Our Abbot, Hwalson Sunim

Hwalson Sunim founded the Detroit Zen Center in 1990.  Hwalson is his ordination name; Sunim is the title given a monk in the Korean tradition.   

Sunim was born in 1941.  He grew up in Detroit & worked as a public school teacher in the City.  He left the City shortly after serving as a peacekeeper during the riots.  He went on to work as sociologist at Penn State, McMaster University, and for the Ontario government in Toronto, Canada.  There, he met his first Zen teacher, Samu Sunim, under whom he became a monk, as well as a carpenter. 

He later trained for several years in the monasteries of South Korea, as a student of Master Wondam, at Sudeoksa Temple.  In 1989 he was directed back to the US by Wondam to begin teaching Americans.

He arrived in Detroit with $50 and a backpack. 
With only a sincere heart and work ethic, he propelled this grassroots Zen Center into being.

Sunim teaches through retreat interviews, occasional talks, and serves a small group of longer term students, & full-time students.

Our Vice-Abbot,

Myungju Sunim took up Zen study in 1994, and was ordained in 2004 at Sudeoksa Temple, Korea.  (Myungju is her ordination name, Sunim is the title given all ordained monk in the Korean tradition).

She has trained extensively in monasteries both in the US and Korea.

She became the Director in 2012, and the Vice-Abbot in 2018.  She serves as the guiding teacher at the Detroit Zen Center.


to the Zen Center, its teachers & community

Shine  One Corner of the World.

Zen is a philosophical practice with ancient roots, but timeless application.  Centered around the awakening of an individual to their source, also called original mind, zen practice has evolved to typically include seated meditation practice, periods of retreat, community, mentorship, & simple, manual and creative work.  Zen students can come from any walk of life or creed.  Zen comes from a kind of blend of Taoism & Buddhism, though is in modern times often found within the great institution of Buddhism, and therefore sometimes referred to as 'Zen Buddhism'.  However, Zen is not a religion, but a way.

The Detroit Zen Center was founded in 1990 by our Abbot, Hwalson Sunim.  Our community is broad, & includes monks, students, members & friends. We are open to the public for meditation, offer a daily schedule, retreats & a Zenstay guest program.  Our monastics serve as mentors for those interested in formal study. 

We have restored our formerly dilapidated & abandoned buildings & grounds, & provide public green space for our neighborhood, including gardens & a green roof.  Since 2010 we offered Living Zen Organics, a plant-based cafe, grocery store & food distributor -- currently on hold due to Covid.

Our aim is to practice & offer a place to study & teach Zen, & to model sustainable community & lifestyle.  Residents follow a daily schedule of meditation, offer a Zenstay Program & take care of the Center, while members & outside students access the schedule as they can.  We have a hermitage & retreat center in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where our monastics live half the year, joined by members for retreats.


Please check the calendar/register page and register for any public time HERE.  Essentially we offer:

  • Sunday morning zen meditation w instruction

  • Tuesday evening meditation w instruction

  • Zenstay:  Short term guest stays in the historic residence for personal retreat

  • New Moon Dharma Talks

  • One day & Weekend Retreats (longer retreats available to members)

  • Intro to Zen Workshops

  • Occasional cultural events

  • Membership, open to the public



Founded in 1990 by Zen monk Hwalson Sunim, we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  Donations are tax-deductible.  We have no paid staff, and are led by our Abbot, Vice-Abbot, Dharma Teachers & a lay Directors.  We are a spiritual branch of Sudeoksa Temple, South Korea, founded in 800 AD.


Membership is open to the public.  Members collectively sustain the Center.  They have no attendance requirements, but access to the daily schedule of practice & events. We offer a free 30 day membership trial, then ask folks to become formal members. Unless there is hardship, we request a minimum monthly donation of $30/month.  Become a member, or read more about membership benefits & details HERE.


Mentorship at the Center is available in 3 forms:  as a non-resident or resident student, or as a full time apprentice.  Being a student involves establishing with the Vice-Abbot (Myungju) a schedule of practice, study & stewardship, tailored to ones particular situation.  If you want to explore being a student, please start by attending a public meditation, and discuss your interest with the Director.  If you are not local, please contact us to schedule a visit or phone call.

Our Community

We are a diverse group of individuals.  The aim of our Zen community is to foster spiritual insight that leads to a spiritual ecology, individually & collectively, through Zen meditation.  Zen insight helps people evolve into true human beings -- caretakers of ourselves, one another, and our one world.


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