Money isn’t for monks

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Money isn’t for monks

The Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in South Korea, has become a scandalous international topic after secret video footage showed monks smoking, drinking and gambling. The scene of a marathon poker and booze session in a luxury lakeside hotel has revealed other skeletons in the abstemious religious sect’s closet.

The footage of monks playing high-stake poker was disgraceful, but the way it was exposed was equally deplorable. A fellow monk planted a hidden camera in the hotel room amidst a power struggle for the title of head monk. The group of wayward monks gambling, blackmailing and ratting each other out is no different from gang behavior. The Buddhist order has long been marred with ugly feuds, disputes and conflicts over power.

The recent scandal underscores the vacuum of trust and community culture in the Jogye Order. Buddhism has been practiced as the ascetic holy religion in the country for thousands of years, and the Jogye Order has been respected around the world for upholding the sacred monastic legacy. The muckraking, slandering, corruption and perversity, however, has brought shame to the sect’s name and the entire religion.

The sect has been rotting inside due to a lack of community culture. Drinking and even gambling have long been tolerated as a mild diversion. Rivalry and conflict among monks to gain power at the head temple have been commonplace, their actions often proving to be as cruel and debased as politicians’.

Senior monks have tendered their resignation for the gambling incident and the elderly have gathered to come up with reforms and other countermeasures. But we have seen this chain of events - scandals and promises of reform - repeated over the years. This time something different must be done to root out the fundamental cause of this deep contamination.

Money is the culprit for ruining monks. Buddhism is an abstinent and pious religion whose most devoted followers must forsake all secular and material desires and comforts. Yet temples have been profligate in abundance. Monks have become corrupt because they have tasted wealth. The group of Buddhist followers demanded that monks should be entirely devoted to religious practices and leave finances to the administrative staff. Other Buddhist societies in central Asia abide by strict rules to keep money and donations at a distance from their monks. Separate control of finance is the first step to reform and cleanse the religious sect.

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