A leading Buddhist environmentalist and monk has disappeared after leaving a note describing a crisis of faith.
Venerable Su Kyung, head monk at theHwagyesa Temple, Seoul, and one of the country’s best known environmental activists, left the temple on June 14. His whereabouts are still unknown and his mobile phone and email accounts are closed.
The monk left a letter behind at the temple, which is Korea’s foremost Zen Buddhist center. In his letter, he vowed to follow a purely spiritual life and renounced all his titles, both Buddhist and secular: his position as head monk at the temple, his membership of the Buddhist Jogye order and his presidency of the Buddhist Environmental Solidarity.
He said he was deeply affected by the death of a colleague, Venerable Munsu, who immolated himself in protest at the government’s controversial Four Rivers project last month.
“After Munsu’s offering,” he wrote, “I could see my problem clearly. I’m afraid of death and I cannot solve the riddle of my life and death. As a Zen Buddhist, how can I live like this?”
He also lamented his years in the environmental movement, saying they were too much concerned with the pursuit of power. “I cannot live the hypocritical life of a respected monk,” he said.
“It’s a pity he is not with us now, while there is such a strong wave against the river project,” said Myeong Gye-hwan, of the Buddhist Solidarity. “We will try even harder to save the life of the rivers, following his will,” he added.
Venerable Su Kyung was appointed head of the Solidarity in 2001. In 2003, he completed 310 kilometers of a “three-step-one-bow” protest against a land reclamation project.
Last year, along with with Father Paul Moon Kyu-hyon, he made a similar pilgrimage of 400 kilometers for the life and peace of South Korea.
He concluded his letter by saying that he “hoped to die on some warm winter day, while dozing beside a rock”.
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