Beop Jeong Seunim


Beop Jeong Seunim, one of the most respected contemporary monks in Korea, passed on yesterday, and his “young gyeol shik” (I think it means something similar to wake) was today. I watched on TV as hundreds of monks filed slowly through the temple gates, chanting in unison, entering the hall to pay their respects and give three bows.

I didn’t really know anything about him.  I’d seen his book for sale, but as it was in Korean, I didn’t read it. I’d even been to his temple before, without realizing it. I’ve probably seen him on the Buddhist TV network at least once before. When I first heard on the news that Beop Jeong Seunim had died, I recognized the name and had a sense they he was a highly regarded monk (mostly because his death made national news, I suppose…). If I’d known more about him before, I probably would have tried to attend one of his talks, even if I couldn’t understand it.

They made a short documentary about him to show after the coverage of his wake finished. He seemed very similar to Song Cheol Seunim. He was a mountain hermit, he lived very simply, his only possessions were his ragged clothes, his glasses, held together with tape, and his tea-pot.

I found a couple excerpts from his most famous book, “Musoyu/Non-possession”:

Poverty made by choice is not poverty at all.”

People who wish to possess everything must not possess anything. People who want to become everything must not become anything. Even if you let something go, you must escape from the conception that you let it go. Don’t become attached to a nice thing you have done. It will pass just like the wind blows by a tree.

In an interview during the documentary, he admits that he’s a little embarrassed that he wrote a book about non-possession, yet still he can’t let go of his tea pot. Although my list of possessions is possibly as long as one of Beop Jeon Seunim’s early essays on Buddhism, it made me smile to hear about his tea pot. It’s one attachment I can relate too.   ^_^

He was very friendly with the Catholic community in Seoul, and was a friend of the Cardinal of the Myeongdong Cathedral, in Seoul. He even gave a Dharma Talk in the Cathedral on non-possession. The Cardinal once said of Musoyu,  “Although this book preaches the virtue of possessing nothing, I really want to possess this book.”

His final teaching to the monks at GilSangSa were:

If you have anything left that you own, use it in activities to make a pure, fragrant society. I now need to leave behind time and space.

You will absolutely not kill any precious trees for any great cremation ceremony, and don’t waste money on new cloth for new burial clothes. There’s leftover firewood that I already gathered at my mountain hut. Cremate me there by the rocks where I used to meditate. Scatter my ashes on the ground where the azaleas graciously bloomed each spring. That will be my final recompense.

"When you do not own anything, you actually own everything in the world."

11 responses »

  1. Dear Thomas;

    I don’t even read my niece’s blog, but I had to read all of your entries last ngiht. I called my girl (Jung-Hyun) at about 8:00pm with skype, then found your blog as I surfed the last remaining minutes of day away before sleep.

    BTV – I noticed you spell Dhamma in pali not sanskrit. I had a chance to spend an impromptu night at TungGukSa (if I remember correctly), and though i had planned to stay for a few nights, I bailed out after a sleepless night and strong feelings of something like homesickness. I did get a chance to talk with a few monks, who were more than happy to tell my how to tuck in my “boys” so not to interfere with a tight posture… I got kinda embarassed as he showed me how…

    Great photos, write again, you sound like a great dad, husband and son in law. I have fond memories of teaching in Masan – I think it is great you are in Korea, starting a family.


    • wow, thank you for such a nice comment, Douglas.
      I had to laugh… My friend was once sitting in a temple in meditation posture and an old monk came over and started adjusting his posture. Next thing he knows, the old monk reaches under from behind, grabs his “jewels” and gives them a good tug! I still don’t know if he’s over it, but I’ll share your story with him!

      Thank you,

  2. Hi Joseph,

    Thank you for sharing this news and your own reflections. A wonderful post, and what a wonderful last teaching:

    “If you have anything left that you own, use it in activities to make a pure, fragrant society.”

    With gratitude to both Beop Jeong Sunim and to yourself,


  3. I was bummed when I heard the news. I imagined a great light just dimmed and extinquished on this planet. I really admired Beopjeong; am glad to read this post and hear his final words. Powerful.

    • thank you Marcus!
      I noticed Brian Barry did the translation, did you meet him before?
      I met an Ajumma who ran a little “Buddhist accessories” shop down the street from Jogyesa who is an old friend of his.
      She told me I should meet him, and she’d would arrange it, i should take her up on her offer!

  4. No, I’ve not yet met Brian Barry. I’ve exchanged emails, talked to him at the Seoul Dharma website, admired his magnificent doors at Wat Suthat, and very much enjoyed and appreciate his translation (and generous Dharma gift) of Zen Master Ilta’s words in ‘Everyday Korean Buddhist Practices’…

    …but still not met! So yes, if you get the chance, I imagine he’d be a wonderful person to talk to about the Dharma.

    Try not to get his name mixed up as I always do though! Brian Barry, Barry Briggs, Brian Briggs, Barry Brian! I’ve got a headache! LOL!

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