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A hermit from Korea talks about life and death

January 23, 2012

Mr. HWANG Daekwon in his typical hermit look with humble smile

It was a true savior for Mr. HWANG Daekwon when he figured out how to spend his slowly running time in jail for 13 years, which is to observe plants, herbs and weeds around. It also helped him to restore and maintain his mental and physical health respectively from the deep-rooted anger and injury incurred by severe torture.  Notorious S. Korean ‘gestapo’ run by military regime back in 80es, took him into custody and charged with espionage for N. Korea – typical set up to oppress their political opponents by dictatorship. When he had been finally released at his age of 43, surprisingly, people found he turned into a great and considerate thinker instead of being revengeful mid-aged male. His insightful view on life and the world, especially, nameless weeds and grasses started to impress people outside, being introduced with his book ‘A weed letter’, which is the outcome of his correspondences with those who gave him moral support across the world via Amnesty and also with his sisters during imprisonment.

Million Sellor Essay written by Mr. HWANG

After the book making the nation’s million-seller, he came up with a new plan to build eco. Village in Yongkwang, a small rural town located in southern part of South Korea, and also participated in life-peace movement ( with those who shared the vision to promote more respect to any life. Many of them were monks and nuns from various religious backgrounds but work hand-in-hand regardless whom they claim to believe in.

Life-Peace Symbol representing human and other lives

Last December, Mr. HWANG has been invited to a peace tour in Japan, visiting 4 cities including Okinawa, Kumamoto, Fukuoka and Yokohama. People found his idea very unique, thought-provoking and above all, well matched his hermit look. He went so natural in any places stopped by.

Mr. HWANG on Aso Mountain in Kumamoto

The last event was held in café de la Terra of Totsuka with candlelight event for winter solstice.

“I’ve been curious why all our painful efforts made to improve the country to enjoy more democracy and more freedom couldn’t eventually lead people to feel happier. Consequently, I realized  that ‘Our hatred to the enemies as a menace to society’ could not resolve as many issues as  we thought nor change as many people’s mindset as we aspired. Since then, the action we took has been revisited. A good example is ‘Kangjung case’.  we have kept our opposing campaign against the construction of new naval port in Kangjung village of Jeju island – such construction will be deadly destructive to the natural environment of the site, which must be preserved for its beautiful scenery and habitats of many wild lives including rare species in risk of extinction. Moreover, it will absolutely raise the tension among neighboring countries including South and North Korea, Japan and now G2 super powers of US and China competing for initiatives of the region. In an attempt to block the project, we just occupied the place and prayed for peace as an alternative protest, while others don’t avoid more forceful clash with police and government. We actually don’t know if our approach was working properly but believe a way to go for us”,  Mr. HWANG explained quite calmly with smile.

His point continued “What drives world today is ‘CAPITAL’. But we want that control back to ‘Life’ – Life-centric world is the only way enabling us to maintain world sustainable”.



Mr. HWANG Daekwon with his book at Cafe De La Terra


“I recommend people to do more meditation on small, small lives like little bugs and weeds on the ground or even inorganic material like pebbles.  When you are able to tune in the wave of them, you feel very different about them and yourselves.  As a matter of fact, when you understand this value of life, you bother less about death and learn how to coexist with other life even so harmful thing like virus or bacteria. Think about nature’s food chain of pyramidal form. Comparatively, small number of human being has been sitting on top of it since dawn of human history and evolving civilization, and disease was the one catching human not to outnumber other lives at the lower layers. Then, because rapid development of science and medicine in modern age enables human to outlive all the other creatures and conquer even disease, stability and balance of such ecological structure has been messed up and upside down – which is unsustainable.” His voice sounds determined.

Feeling a bit puzzled by his statement that we should learn how to share the place with even such lethal micro-organism, one attendee seriously asked how people should perceive the threat from radioactivity. His interpretation of nuclear contamination was straightforward, “Well, I was fairly disturbed by dreadful   and invisible ‘force’ during my meditation, sitting in my hotel room of Yokohama. Although we are usually exposed to natural radiation within much less harmful level, the sheer volume of excessive radiation from Nuclear Power Plant, exercising indiscriminate killing is simply not acceptable. We also know what caused this accident. That is our greediness and blinded trust to human intellect. On the contrary, that’s why we should go back to more life-centric mentality. “

Facilitator of the talk, Professor TSUJI Shinich and another talk participant, Professor TANAKA Yuko bridge Mr. HWANG’s life-peace movement to ‘Edology’, which is ‘simple and sustainable life style’ enjoyed by Japanese during Edo-period. “Our ancestors maintained happier lives than the present times although they were poorer than us. That is because people were indeed respecting life and peace most than money.

As usual, the talk session had been followed by powerful and spiritual music by MATSUYA Fuyuta, an ‘honorary all-time-singer of the sloth club’. He sang his favorite song “Song of forest” bilingually, Japanese and Korean to celebrate the friendship of two countries’ citizen. Jazz Pianist ENDO Ritsuko accompanied his song and also showed her own passionate solo performance. Lots of candle lights prepared by students of Professor  TSUJI’s class around the temple lit the solstice night warmly along the events. Each attendee may light up one candle of life and peace in his or her heart on their way back home, not in need of much electricity.

Candle Night at Cafe De La Terra


Candle Night – Life and Peace Talk for Winter Solstice at Cafe De La Terra

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