Ven. Beopjeong passes away |
The Venerable Beopjeong, a much-respected Buddhist monk and author of top-selling essay collections, died from lung cancer yesterday. He was 77.
Beopjeong, whose most famous book is "Without Possession," maintained a frugal and secluded life while preaching the virtue of possessing nothing, a soothing message to Koreans tired of chasing their possessive desire in vain.
"When you do not own anything, you actually own everything in the world." This one line in "Without Possession," a collection of 35 short essays, sums up the Venerable Beopjeong's lifelong philosophy.
First published in April 1976, "Without Possession" has sold about 3 million copies in a period spanning about 30 years, inspiring many Korean readers with his refined and thought-provoking prose.
Born Oct. 8, 1932 in the southwestern area of Haenam, South Jeolla Province, Beopjeong spent his childhood in Mokpo. His first encounter with the fundamental question of human limitations came during the bloody Korean War. In 1955, he left his home in search of a new start in his question-laden life.
His initial destination was Mt. Odae, but he had to drop in on Seoul due to heavy snow. During his unexpected stay in Seoul, Beopjeong came across the Venerable Hyobong (1888-1966), one of the top Zen masters in Korean Buddhist circles. After talking with Hyobong, Beopjeong decided to become a monk on the spot and put himself down the Buddhist path that lasted for 55 years.
In the 1960s, Beopjeong worked on the translation of major Buddhist scribes along with other respectable monks such as Yunheo at Bongeun Temple in Seoul. He interacted with democracy activists, only to see the political campaigns lead to disappointing results.
Beopjeong set up a small temple called "Bulilam" just behind Songgwang Temple in South Jeolla Province in October 1975. The next year, he published "Without Possession," which became such a huge bestseller in the following years that made it difficult for him to maintain a quiet and peaceful life even in that remote area.
In 1992, on the 17th year since his settlement in Bulilam, Beopjeong decided to leave behind what he had -- which was almost nothing except for his Buddhist robe -- and found a new secluded place in a small hut in Gangwon Province. Until recently, he stayed in the non-descriptive hut, refusing to meet with visitors and giving Buddhist lectures only on special occasions.
About three years ago, he contracted lung cancer. His last public appearance was last April 19 when he gave a lecture at Gilsang Temple in Seoul, which drew keen public attention due to a huge number of followers, regardless of religion.
Beopjeong's status as one of the most respected Buddhist leaders in Korea is largely due to his remarkable life that rejected any material possession or fame, while sparing no efforts to help people in need and push for reconciliation in society.
The longstanding popularity of "Without Possession" also demonstrates how Beopjeong has shown a simple yet hard-to-achieve way out of the possession-oriented modern life.
The late Cardinal Stephen Kim Su-hwan, one of the most famous Catholic leaders here, once observed his take on Beopjeong's representative book: "Although this book preaches the virtue of possessing nothing, I really want to possess this book."