A gangster falls from power; a monk achieves nirvanaNov. 3, 1961
Im Hwa-su was a gangster whose eventful life ended in an execution. Born in a poor family, all he had were his strong fists. He happened to help a gangster in trouble, which paved the way for his life as a major Korean Mafia figure.
Gangs after the Korean War were in charge of Jongno street, downtown Seoul. Under his boss, Lee Jeong-jae, Mr. Im controlled a theater in Jongno. He developed close ties with then-Vice President Lee Kee-bung, in the Syngman Rhee administration, who thought the regime could use the gangs’ help.
Under the vice president’s protection, Mr. Im became a big player in the film industry. He controlled the local entertainment scene with an iron fist. When comedian Kim Hee-gap did not attend Mr. Im’s function, the gangster beat him in public, breaking several ribs.
When Syngman Rhee’s administration met its doom in the April 19, 1960, uprising, it was the beginning of the end for Mr. Im. When Korea University students started protesting on April 18, Mr. Im and his thugs used iron pipes to suppress the students, killing several of them. On this date in 1961, he and his fellow gangsters went on trial. Mr. Im blamed his boss in a futile effort to save his life. Both he and his boss were sentenced to death.
Nov. 4, 1993
The Reverend Seongcheol entered nirvana on this date. Born in 1912 as the eldest son of a well-to-do landowner family, he was married with children when he suddenly renounced the world. To his family, who tried to stop him from leaving home, he said, “If I don’t become a Buddhist monk, I will die.” Soon he went to Mount Geumgang to train his mind. He even threw stones at his mother, who frequently climbed the mountain, so that he could be completely free from the mundane world. But then his mother told him, “I’m not here to see you. I came to enjoy Mount Geumgang.”
The Reverend Seongcheol then started on his path to enlightenment, which included staying confined in a room for 20 years and avoiding lying down for 10 more years. No wonder he reached the zenith both religiously and academically. He was reportedly fluent in five foreign languages. His sermons were insightful and edifying, appealing to everyone, not just Buddhist devotees. His famed sermons include “A mountain is a mountain and water is water.”
Once military regime leader Park Chung Hee went all the way to Haein Temple to see the Reverend Seongcheol. The reverend refused to see the president, saying, “We are walking on different paths ― no reason to meet.”
He is remembered and respected as the greatest Buddhist monk ever.
Nov. 6, 1990
Farm activist Lee Kyung-hae committed suicide Sept. 10, 2003, in Cancun, Mexico, to protest the World Trade Organization’s plan to open the global agricultural market. His suicide wasn’t his first attempt to kill himself; on this date, Mr. Lee stabbed himself with a Swiss Army knife at the Uruguay Round economic talks in Switzerland. He survived that attempt to become the farmers’ martyr nearly 13 years later.
by Chun Su-jin