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Bruce, hi! Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a very complicated person (Laughing). I practice traditional medicine and dharma in New York City. Currently, I’m teaching acupuncture and herbal medicine at the New York College of Health Professions.
I earmed a master's degree in acupuncture and oriental medicine from the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City and a doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine from Pacific College of Health and Science in San Diego, CA.
I haven’t always lived in America. I moved to the U.S. from Seoul in 1995 and Manhattan became my second home. In 1998, I founded the Lotus Dharma Society, incorporating teachings of Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan Buddhism. And I've directed the society to teach the scriptures to guide meditation groups and to organize community activities for Korean Americans in New York area.
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 a Buddhist monastery in Korea at 17. My mother passed away at 12 and I had a difficult time with my family since then. In my final year of high school, I switched my life to join a mountain temple. It was the Taebaeksan mountain and a year later I moved south to the oldest temple, Haeinsa. 3 years later I went to Dongguk University to learn Buddhist studies and even served two years of military service.
After graduation and the military, I conducted the missionary work and taught Buddhism to the public. I was very passionate about Buddhist activities. I opened a Buddhist center in Seoul and was guiding the people to practice Buddha’s teachings. This center had more than 2,000 members and grew successfully. And I thought I wanted to study more abroad to help the center.
In Buddhism there are a variety of schools and teachings about helping others with compassion and care. I wanted to apply Buddhism to real life and help real people – even if I had an idealistic life goal from my spiritual practice. The main reason for becoming a monk was to be a good healer as a spiritual leader. I wanted to help others to live a good life through a balanced body and mind.
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 my country. 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 a personal form of Buddhism. Of course, I do meditation, recite the scriptures, or practice Qigong exercises daily. Other than my main acupuncture practice, I teach Buddha’s teachings intermittently. As an acupuncturist, I'm utilizing the Dharma Therapy to integrate traditional healing sciences and Buddhist practices.
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 traditional medicine with ancient religious wisdom.
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?
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 ill, we are unhealthy, but with acupuncture we can make a balance the body and regulate Qi. Acupuncture basically uses needles, but it means to stimulate acupuncture points using needles, cups, spoons, or herbs. Those tools of acupuncture are not that painful. So we stimulate the points to heal itself. At first, there’s a sharp pinch, and you feel very comfortable and great afterward.
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?
Several years ago people in America weren’t familiar with Asian herbs. They’re imported from Asia, and most people don’t trust the products. 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 have published new books. Can you tell us about them?
They are Acupuncture Notebook and Classical Asican Herbal Therapy Those are for wellness practitioners – such as acupuncturists, herbalists, and martial artists — to help find Asian therapies for health conditions. The practitioners have a lot of knowledge and experiences but they don’t have practical manuals. That’s why I organized a complete guide from the traditional Asian medicine. This is a practical desk reference for them.
General readers can also get an idea of what Asian medicines are being used to treat diseases or disordders. They can be a health reference for individuals and families, as long as they don’t take any herbs before talking to their primary physician.
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. Second, 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. 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. Even if everything is under control, without a healthy, balanced mind, your life will not be good.
So you should keep those life sources — food, sleep, body, breath, and mind — balanced.
“Dr. Park is a complete healer. With the Buddhist background he is very compassionate and his attitude toward his profession is very sincere. I have been seeing him for my neck and lower back pain for a year. I feel much better now and I can enjoy many activities I could not do before.” – Peter Yom, CUNY Professor
“I was referred to Dr. Park by a friend at work. I’ve been experiencing sciatic nerve pain due to lower back issue when I first met him. What I appreciate the most with Dr. Park is he assesses my entire body every time I see him. He checks my pulse, my stomach, my skin, blood circulation and he even taught me breathing exercises to help me relax. There is a focus on my ailment but each treatment will depend on what my body is going through and general well-being. I highly recommend his services not to mention his home made ginger tea!” – Katrina Gomez, The Americas Virgin Limited Edition, NYC
Dr. Park is extremely conscientious, talented and so good at his work that I look forward to our appointments with real anticipation of feeling better. He is also a delightful person. I cannot recommend him more highly.” – Helen Fioratti, Art Collector, L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur
“Dr. Park was enormously helpful to me in addressing my migraines as well as my neck and back pain issues. After exhausting traditional forms of treatment with medication, using alternative means of addressing my pain and stress was enlightening for me. Dr. Park has a kind and caring rapport which I also believe factors into the therapeutic outcome. I am very grateful for his services.” – Dara C., Psychiatrist, NYU
“I was carrying so much stress and strain in my shoulders, and Dr. Park was able to break this down and lead me towards better breathing and stress management.” – SY from New York
“I’ve been regularly seeing Dr. Park for over a year. During that time, he has cured many of my aches and pains while putting me on a firmer road to health and wellness. Thanks to Dr. Park, I feel better, younger and stronger. I can’t recommend his services enough.” – Dan Kadison, Founder, NewsWhistle.com