaching herbal medicine at the Virginia University of Oriental Medicine and South Baylo University.
I started practicing acupuncture and herbal medicine in 2012 after graduating from the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City.
I haven’t always lived in America. I moved to the U.S. from Seoul in 1995, where I was an ordained Buddhist monk, and later made Manhattan my home in 1998.
When I first moved to the States, I wanted to study Eastern thoughts and philosophy.
At first, I took an English course as an ESL student. I spent almost one year learning English because I couldn’t speak English at the time. My English speaking and writing skills improved so much since I trained with wonderful teachers.
In 1998, I founded the Lotus Dharma Society, which is a Buddhist scriptures program, incorporating teachings of Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.
From there, I directed the society to teach Buddhist scriptures, to guide meditation groups, and to organize community activities for Korean Americans in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
2. Can you tell us more about your life as a Buddhist monk in Korea? Why did you become one? What was it like? What were some of the best parts of being a monk? The worst?
I joined the Buddhist monastery in Korea at 17-years-old. My mother passed away when I was 12-years-old and I had a difficult time with my family since then. In my final year of high school, I switched my life direction to join a temple and become a Buddhist monk.
I then lived in a mountain temple – at Taebaeksan – for one year. And then, I moved south to the oldest temple (Haeinsa); went to Dongguk University to learn Buddhist studies for four years; and even served two years of mandatory military service.
After graduation and the military, I conducted missionary work and taught Buddhism to the general public.
At the time, I was very passionate about my work. I opened a Buddhist center in Seoul and I was teaching the people, creating a Buddhist congregation with over 2,000 members.
The temple work though tired me out. I was waking up at 4 am and I finishing at 11 pm, day in and day out.
I needed more energy, inspiration and insight. I was looking to study abroad in Japan, Taiwan or America, where the study of Eastern philosophy was becoming popular.
In Buddhism there are a lot of theories and teachings about helping other people with compassion and care.
For me, I wanted to apply Buddhism in real life and help real people – even if I had an idealistic life goal from my spiritual experience.
The main reason why I became a monk was to be a hero as a spiritual leader. I wanted to help people to live a happy life through a high level of teachings. For me to become a monk meant getting away from my family situation. A mountain temple was a very secure place for me.
The best part of my monk’s life was the free lifestyle. Monks in Korea could go wherever they wanted to. All the temples in Korea were very supportive to them and they were respected.
One thing I didn’t like was the monastic code. The rules were very militaristic. Throughout the history of Korea, monks and nuns were affected by the military style of ruling system. I didn’t see much of compassion and loving-kindness in monastery. It was so ironic to me.
The theory and the teachings of the Buddha were so great and powerful, but I wanted to see the real world and live life as an ordinary person… I decided to quit my robed life.
I was a practicing monk from 1977 to 1997.
3. Why did you decide to leave the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism? How difficult was the decision to leave? Do you still practice some form of Buddhism?
I moved to America, and became disconnected from Korea. My order wasn’t supporting me. I had to survive here.
If I lived as a Buddhist monk, I would have had to build a temple here. Or I could move back to Korea. Or I could give up being a Buddhist monk and live like a regular person.
I was isolated from society.
I had to make a decision.
I lost passion for a monk’s life; my heart went for ordinary living. My awakening aspiration went to a way of a lay bodhisattva.
I still practice some form of Buddhism. I do meditation, recite the scriptures, or practice Qigong exercises every morning. Publicly, I teach Buddhist Scriptures once a month. And as an acupuncturist, I introduce patients to Dharma Therapy, which is a protocol of well-being, integrated traditional healing sciences and Buddhist practices.
What is Buddhism to me? I would define Buddhism as a way of life, particularly an awakening, living with compassion, loving-kindness and care to others. I always imagine myself a little bodhisattva in this world. I try my best to become a better human being – and a compassionate being – to myself and others.
4. How did you discover acupuncture and the field of herbal medicine?
I grew up in a rural area of Korea. Whenever I got sick, my father gave me acupuncture. He put needles on the tips of my fingers.
He also cooked salts all night long and used them to cure sinus infections. Oftentimes, he took me to the mountain to gather medicinal plants.
When I had to build my new career, I found my lifelong practice of Buddhism would work with some fields of medicine.
I believed that people who were getting sick could be helped if they integrated acupuncture and herbal medicine with ancient religious wisdom.
5. How do you introduce acupuncture to people who don’t know much about it? A lot of people are scared of needles? Does acupuncture hurt? Does it draw blood? Why should someone do it?
Acupuncture is good for people because it balances and harmonizes yin-yang energy, or Qi.
Our life has dual systems such as good or bad, day or night, male or female, so if there are imbalances we are sick, we are unhealthy, but with acupuncture we can balance the body and regulate Qi.
Acupuncture uses needles. But they are not large. They are the size of a hair and not that painful. At first, there’s a sharp pinch, and then you feel very comfortable and great afterwards. Sometimes you’ll see drops of blood, but not much, if any.
All people should not do acupuncture. If you’re too weak or young you shouldn’t do acupuncture. We recommend those patients see their primary physicians.
Regarding your primary physicians, remember acupuncturists are alternative practitioners. Under New York State, and for most of the USA, the law says you should consult a medical doctor before seeing an acupuncturist.
6. This question is very similar to the last one. How do you introduce the field of herbal medicine to people who don’t know much about it? Should people be scared about bad reactions or contraindications to herbs?
Should they talk to their primary physician before taking any herbs? Are there any real benefits to these medicines? If so, what are they?
Several years ago people in America weren’t familiar with Asian herbs. They’re imported from Asia, and most people don’t trust the product. In America, it’s not considered medicine. It’s considered food. We don’t have any legal systems or regulations overseeing the use of herbs. But in our community and associations, we know which herbs are good and bad. We have long histories and our own systems.
With the rise of organic foods, Asian herbs are getting more popular now. I often recommend these products over vitamins or supplements. Herbs are 100 percent natural without any artificial chemical compounds.
Still, herbs should complement your medicine. There could be interactions or side effects. You should always speak with your primary doctor. You don’t want to hurt your heart, liver or stomach.
7. You have published a new book. Can you tell NewsWhistle’s readers about it?
My book is called Classical Asian Herbal Therapy. It’s for Asian medicine practitioners – such as acupuncturists, herbalists and martial arts masters — to help find Asian herbal therapies for Western diseases.
These practitioners have a lot of knowledge and experience but they don’t have practical manuals.
That’s why I arranged a complete overview of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese herbal remedies divided by Western disease systems. This is a practical desk reference.
General readers can also get a rough idea about what Asian herbal medicines or formulas are being used to treat diseases. It can be a reference for individuals and families, as long as they don’t take any herbs before talking to their primary physician.
If you want to really cure a disease, you have to see a licensed physician, like your primary care doctor.
8. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard? And what advice do you always give your patients?
The best piece of advice is “Live well.” I learned a lot from Eastern medicine and Buddhist philosophy, but it really comes down to living well — having good nutrition, doing exercise and learning to control your emotions.
I also tell my patients about five essential sources for life.
First, there’s food – a good diet is better than any kind of medicine.
Two, we should take care of our nervous system with sleep and stress reduction.
Third, we have to learn how to take care of our body. Our body is the most important part of our life. We should always keep moving, always do something physically.
The fourth is the breath. We take our breath for granted. We need to learn how to breathe properly. You can take a yoga class, or Chinese tai chi class, or just simply sit down, calm down, and watch your breath or just focus on your breath go in-and-out.
The last one is mind management. If everything is okay, without a healthy, balanced mind, your life will not be good. Mind management can be maintained by going to a church or temple, practicing meditation, or receive counseling from a psychologist, psychiatrist or life coach.
So the five essential sources of life are food, sleep, body, breath and mind. And you should keep those five sources balanced.
9. Where is your office located?
Our office is located at 330 East 38th Street in Manhattan.
10. Anything else to add?
We all need to have a balanced life, filled with friends, work, nutrition, community and religious practice. If you have any questions about well-being, don’t hesitate to call me at +1 646 262 6315 or reach me through the CONTACT link above.
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