Never Bet the Buddha Your Head
When I first made my post on Spiritual Materialism and Cherry Picking, I never would have thought that it would expand into a three part series. Yet now it seems that Seon Master Jinje, the head of the Joyge Order in Korea, had to apologize Friday after the revelation of certain footage. According to MSNBC, this particular video didn’t show “some supposedly serene monks” cursing during a meditation sesshin. No, they were supposedly “raising hell, playing high-stakes poker, drinking and smoking.”
These so-called “monks” were shot with a hidden camera at a luxury hotel in late April which they were staying at for a fellow monk’s memorial service. The video shows them smoking, drinking, and gambling illegally. The Guardian reported that:
South Korean TV networks aired shots of monks playing poker, smoking and drinking, after gathering at a luxury lakeside hotel in late April for a fellow monk’s memorial service. “The stakes for 13 hours of gambling were more than 1bn won [£543,000],” Seongho, a senior monk, told Reuters on Friday. He said he had reported the incident to prosecutors.
Gambling is illegal in South Korea outside of licensed casinos and horse racing tracks and is frowned upon by religious leaders.
“Buddhist rules say don’t steal. Look at what they did, they abused money from Buddhists for gambling,” Seongho said.
Seongho said he had obtained a computer memory stick with the video clip from a camera that had been hidden in the hotel. He would not say who had planted the camera because of recent threats made against him.
The scandal has cast doubt on the future of the order’s head, Jaseung, who apologised to all of South Korea’s 12 million Buddhists.
“We deeply apologize for the behavior of several monks in our order,” he said in a statement. “The monks who have caused public concern are currently being investigated and will be punished according to Buddhist regulations as soon as the truth is verified by the prosecution.”
Chung Yoon-sun, the secretary general of the Buddhist Solidarity for Reform, said conflict between South Korean monks had become as commonplace as disputes between the country’s politicians. “It’s just like politics,” she was quoted as saying by the Korea Times. “If there’s a conflict in interest between two groups, they make a deal or they fight.”
Chung said the scandal highlighted the need to monitor how Buddhist orders spend their large, and untaxed, donations from the public.
I think the last point is worth emphasizing. There is definitely a need to monitor and regulate Buddhist orders. In Theravada, for example, monks aren’t even supposed to handle money. All of the financing is to be done by the laity. Which is why in Thailand, when people donate money they use envelopes. However, there were reports of supposedly bogus monks that were begging for money from the public.
A lot of people don’t know that there are actually “monastic police” in Thailand, as well, whose job is basically to protect the Sangha. They can’t make arrests, or anything. They just pass information on. A long time ago, the National Buddhism Bureau established four teams of officials to monitor the “wayward activities” of any suspicious Buddhist monk. Any monk that is accused of breaching the Vinaya or engaging in any kind of wrongdoing will be investigated by a panel of monks, and if there is any basis to the accusation – the monks will therefore be defrocked.
Therefore, for us lay Buddhists, since we aren’t monks or nuns we should always do our part to keep harmony and order in the Sangha. It’s pretty much our job to make sure that people are held accountable for abusing the teachings, their monastic vows, etc. Everybody is aware of the important role of a monk or nun in Buddhism, but we can’t forget that the laity holds just as an important role – and these recent incidents only emphasize that. In fact, us lay people make up half of the four groups of Buddha’s following (parisa or “assembly”) – i.e. monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. These recent events only emphasize how important of a role us lay Buddhists must have for any kind of coherent semblance of order in the Sangha, and it is a role that we must take seriously.