The Life of Grand Master Seokju

Grand Master Seokju was born in the town of Andong in 1909 and in 1923 he became a novice to Ven. Namjeon at the Seonhakwon Zen Institute in Seoul. He served as a novice for six years, and in 1933 he completed Buddhist Studies at Beomeosa Temple in Busan. He spent the following years immersed in meditation as he traveled from one master to another, spending meditation seasons at such temples as Mahayeonsa in the Diamond Mountains, Jeonghyaesa at Mt. Deokseungsan, and Bohyeonsa at Mt. Myohyangsan. His numerous administrative positions for the Jogye Order included temple master at Bulguksa in 1958, director of the Seonhakwon Zen Institute in 1961, temple master at Eunhaesa in 1976, and the first Propagation Master for the Jogye Order in 1977. He also served as president of the Jogye Order three times ? in 1971, 1978 and 1984.

Ven. Seokju¡¯s intensive efforts also included sutra translation and education affairs, and beginning in 1989, he served as director of Dongguk University¡¯s Sutra Translation Promotion Association. In 1970, he served as president of the Youth Propagation Association, and in 1980 he served as first dean of the Central Sangha College.

Ven. Seokju was also director of the Reformation Conference for the Joyge Order in 1994 and also as vice chairman of the Elders conference. In 1997, Grand Master Seokju established Bomunsa Temple in the city of Asan, South Chungcheong Province, and established a social welfare facility there, Anyangwon, for lonely elderly citizens.

In 2004, Ven. Seokju was appointed Grand Master by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism for his lifelong dedication to Buddhist activities.


A Strong Commitment to Sutra Translation

Ven. Seokju dedicated lifelong efforts to the translation of Buddhist sutras from Chinese to Korean. He began with publication of a Buddhist Dictionary at the Seonhakwon Zen Institute after the Korean War. Then in May 1961, along with Ven. Woonheo, he established the Beopbowon, the predecessor to Dongguk Sutra Translation Promotion Association. He translated an published the Nirvana Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Mirror of Zen, the Platform Sutra by Huineng, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and others, and promoted the translation and publication of additional sutras such as the Parental Benevolence Sutra, the Ulambala Sutra and the Maudgalyayana Sutra. Then in 1964, having established the Dongguk Sutra Translation Institute, Vens. Seokju and Woonheo began efforts for the complete translation of the canon Tripitaka Koreana from Chinese to Korean. These efforts reached total fruition in Sept. 2002, 38 years later, with completion of this project in a total of 318 volumes.

Ven. Seokju also served as director of the Dongguk Sutra Translation Institute beginning in 1989, and took the opportunity to further advance his intensive efforts in the translation projects. It was then that he had the calligraphy of the Main Buddha Hall at Chilbosa Temple, his residence in Seoul, from Chinese characters into Korean. It is through the determined and dedicated efforts of Ven. Seokju that the Korean people now have access to the entire Tripitaka Koreana in Korean.


Dedication to Buddhist Reform and Purification

While practicing at the Seongakwon Zen Institute, Ven. Seokju, along with members of the liberation movement of 1919, including Ven. Han Yongwoon and others, gave birth to a new spirit of ethic nationalism in the face of Japanese occupation (1910-1945). Immediately following liberation in 1945, Ven. Seokju took the lead in a reform movement to purify Buddhism of Japanese influence and in efforts to pave the way for building an independent nation. In 1946 at Dongdosa Temple in Busan, a Buddhist Reform League was formally established that included such prominent monks, along with Ven. Seokju, as Vens. Gyeongbong, Yongdam, Daeui, and Seokgi, with Ven. Gyeongbong as director. The leading participants also included prominent young people as Dr. Cho Myeonggi, Lee guyeol, and Jang Sanggon, as well as the organizer of the original Reform Association, Dr. Lee Jong¡¯ik, members of the Women¡¯s League.

Ven. Seokju led a Buddhist Purification Drive, beginning in 1953, to rid the system of Japanese vestiges, and the drive was ultimately successful. Ven. Seokju detailed many of these events in his autobiography, ¡°100 Years of Modern Buddhism¡± (published by Choong Ang Daily Newspaper).

As a leading figure in the reform and purification movements, Ven. Seokju demonstrated his dedication to the order by being there to give directives and provide leadership each time the Jogye Order entered a crisis or critical period. He served as director of the Order¡¯s Reform Committee in 1994 and literally directed the reforms himself. Ven. Seokju was the personification of Jogye Order¡¯s modern history and activity, having played a major leadership role whenever the situation warranted it.


Lifelong Propagation Efforts

Ven. Seokju was a pioneer in propagation for children with his established of a Children¡¯s Dharma Group at Chilbosa Temple in Seoul in 1965. In 1966 he served as an advisor to the Korean Buddhist Youth Propagation League and he became president of the league in the following year. These were typical of his efforts to teach and promote Buddhism to young people. Also, in his second term as president of the Jogye Order in 1975, Ven. Seokju was the one behind making Buddha¡¯s Birthday a national holiday, which it still is today.

As a result of these and other efforts in propagation, in 1977 Ven. Seokju became the Jogye Order¡¯s very first Director of Propagation, and thanks to his efforts in sutra translation for propagation purposes and his youth propagation, Ven. Seokju received the 2nd Propagation Grand Prize from the Jogye Order.

Ven. Seokju was equally concerned about the education of his juniors, and he became the first Dean of the Central Sangha College in 1980. In 1988 he was appointed Honorary Dean of the college and he was highly influential in the development of the college into its important role today. He will also be eternally revered for his role in propagation at such important temples as Chilbosa and Bongeunsa in Seoul. Additionally, in 1997, Ven. Seokju established the Anyangwon for lonely senior citizens at Bomunsa Temple in the city of Onyang.