Ven. Jaseung, a prominent former head of the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea, passed away in a fire that occurred at a temple in Gyeonggi Province on Wednesday, sending shockwaves across the country. He was 69.
The ex-leader of the Jogye Order was on an overnight visit to Chiljang Temple in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, when a fire broke out in the "yosachae" (living quarters of the monastery) around 6:50 p.m. His body was discovered after the fire was extinguished three hours later. The Jogye Order officially confirmed his death past 11:00 p.m. on the same day.
Investigative authorities, including police and the National Intelligence Service (NIS), have launched an inquiry, Thursday, examining the circumstances of the incident leading up to the monk's death and whether there is a possibility of arson or third-party involvement.
The police said that they will transfer the body to the National Forensic Service to verify the identity and compare the extracted DNA with that of the late monk's belongings and his bereaved family members.
Notes presumed to have been left by Ven. Jaseung were also found at the scene, stating: "There is no need to conduct an autopsy. I have decided to change my own fate. Everything has been recorded on CCTV cameras, so please do not trouble yourselves." A handwriting analysis will be conducted to confirm whether the alleged documents have been personally authored by the late monk.
Although no official investigation report has been released, during an emergency media briefing held in central Seoul on Thursday, Ven. Wubong, the head of the Jogye Order's planning office, described Ven. Jaseung's death as an "act of self-immolation done to pray for the stability of the (Buddhist) order and the salvation of the world through the dissemination of Dharma."
The sudden passing of the influential Buddhist leader came as a shock to the religious circle nationwide as he had expressed a strong commitment to propagating the Buddhist ideology until very recently.
Just two days before his death, on Monday, the monk told local reporters that he planned to "dedicate all my passion to spreading the spiritual message to university students for the next decade."
Born in 1954 in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, he entered monastic life at the age of 19 and began his service with the Jogye Order in 1986.
He served two consecutive terms as the president of the country's largest Buddhist sect from 2009 to 2017. During these years, he also held the chairmanship at the Korean Council of Religious Leaders from 2011 to 2017 and at the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace from 2014 to 2017.
He visited North Korea on three occasions in 2002, 2010 and 2011 to promote active exchanges in Buddhism between the two Koreas.
Even after his term ended, Ven. Jaseung remained a prominent figure in the Buddhist community, wielding influence as a senior monk at Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul.
His funeral ceremony will be held on Dec. 3 at Jogye Temple in Seoul after days of mourning, according to the Jogye Order.