[Viewpoint] Venerable Tanheo’s prediction

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[Viewpoint] Venerable Tanheo’s prediction

Next year will mark the centennial of Venerable Tanheo’s birth. Various events are being prepared to celebrate the legacy of the Zen Buddhist philosopher and scholar. The Korean Association of Buddhist Studies and Woljeong Temple are co-hosting a conference next week in Seoul. A compilation of Venerable Tanheo’s quotations has been published. “If Buddha were Alive,” published three years before he passed away in 1980, and “The Preaching of Buddha Leading to Nirvana,” posthumously published in 1997, were combined and published as a new book.

Venerable Tanheo had mastered the teachings of Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu as well as the I Ching, and he was known for insight and prescience. A year before the Korean War?(1950-53) broke out, he had the monks at Woljeong Temple take refuge in Tongdo Temple. Right before North Korean armed guerillas attacked Uljin and Samcheok, he moved the translation of the Hwaeomgyeong scripts from Woljeong Temple to Yeongeun Temple and saved them from being burned. That’s why we pay attention to his predictions on the future of the Korean Peninsula based on Eastern philosophies and the I Ching.

He said that Korean people have struggled through ordeals and challenges for 5,000 years but their tragic history was about to end. In the near future, a great leader would emerge, reunify the divided country and build a peaceful nation. Also, domestic issues such as polarization, generational discord and clashes of values will be resolved and the national prestige will be enhanced. The culture of Korea will be an example for other countries and will spread around the world.

There is no way of knowing when the “near future” predicted by Venerable Tanheo 40 years ago will arrive. He did not mention any specific timing. I have a suspicion that he may have wanted to give hope and courage to ordinary people living in gloomy times, and most of us don’t have any understanding of the profound dynamics of Yin and Yang and the five elements. Nevertheless, being an ordinary man myself, I want to believe in the optimistic prediction of the great monk.

Today, we are living in the era of transition in global history. For the last 500 years, Western civilization dominated the world, but a shift of power from the Western countries to Asia is in progress. East Asia, including China and Korea, is emerging as the core of the new power. As polarization is accelerating in a globalized society, the waves of information technology represented by social networking services are leading to a reorganization of power around the world. The Jasmine Revolution in North Africa and Occupy Wall Street protests in New York represent voices calling for the world to change.

Professor Jeon Sang-in of Seoul National University calls the waves of change a “reconstitution of power.” Based on the overwhelming trend of social polarization, individuals with access to information technology have grown smarter. They have united on social networks and are working to overhaul the overall political establishment.

This year’s presidential election will be held at a time of such epochal changes. It is hard to predict who will ultimately be elected. Park Geun-hye, a presidential hopeful, may win, or Ahn Cheol-soo or Moon Jae-in may be elected. But one thing is certain. No matter who becomes president, the new leader has to be different from Lee Myung-bak in order to become the “great leader” that Venerable Tanheo predicted would someday lead Korea.

President Lee should be the last leader of the old era, one who failed to hear the calls for changes. As Professor Jeon pointed out, Lee did not understand the rapidly evolving reconstitution of power in the waves of globalization, polarization, information and emotion. And he created unnecessary social friction and grew distant from public sentiment.

Venerable Tanheo is still impressive not only because of his predictions but also for his insightful perspective on leadership. He emphasized trust as the most important quality. When a leader is trusted by the people, law and order will prevail. A leader also needs to listen to the people and be open-minded enough to accept and absorb criticism.

Also, he should maintain a material and spiritual balance, be wary of greed and worry most about equal distribution of wealth. By employing the virtuous 10 percent to control the bad 10 percent, he can ensure 80 percent of the citizens to live in peace. We need a leader who maintains harmony, who understands philosophy and ethics, who pays more attention to the opinions of the young than the old.

As long as a leader has these qualities, it does not matter whether a progressive or a conservative becomes president. Vladimir and Estragon waited for Godot in vain. But I am waiting for such a leader with the conviction that someday he or she will come.


*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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