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.
Seung Sahn, founder of the Korean monastic order Kwaneum, was lauded for his wisdom, wit, and humor. With his energetic marketing of Korean Seon (i.e., Zen) Buddhism, he was able to spread his school all over the world. Unfortunately, as is true with many men in power, he abused his authority and was caught in a sex scandal involving several women.
It amazes me that there are people within Seung Sahn's Kwaneum Order who have tried to justify his unethical, precepts-breaking behavior. The women were willing! they say. That's a defense? I wonder, now, 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"?
My view: 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 (Avalokiteshvara, Kuan-shih-yin [Chn.], Kanseon/Kannon [Jpn.], Kwaneum/Kwansaeeum [Kor.]) 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.