Saturday, May 12, 2012

gambling Buddhist monks in Korea

This link, about gambling Buddhist monks in Korea, comes from my brother David. I'd heard the stories for years: monks who sneak out to eat meat, monks involved in sexual indiscretions... it comes as little surprise to learn that, yes, there are monks who gamble:

SEOUL -- Six leaders from South Korea's biggest Buddhist order have quit after secret video footage showed some supposedly serene monks raising hell, playing high-stakes poker, drinking and smoking.

The scandal erupted just days before Koreans observe a national holiday to celebrate the birth of Buddha, the holiest day of the religion's calendar.

The head of the Jogye order (external link to Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism's site), which has some 10 million followers, or about a fifth of the country's population, made a public apology on Friday, vowing "self-repentance."

South Korean TV networks aired shots of eight monks playing poker, some 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 1 billion won ($875,300)," Seongho, a senior monk who uses one name, told Reuters on Friday.

I've written about Seung Sahn's sex scandal before, and it's always amazed me that some people within Seung Sahn's order-- Kwaneum, which he founded-- have tried to defend his behavior. I wonder what defense would be given on behalf of the Jogye Order monks just caught gambling. "If Kwaneum-bosal (bosal = bodhisattva) can do it,* then so can we"?

I'm sorry, but call me old-school: if you take precepts, whether in Buddhist monasticism or Catholic monasticism or any other sort of clerical endeavor, you're supposed to adhere to them. Such people have chosen to take on the yoke of higher standards. If they can't abide by those standards because of their own human failings, there's no need for us to defend them. In the above case, the Jogye Order did the right thing by apologizing. We can only hope that this will translate into more stringency within the order.

*The Lotus Sutra says the Bodhisattva of Compassion can assume any form to save beings from suffering. If I remember correctly, my old Buddhism prof said there are stories of the bodhisattva assuming the form of a gambler to rescue gamblers from their destructive habits. This would be in consonance with the Lotus Sutra's emphasis on the concept of upaya, i.e., skillful means. One does what one can to bring people to enlightenment. If it helps to appear to mortals as a gambler, then so be it.


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