Ven. Jaseung, Influential Leader of Jogye Order, Passes Away

The Buddhist Channel, 3 December 2023

Seoul, South Korea -- The untimely demise of Ven. Jaseung, the former head of the Jogye Order, has sent shockwaves through the Buddhist community, prompting widespread reflection on his profound impact on the dissemination of Buddha's teachings.

Image credit: Yonhap News

The sudden death of Ven. Jaseung, discovered amidst a fire at Chiljang Temple in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province last Wednesday, has left many grappling with the tragic loss. Notes found at the scene, believed to be authored by Ven. Jaseung, suggest a possible suicide, further complicating the situation.

Authorities, including the police and the National Intelligence Service, launched investigations to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the monk's death, considering potential factors such as arson or external involvement.

The Jogye Order, in an official statement on Thursday, described Ven. Jaseung's passing as an "act of self-immolation," characterized as a spiritual gesture aimed at promoting stability within the Buddhist order and facilitating the global spread of Dharma teachings.

Additional notes discovered at the monk's residence support the theory of self-immolation, with his hymn to nirvana emphasizing the transcendence of life and death. Ven. Jinwoo, the current leader of the Jogye Order, acknowledged on Friday that Ven. Jaseung had always pursued nirvana, noting that such actions might be difficult for those outside the Buddhist community to comprehend.

In an apparent reference to the burnt building, Ven. Jaseung asked his four disciples to fund the expenses for restoring it by 2025, according to the Jogye Order.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, who had met with Ven. Jaseung multiple times, visited the monk's memorial site on Saturday to pay his respects and sent a eulogy for Sunday's funeral ceremony. The government posthumously honored Ven. Jaseung with the Mugunghwa Medal of the Order of Civil Merit for his contributions to stabilizing Buddhism and fostering harmony among religious communities in Korea.

Funeral services were held on Sunday, shining a light on Ven. Jaseung's profound influence and achievements within Korea's Buddhist community. Despite not holding an official position at the time of his death, he remained the most influential figure in the Jogye Order.

Born in 1954, Ven. Jaseung became a monk at 19, joining the Jogye Order in 1986. He served as the order's president from 2009 to 2017, the first to hold the position for two terms. Notably, during his tenure, he successfully united the order, gaining support from politically divided congregations.

Beyond his leadership role, Ven. Jaseung played a pivotal role in various religious organizations, serving as the chairman of the Korean Council of Religious Leaders and the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace. He maintained cordial relationships with political figures, making three visits to North Korea to promote Buddhist exchanges.

Devoted to education and the dissemination of Buddhist ideology, Ven. Jaseung founded a committee for college students within the Sangwon Association in March 2019, raising significant funds. He also chaired a committee at his alma mater, Dongguk University, donating generously to support its founding beliefs and scholarship programs.

As the memorial services concluded on Sunday at Jogye Temple, Ven. Jaseung's body was moved to Yongju Temple in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, for cremation, marking the end of a chapter in the life of a revered monk who left an indelible mark on Korea's Buddhist community.
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