What Matters: Sebastian Huynh on Hunger and the Heart Sutra

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Sebastian Huynh is a refugee and Asian American creative raised by Italian nonnas in Brooklyn. He is a question asker, systems builder, design thinker, collector of shiny things, type geek, grid builder, color matchmaker, and bread baker.

Please answer the following ten questions. Answers can be as long or as short as you wish.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

It will have to be looking at the sea with the horizon and the water, much like a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph. Or sitting north and facing the base of the statues at Columbus Circle at 9 pm. Or staring at the way a printed typeface looks under a strong magnifying glass. Or when you press your eyes (when one gets a bad migraine) and see a whole world of color and shapes and patterns. 

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

We had to go to Chinese school every Sunday growing up. A part of our education in learning the Chinese writing system was to copy the same character—often a hundred times. I figured out that if I took the character apart by the radicles and did those strokes instead of writing the whole character, I could save a lot of time!

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t have any.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I often chant and meditate on The Heart Sutra, especially these lines:

“Form is no other than emptiness, 

Emptiness no other than form.

Form is only emptiness, 

Emptiness only form. 

Feeling, thought, and choice, 

Consciousness itself, 

Are the same as this. 

All things are by nature void

They are not born or destroyed 

Nor are they stained or pure 

Nor do they wax or wane 

So, in emptiness, no form, No feeling, thought, or choice, 

Nor is there consciousness. 

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; 

No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, 

Or what the mind takes hold of, 

Nor even act of sensing.”

It helps remove “the me” from the heartbreak, and it’s just about observing the heartbreak.

What makes you cry?


But seriously—experiencing the miracle that is unclehood! I see my biological and chosen nieces and nephews navigate the world, learn the world, and conquer the world!

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

I try not to use it all at once. I try to save it for a rainy day, or when I am hitting a wall, and that inner voice (the voice that says you are not “enough”) becomes louder and louder. 

I pull out that reserve and muffle those voices. 

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I don’t believe in an afterlife; I believe in reincarnation.

I believe incarnation is not the process of life and death and then life again, but rather, from one moment to the next, from one realization to the next. The “me” now is an incarnation, a collection of all the realizations and actions from a moment ago to get me to be the “now me.”

What do you hate most about yourself?

My hunger; I am always hungry for knowledge, I am always hungry for new experiences, my hunger to know why, and my hunger for food. 

What do you love most about yourself?

My hunger! 

What is your absolute favorite meal?

My partner bought me a trip to Shoreditch, England. We landed, checked in, and wandered around a brick lane. Then he took me to this restaurant called Tram Shed. He knows that I am obsessed with works by Damien Hurst, and in the middle of the restaurant on a 20-foot metal pedestal is one of Damien’s pieces. 

Somehow, we managed to sit at a table where I could look at my partner and the piece. For dinner, we shared pork cracklings with chicken liver mousse and apple sauce, toasted sourdough bread with 85% chocolate and sea salt, and a roasted chicken (with the feet sticking straight up!). I don’t know if it was the food or the artwork or my partner, but it was PERFECTION!