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Buddhist monks who strayed

Donga.com, May 11, 2012

Seoul, South Korea -- Ven. Tojin, a high-ranking member of Korea`s largest Buddhist order Jogye and active in the National Assembly, has tendered his resignation on Saturday. The order`s main temple in Seoul, which is the center of Jogye, is directly operated by Jogye`s general affairs center.

On Friday, Bulgyo.com, an Internet newspaper for Buddhists, reported that eight monks including Tojin gambled with hundreds of thousands of dollars at Baekyang Temple Tourist Hotel in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province. In video footage taken secretly, they gambled in a room while smoking. They also ordered alcohol and side dishes late at night. They gambled the day before a funeral rite for the Ven. Jijong, a former head of Baekyang Temple.

The main slogan of the Jogye Order last year was “self-purification and reform.” Saying self-purification and reform should be conducted first for the Buddhist circle to take an independent path free from the influence of politicians, Jogye made the practice of asceticism its top priority. Despite this, the offices of the chief executive of the Jogye order and his deputy were involved in gambling. Apparently fearing social ramifications, six high-ranking figures at the general affairs department tendered their resignations.

Voices in Korean Buddhism, however, criticize those who installed the hidden camera in the hotel room and filmed for more than 13 hours. The Ven. Seungho, who provided the video to prosecutors and accused Tojin and others of gambling, is known to have been at odds with those at Jogye Temple. A power struggle is suspected, but focusing on the conflict will blur the nature of the incident. Gambling with hundreds of thousands of dollars is an immoral act that cannot be tolerated. Worse, this transgression was conducted by Buddhist monks, who are supposed to lead a more righteous life than ordinary people.

“Self-styled Zen philosophy” refers to a fox that deceives humans by pretending to have found enlightenment without sincerely practicing Zen meditation. Jogye stresses meditation, so outsiders cannot notice if monks have achieved spiritual enlightenment. Certain monks claim that they have achieved spiritual enlightenment yet consume meat and alcohol as if they have entered the stage of freedom from all obstacles. Discipline, precepts and meditation go together. If discipline and precepts are not followed, meditation cannot work.

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