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Ven. Myeongjin leaves Bongeun Temple amid allegations of political pressure

Ven. Myeongjin, former chief monk of Bongeun Temple, has left the temple permanently, claiming that he was coerced to leave by the nation’s intelligence agency chief who allegedly took issue with his anti-government comments.

The Bongeun Temple is part of the Jogye order, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea, and is the largest temple in southern Seoul.

Since Nov. 9, Ven. Myeongjin has been away for a 90-day meditation retreat at the Bongam Temple in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province.

He had hoped to return to the Bongeun Temple after the mediation but the current chief monk of the temple Ven. Jinhwa reportedly asked Ven. Myeongjin to leave in early February.

“I learned that Won Se-hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service, visited the Bongeun Temple on Feb. 2 and appealed to the temple about what I said during the 49th-day memorial service of the late professor Lee Young-hee,” Ven. Myeongjin said in his last Buddhist service at the Bongeun Temple on March 6.

“Wouldn’t the temple be under pressure by the nation’s spy chief?” he said.

A spokesman of the Bongeun Temple, however, said Ven. Myeongjin’s claim was groundless. He said that Ven. Jinhwa did not meet Won.

Ven. Myeongjin had attended a memorial service for Lee, a leading liberal figure, on Jan. 22 to mark the 49th day of Lee’s death. 
Ven. Myeongjin, former chief monk of the Bongeun Temple. (Yonhap News)
Ven. Myeongjin, former chief monk of the Bongeun Temple. (Yonhap News)

During the service, he strongly criticized the current Lee Myung-bak administration for mishandling the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

“Is this nation, where cries of dying animals and their blood floods over, really the nation that President Lee Myung-bak really wanted to build?” he said.

“The fall of the Namdaemun (a historic gate severely damaged by arson) right after the presidential election was an omen that many fearful incidents would occur,” he said.

Ven. Myeongjin is expected to soon publish a collection of his past Buddhist sermons at the Bongeun Temple, news reports said.

By Kim Yoon-mi (