The Korea Times 칼럼

Possession of 'Non-possession' (2010년 3월 27일)

divicom 2010. 3. 29. 22:57

I have two potted jasmine plants at home. The bigger one is busy sprouting nail-size leaves, while the smaller one has already produced three white star-like flowers. The fragrance is not strong, but the smell of burning incense fills the entire living room. Jasmine is just like the Korean orchid in that its fragrance touches everything evenly.

As I think about jasmine and orchids, I am reminded of an essay of Ven. Beop Jeong, the widely respected Buddhist leader who passed away a fortnight ago. In the essay titled ``Musoyu" or ``non-possession," Beop Jeong wrote about the agony of attachment through his experience of tending two potted orchids. He had received the pots from a friend and taken care of them with utmost care.

One summer day, he went to see a senior monk at another temple. When the sun grew hot, he remembered the orchids which he had left in the weak morning sun. He could picture the green leaves withering under the burning sunlight and went back to his place hurriedly. As he expected, the leaves were sinking as if exhausted. He sprinkled water on them, but the leaves didn't seem to regain their previous luster.

The monk then realized that he had been too attached to the orchids and that attachment was distressing. When a friend paid a visit, he gave the pots to him and decided to give away one thing each day. So, it was an orchid that motivated Beop Jeong to become a champion of ``non-possession."

The essay and 34 other meditative pieces were published in book form in 1976, entitled ``Musoyu," and became an instant bestseller. His other essay collections also enjoyed great readership. When Beop Jeong left this world on March 11, ending his bout with lung cancer, he died as a man of no possession. His funeral was carried out in the simplest manner as he wished. He didn't even want a coffin or a shroud. He left two notes in which he, among other things, asked publishers not to publish his writings any more.

Ever since his last words became known, his essays sold out at bookstores, online and off-line, dealing in new or secondhand books. At an Internet secondhand shop, a copy of ``Musoyu" was put on sale for 150,000 won (approximately 125 U.S. dollars). An Internet auction has seen the bidding price go up as high as 2.1 billion won for a copy of ``Musoyu," whose original price was 8,000 won, though the deal wasn't finalized. For me, I seem to have made a good investment for the first time in my life: I have a copy of the book printed in 1989. It is priced 1,000 won.

In ``Musoyu," Beop Jeong quoted Mahatma Gandhi as saying, ``For me, possession is deemed to be a crime" and wrote that Gandhi would have wanted to have something only if that something could be possessed by everyone. ``However, that would be next to impossible and therefore, he could not but blame possession like a crime."

As I observe the ironic phenomenon of turning the book of non-possession to the subject of heated war for possession, I wonder what the venerable monk would say about it. I can only guess from his deeds.

In 1975, when the dictatorial government commuted the death penalty of eight people, within 18 hours of the Supreme Court sentencing them for anti-government activities, Beop Jeong left Seoul and went into the mountains.

In 1987, when Kim Young-han offered to donate her land and houses worth 100 billion won, Beop Jeong refused to take them. Kim insisted on his acceptance steadfastly until 1995. The famous Daewongak restaurant in Kim's lot was finally turned into Kilsang Temple in 1997. Beop Jeong gave Kim beads and a Buddhist name of ``Kilsanghwa" in return. Two years later, Kim passed away at the temple. Beop Jeong also had his last moment there.

So what would the great monk do upon learning the war to possess his book of non-possession? one thing is certain and that is he will return to his cottage in the mountains. If pressured to say something, he may say, ``Glad to be dead."

As for my copy of ``Musoyu," I won't sell it for whatever sum it fetches. I cherish it more now than in the past not because of the price but as the proof of a well-lived life. The book has ``A Will Written in Advance" written in 1971 and the great monk lived and died as he wrote there. I want to be like him and I will need the book whenever I falter.

법정스님의 수상집 '무소유'를 소유하려는 사람들이 많다고 합니다. 인터넷 중고 시장에 한 권에 15만원에 나와 있다고도 하고 인터넷 경매에선 21억 원의 호가를 기록하기도 했다고 합니다. '무소유'를 설파하는 책을 소유하려는 인심이 우습기도 하고 씁쓸하기도 합니다. 법정스님이 이 세태를 보셨으면 무어라 하셨을까요? 아마도 아무 말씀 없이 산으로 들어가셨겠지요. 꼭 한 말씀해주시라고 조르면 "내가 죽어서 다행이다" 라고 하셨겠지요. 제게도 오래전에 정가 1,000원을 주고 산 '무소유' 한 권이 있지만 결코 팔지 않겠습니다. 법정스님은 그 책에 실린 "미리 쓰는 유서"에서 말씀하신 대로 사시다가 그렇게 돌아가셨습니다. '무소유'는 훌륭한 스님의 마음 풍경을 보여줄 뿐만 아니라 한 번 세운 심지를 끝내 잃지 않은 인간의 기록으로서도 가치있는 책이라고 생각합니다.