At Buseok Temple in Seosan, South Chungcheong province, four children live with their father, the temple’s head priest Jugyeong (45). Since the youngest, who’s now in fifth grade of elementary school, first came to the temple at age 5, the family grew larger one by one to four children now. It’s been seven years since the priest has been taking care of local children who aren’t able to live with their parents due to divorce or other reasons.
Talented in Writing
After graduating from university, Jugyeong joined the priesthood at Sudeok Temple in 1986. He recently published his first book “I also want to cry at times,” a biography of his 23 years of his Buddhist life and a collection of essays he contributed to various outlets over the years. Ever since writing the series ‘Like water like wind’ in the monthly magazine Bulgwang in 1993, he has become famous for his talent in writing.
In the book, he changed the title of one of his old pieces of writing ‘A rod to my child’ to ‘A father who’s not a father’ and shared his candid stories of raising the four children. The book also includes stories of his disciplinary years in various places, the life of priests in mountain temples, his acquaintances, and other topics.
By 1996 at Sudeok Temple, he was in charge of religious affairs and propagation. At the time, ten or so children were staying at the temple, and it was also his job to look after them. He experienced the same agonies of a parent. At the time, children from dysfunctional families in the countryside were not a concern to the government or any private relief agency. There was no surveying or policy making for the situation of such children. The children of single mothers or broken families were often sent to their grandparents living in rural regions. And most of them never return to their parents. While city slums have group homes to embrace street kids, there’s no such facility in the countryside. The sole exception is the temple.
Thick Blood Ties
Priest Jugyeong felt most distraught when the kids mentioned their families. One time, they ran away from the temple and few were brought back. The priest asked why they ran away and was left speechless at their reply: “We miss mommy.” Until last year, he set aside one day a year for a reunion with parents, but he removed that custom from this year, as the children would be tortured for two weeks after meeting their mothers. The guilt-ridden parents poured out their love and made reckless promises to their children. The rosy promises that were never to come true only bruised the children’s heart in the end. The children spoke less, their faces darkened and only after some two weeks would they return to normal again. So the priest asked the parents not to visit for the time being.
“I also want to cry at times”
He is particularly strict about lies, due to which he even once flogged a child. He said the next day however, that child acted as if nothing had happened the previous day, which made him even angrier. He knows this is because the bruise in his heart hurt more than the bruise made on the child’s backside.
Alongside food, clothes and shelter, the priest also supports the children with the same extracurricular activities their typical friends in the outside world would engage in. But there are many things a temple house can’t do. Temple children mostly have their own parents, some of whom have proper jobs, in which case the child is at a disadvantage. Children with parents can’t receive any social security aid and rather must pay for basic health insurance.