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General Manager of Dongguk University Basketball Team Also Head Monk at Sun-un Temple

General Manager of Dongguk University Basketball Team Also Head Monk at Sun-un Temple

Posted May. 28, 2005 03:24,   


Sung Gook, head monk at Sun-un Temple in Gochang, Jeonbuk Province, is there in the stands as usual at Chiak Stadium in Wonju, Gangwon Province in the afternoon of May 25. He came alone by car from Gochang. He has come the distance just to watch two basketball games, which are between Korea University and Hanyang University, and Kyunghee University and Yonsei University.

Coming to Wonju to Watch the College Basketball League -

“Basketball resembles the road to awakening in many ways. In basketball, teamwork is everything and the last one or two minutes in the fourth quarter are the most important. The same goes for ascetic practice. You should not be awakened on your own. You should go with the rest of mankind. Also, you should not stop when you are awakened once but should live the Way until the day you escape from your earthly body.”

The monk was a former basketball player himself. Having started basketball in his first year in Hongik University Middle School and having continued the sport at Hongik University High School, he actively played as a point guard (height: 176 cm) at Dongguk University (Class of ‘74). Due to this connection, Sung Gook was made general manager of Dongguk University’s basketball team. However he denies his status, saying, “General manager? No!”

Affinity with Head Coach Choi Hee-am -

He says the real leader of Dongguk University’s basketball team is head coach Choi Hee-am, whom he invited to the team. They have known each other since college when they were each on different teams. The two are also the same age. Head coach Choi is from Yonsei University. Inviting Choi to become the new head coach of the team has been an exceptional occurrence.

“As all men are equal before Buddha, making such divisions is meaningless in basketball. Choi Hee-am has already shown his ability on a pro team, and I only regret that we were not able to have him earlier.”

Master’s, Doctoral Theses about Basketball as well -

Basketball is a central subject for Sung Gook. He wrote his master’s thesis on basketball and his doctoral thesis (both at Dongguk University) that he is currently working on is also about basketball. He always appears in high school and college matches. However, he refuses to watch professional games, because he cannot feel pure passion in those games. He does not stay at the team benches even in his team’s matches; rather, he cheers for the team from the stands. He sometimes hangs around with the players as well. The players refer to the monk as “father.”

“Amateur games are much more fun. I feel badly whenever the players make an absurd mistake but I soon let go,” he laughs.

Entering Priesthood before Graduation in 1978 -

Sung Gook cut his hair at the Dae-heung Temple in Haenam shortly before his university graduation in 1978. His teacher was the monk Tae Heo. As the only son among five children, there was much opposition at home. However, he could not give up his determination. Doubts on the reasons for living and where the end of life would take him continued to rise in his mind. The main subject of his ascetic practice is “Where am I from?”

“I am not there yet. I still have a long way to go. However, even in my next life I will choose to take this path again. Of course, basketball would have to go with me, too.”

The basketball is round. There are no beginnings and no endings. It disappears just when you are about to hold it, but comes back again. So is the road to awakening. The monk is practicing the “way of basketball” again, as always.

Hwa-Sung Kim mars@donga.com