Prayers pave monk’s final path

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Prayers pave monk’s final path

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About 15,000 people attended the cremation of the late Venerable Beopjeong on Saturday at Songgwang Temple in Suncheon, South Jeolla. By Kim Seong-ryong

SUNCHEON, South Jeolla - With an unassuming ceremony Saturday, the late Venerable Beopjeong left just the way he’d urged his many followers to live: with no hint of materialism.

About 15,000 people attended the cremation of the late Buddhist spiritual leader at Songgwang Temple in Suncheon, South Jeolla, and paid their final respects. Venerable Beopjeong passed away last Thursday of lung cancer.

Around 10 a.m. Saturday, as his body was being transferred to a spot where the cremation would take place inside the Songgwang Temple, mourners lining the path said their emotional prayers. Venerable Beopjeong’s body made one final stop at the temple’s main hall, before the statue of Buddha.

Respecting Venerable Beopjeong’s final wishes, there were no streamers, eulogies or special sermons given by Buddhist leaders. There were simply piles of wood that would be set on fire for the cremation. Venerable Beopjeong had told his disciples that he didn’t want his funeral service to cause trouble and that any ostentatious displays would be unnecessary.

By 11:10 a.m., when Venerable Beopjeong’s body was placed under the woodpile, the sound of prayers grew louder. Half an hour later, a few white chrysanthemum flowers were tossed on top of the pile, and the fire was lit.

Several of the mourners screamed, “Venerable, the fire is on! You have to get out now!” The fire quickly engulfed the pile, and the prayers turned into cries.

The cremation ended around 12:10 p.m., but mourners lingered on, saying their final prayers. Venerable Deokhyun, the head priest of Seoul’s Gilsang Temple, where Venerable Beopjeong’s ashes will be stored, later reminded the remaining mourners that, “Though the Venerable Beopjeong is no longer with us, his wisdom will blossom like a lotus flower.”

Monks at Songgwang collected Venerable Beopjeong’s remains yesterday, with about a thousand mourners, some of whom stayed overnight, looking on. They quietly said their prayers as Songgwang monks and their disciples put the ashes into an urn.

Venerable Beopjeong wrote dozens of books, including the widely read “Non-possession.” Bookstores across the nation have seen sales of his books nearly double since his death.

Venerable Beopjeong had asked that his titles no longer be published once they’re out of print. Buddhists and other book lovers yesterday were trying to get their hands on Venerable Beopjeong’s writing but Non-possession by Saturday had sold out at most major bookstores.


By Baik Sung-ho, Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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