[FOUNTAIN]Buddha’s presence felt in sale of landThe sale of Alaska in 1867 is counted as one of the largest real estate blunders in history. At the time of the deal, Russia’s Czar Alexander II mocked then-U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, telling him he had purchased a “worthless refrigerator for $7.2 million.” However, it is Alexander II who today is viewed as a leader without foresight. His mistake even overshadows the emancipation of serfs, which he strived to realize.
On the other hand, Seward is recorded as one of the most able secretaries of state in U.S. history. The “Grand Design,” that he proposed is treated as a textbook for diplomacy. This real estate investment decided history’s view of the two people.
The area around Samseong-dong in southern Seoul was part of Bongeunsa temple. Overseeing all temples nationwide during the Joseon Dynasty, Bongeunsa was granted a large tract of land from the court. The field in front of the temple was the site where the test required to become a Buddhist priest was held. The great priests Seosan and Samyong were among the many who passed their exams there.
In 1970 Samseong-dong’s fate took a twist, when the Jogye Order needed money to build a new head office and the government wanted land to relocate the public companies located north of the Han River. This led to the sale of 120,000 pyeong (98 acres) in the Samseong-dong area for 6,200 won ($ 6) per pyeong. Korea Electric Power Corp. and the Korea International Trade Association were the first to move in and the downtown airport terminal, COEX, ASEM Tower and Intercontinental Hotel followed.
It is believed the Bongeunsa’s head priest, the Reverend Seowun, opposed the sale. Having entered the priesthood at the late age of 47, he assumed the post of the secretary general of the Jogye Order for three terms. He was the head of Seoul office of the Tobacco and Monopoly Agency before he became a monk. When he protested the deal by piling up firewood and threatening to burn himself, the Jogye Order secretly nominated a new head priest to complete the sale.
As a result of KEPCO’s relocation from Seoul, some 25,000 pyeong that housed its main headquarters will be put up for sale. The land is expected to reach 100 million won per pyeong considering the interest of potential buyers and the prices in neighborhood. In other words, the real estate prices of the area have risen more than 10,000 times from 35 years ago. For the Jogye Order, which lost the opportunity to rake in trillions of won, it must be terrible. But in the Buddhist world, they pray that Buddha allow his followers to feel his presence in failure, rather than praise his mercy in success.
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is an editorial writer at JoongAng Ilbo.