What would Beopjeong say?Nearly two weeks have passed since the nation mourned the death of the Venerable Beopjeong. Yet the debate surrounding administrative rights over Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul is intensifying day by day.
The issue started when the Secretariat of the Jogye Order decided to change the status of the temple. During a meeting on March 11, it voted to directly run the temple rather than let it operate autonomously.
Under the new structure, an administrative leader of the order will become the temple’s head monk and directly manages its finances.
Opposition from Bongeun Temple was expected. To that end, the Venerable Myeongjin - who heads the temple - stepped up at a Sunday service and said, “Last November, I heard Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo say to Venerable Jasung, an administration leader of the Jogye Order, that ‘you shouldn’t keep a monk who is critical of the administration at a rich temple in southern Seoul.’”
This statement indicates that the decision to put the temple under the direct control of the Jogye Order was influenced by pressure from politicians. Whether Bongeun Temple is run by the Jogye Order or remains autonomous, this is and should be an internal issue for the religious order. We want to know whether there was in fact external political pressure behind the decision.
Many people still vividly remember the fight to become the head monk at Bongeun Temple in 1988. The new head, appointed by the Jogye Order, and the former head each mobilized hundreds of followers armed with steel pipes and wooden sticks, leading to large-scale bloodshed. Many citizens were ashamed of the fight, which many said would have made Buddha cringe.
Of course, the recent incident is different from the one 22 years ago. The Jogye Order Secretariat has stressed that changing the operational structure was inevitable, saying the move will help raise the temple’s status in the order. The process of change is also said to have been legitimate, according to religious laws and regulations. However, Venerable Myeongjin probably has a lot to say about this change. The monks and members of the temple were completely neglected in the decision-making process.
I hope the Jogye Order pursues a smooth solution. I hope its leaders think about what the late Venerable Beopjeong would say if he had witnessed this situation. Venerable Beopjeong once said, “There should be few words in the mouth, few things in the heart and little rice in the stomach.” Should the Buddhist world be causing so much concern among the public with the words of Beopjeong still lingering in our minds?