The History of Won


The History of Won-Buddhism (Wonbulgyo Kyosa)

Part 2. Founding of the Order

Chapter 4. The Light of Dharma Emanated from Sot`aesan

4. Passing of Sot`aesan and Induction of Head Dharma Master Chŏngsan

On June 1st, of the twenty-eighth year of Won-Buddhism (1943), Sot`aesan passed away. On May 16th, he gave a dharma sermon at the regular dharma meeting held in the General Headquarters: "As a child grows up to become an adult, an unenlightened person awakens to truth to become a buddha, and a student learns to become a teacher. You are to equip yourselves with true ability to become teachers to your juniors and great leaders in the grand task of benefiting all sentient beings and healing the world. A buddha or a bodhisattva is no different from an unenlightened person where life and death of one`s body is concerned, you are to believe not only in the person, but also the dharma and be especially heedful not to come and go in vain. Grave is the matter of birth and death and swift is impermanence. This is something one should not take lightly."
That afternoon, his health slowly declined and 15 days later, at half past two in the afternoon, he suddenly passed away. He was 53 years old and 28 years had passed since the founding of the Order. Mere words fail to describe how sad and painful it was for all of his students to endure his death. Society`s lamenting over his demise never ceased. The dharma realm of voidness and myriad phenomena in the universe together mourned his passing away.
At 10 o`clock on the morning of June 6th, a solemn farewell ceremony was held in the great enlightenment hall at the General Headquarters. Thousands of mourners gathered from various parts of the country including monks belonging to the 7 denominations of the Buddhist Alliance in Iri. The farewell ceremony was followed by a cremation ceremony at the Iri Crematorium. After the final memorial service ceremony on July 19th, the remains were placed in a cemetery in the outskirts of Iri (Keumgang-ri). In the midst of everyone`s grief, Kim Taeheup officiated the funeral rites from beginning to end. At the final memorial service, Ueno Shun-ei, the celebrated Japanese Buddhist monk, who was revered by the high officials of the colonial Japanese government, could not contain himself from sobbing during the sermon.
On June 7th, after Sot`aesan`s funeral rites were conducted, the Head Circle Council elected Dharma Master Song Gyu, (who had been a central member of the Council since the Order`s initial stage), as the succeeding Head Dharma Master Chŏngsan. The inauguration ceremony for the incoming Head Dharma Master was held in the great enlightenment hall at the General Headquarters on June 8th.
Head Dharma Master Chŏngsan was born on August 4th according to the lunar calendar, 16 years before the founding of the Order (1900) in Soseong-dong, Chojeon-myeon, Seongju-gun in Kyeongsangbuk-do as the eldest of three children and the son of Gusan Song Byeokjo and Juntawon Yi wunwe. Even at an early age, those around him could sense his wisdom and intelligence compounded with his great talent and ability. He was very gentle and of a sacred disposition. At age 8, following his family tradition he read the writings of Confucius from cover-to-cover. At the same time he enjoyed reading about the achievements of the enlightened masters of the past. He vowed to himself: "By way of the great practice under the heavens, I, too, shall do the great work and become a master in this world."
With this solemn pledge, he traveled across rivers, lakes, hills, and valleys in search of men with unusual spiritual ability or hermits and engaged himself in spiritual cultivation through meditation, and at times leading a reclusive life in a one-room thatched cottage. Sometimes, he experienced bizarre and mysterious signs, which astounded his neighbors. However, his vow deepened with each passing day. At age 17, he traveled to Jeolla-do to make a round of visits to various Buddhist denominations and while taking up his temporary abode in Hwahye-ri in Jeongeup, he was personally received by Sot`aesan. In July of the third year of Won-Buddhism (1918), he joined Sot`aesan`s group, was appointed to the position of Center of the Head Circle Council at the young age of 19, and secured the legitimacy of the new order through dharma Confirmation with 8 other fellow members by leaving their fingerprints on a sheet of white paper as a sign of acceptance of the injunction, "Sacrifice with no regret", which miraculously turned red.
From that time, he served Sot`aesan in Bongrae Mountain for five years, assisting him in drafting the Creed of the new order. From Won-Buddhist year 9 (1924), he took pains in laboring with other fellow congregants in the construction of the General Headquarters in Iksan, and for 12 years he mainly took charge of developing teaching material and training potential leaders. For 6 years from Won-Buddhist year 21 (1936), he devoted himself to the work in the sacred ground of Yeongsan and to train the younger generation while drafting The Writing on the Foundation of Won-Buddhism. Upon returning to the General Headquarters in Won-Buddhist year 27 (1942), he assisted in compiling the Principal Book while providing assistance in overall administrative affairs until he was appointed as the Head Dharma Master after Sot`aesan`s passing away.