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South Korea Jogye Buddhist monks launch reforms

BBC, June 7, 2012

Seoul, South Korea -- Buddhist leaders in South Korea have announced that they will bring in professional managers to run temple finances, following recent "misbehaviour" by several monks.

<< Jogye Order is the representative order of traditional Korean Buddhism with roots that go all the way back 1,200 years

The country's main Jogye Order has been dogged by in-fighting and criticism since the latest scandal.

It has sparked a fresh debate on the role of monks in modern-day Korea.

The reforms mean that monks will focus on "self-discipline" and "missionary work" - not running temple affairs.

Instead, financial managers will be brought in to handle the accounts, and lay people will take over the day-to-day running of temples.

The leader of Korea's Jogye Order said there was no choice but to carry out "far-reaching reform" because "pre-modern" practices had led to disputes, conflicts and scandal.

Last month, several monks were caught on camera smoking, drinking and gambling in a hotel bedroom.

Gambling is illegal in South Korea, apart from in designated places such as casinos catering mostly to tourists. It is also a violation of the code of conduct for monks of the Jogye Order.

The video unleashed a spate of allegations against senior figures in the order - that they too had drunk alcohol, gambled and even paid for sex.

The order says it has more than 10 million followers - about 20% of the population of South Korea. But it has reportedly been hit by feuds and factional in-fighting.

Buddhist leaders have repeatedly said there would be strict penalties for those who tarnished the image of the country's monks.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul says that many in South Korea believe that Buddhism is already struggling to remain relevant in the face of Christianity and capitalism.

Local media reports last month said that the footage was thought to have been shot by a monk from the order described as an opponent of its current administration.

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