Friday, June 1, 2012

Monk scandal needs wider view

A constant expectation attached to religions all over the world is that people longingly desire and even vehemently demand professional practitioners of faith to adhere to higher standards of personal behavior than other members of society. 

Given that religious professionals are funded by the donations of believers, this is generally justified. Such standards differ, however. 

Buddhist standards for monastic behavior have always been reasonably flexible, and more like recommendations for advancement towards enlightenment and maintaining a harmonious temple community than strict, absolute laws. 

If some actions or behavior disrupts a monk’s personal practice or threatens the smooth functioning of the Sangha (community of monks and lay believers), then it is considered wrong and dealt with through discussion and possible sanctions. 

Singular or occasional violations of the rules that take place outside of the temple, such as eating meat, drinking a few shots of soju or playing cards, are no big deal. 

However, if such behavior becomes habitual, disruptive or criminal, then it is taken seriously and corrective punishments are applied, up to and including expulsion from the order.

Misbehaviors or human charms?

One might remember that Korea’s most beloved Buddhist hero Master Wonhyo famously fathered a child with a princess in a one-night stand, and was also known to sing poetry after having a few drinks.

One can easily imagine this most enlightened of scholastic saints enjoying a little gambling with some village farmers after preaching salvation in the Pure Land to them during his missionary wanderings. Nobody seems to think any worse of him for these activities; they are rather considered part of his “he was still human” charm.

Misbehaving monks were a mainstay of the folk mask-dances of the Joseon Kingdom, stemming from Confucian prejudices and the public’s love of ridiculing their supposed superiors; this image may have been accurate in some cases but did not represent the long-term reality of Korean Buddhism....

Read the full article at Korean Times

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