The Venerable Beopjeong
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The Venerable Beopjeong
Venerable Beopjeong was born in 1932 in the southwestern area of Haenam, South Jeolla Province. He entered Jeonnam University after graduating from Mokpo Commercial High School, but soon the Korean War broke out and he witnessed the tragedy of the Korean people from North and South. He thought hard about worldly existence and the reasons for living, and finally decided to become a Buddhist monk. All he wanted was to be free from the anguish of life.

In 1955, he left his home to make a new start. His initial destination was Mt. Odae, but he had to stop over in Seoul due to heavy snow. During his unexpected stay in the city, Beopjeong came across the Venerable Hyobong (1888-1966), one of the top Zen masters in Korea. After talking with Hyobong, Beopjeong decided to become a monk on the spot and started down the Buddhist path that lasted for 55 years. Ven. Beopjeong later wrote about the moment he shaved his head and put on the monks' robe: "I was very happy when I shaved my head and put on the Buddhist monks' robe for the first time. I was so delighted that I felt as if I could fly. Soon I went out and walked all around Jongno street."

In the 1960s, he served on the committee translating the Buddhist canon into Korean script, as well as being editor-in-chief of a Buddhist newspaper publishing company, and the Director of Training at Songgwangsa. At one time he also devoted himself to the pro-democracy movement. In the latter half of the 1970s, he cast all these things aside and by his own hands established and lived alone at Bulilam, a hermitage set on the mountainside behind Songgwangsa. However, because of his fame many people searched him out, and in April 1992 he left to reside in a remote mountain valley in Gwangwon Province, the exact whereabouts of which remains unknown today.

In 1994, Ven. Beopjeong inaugurated a citizens' movement called Malgo Hyanggiropge, which means "clean and fragrant." To establish a base for the voluntary group, he accepted the offering of Kim Yeong-han, a restaurant owner who was moved by his teachings. Gilsangsa was founded in December 1997 by remodeling Daewongak, the famous high-class Korean-style restaurant that Kim owned, and Ven. Beopjeong took the helm of all religious ceremonies and committee activities conducted there. In December 2003, he voluntarily conceded this role and was known simply as Master Beopjeong Sunim of Gilsangsa.

Ven, Beopjeong published dozens of essays, collections of Buddhist writings, and translations of the Buddhist canon. Among them, his book Musoyu(Non-Possession) was published 34 years ago, but people in today's modern world still seek peace of mind while reading the book. It teaches that the less you have, the freer you are.

Ven. Beopjeong passed away at the age of 78, on March 11, 2010 at Gilsangsa Temple in Seoul. It was the 55th year that he had lived as a Buddhist monk. His will shows the very essence of Musoyu(Non-Possession) which he had taught during his life time: "Don't hold a funeral for me. Don't make a coffin. Dress me in cotton, which I used to wear. Scatter my ashes on the flower garden of the hut where I used to live."

In accordance with his will, a simple cremation rite was held at Songgwangsa in Suncheon on March 13. There were no decorated bier or elegies, but thousands of people from all over the country gathered to bid farewell to Ven. Beopjeong.

"It is asking ourselves the fundamental questions ― `Who am I?' and `Where am I going?' Through these questions, we can finish every moment. The beautiful finish is not the end but a new start."
- From The Beautiful Finish