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Transparent Finances at Bongeun Temple

Chosun Ilbo, Dec 6, 2007

Seoul, South Korea -- Bongeun Buddhist Temple in the Kangnam area of southern Seoul has revealed its financial records. The Ven. Myungjin revealed the records at a news conference on Tuesday, showing W9.61 billion in income from donations, collections from prayer services, and sales of lanterns and Buddhist products, while expenditures amounted to W8.56 billion for labor costs, temple upkeep, missionary and education work and contributions to the broader Buddhist organization.

At a general meeting of its followers scheduled for Thursday, the temple is expected to explain even more details regarding its income and spending. Starting next year, devotees of the temple will monitor monks as they remove donations from collection boxes, while financial records will be revealed every quarter and be subject to verification by a certified public accountant.

With over 200,000 followers, Bongeun Temple is among the top Buddhist temples in Seoul along with Jogye Temple and Dosun Temple. The transparent financial approach being taken by Bongeun Temple is significant, because it can serve as the impetus in unraveling the cloak of secrecy that has surrounded the financial matters of many Buddhist temples. The leader of Hwagye Temple, the Ven. Sookyung, said monks should focus on ascetic discipline, missionary work and education, while day-to-day temple operations should be handled by its followers. Hwagye Temple also plans to reveal its financial records starting at the end of this year.

Korean Buddhism has recently suffered several internal problems. Buddhist-founded Dongguk University was linked to a corruption scandal involving former art curator and professor Shin Jeong-ah, while major temples saw internal rifts. In order to reform this atmosphere, Buddhist officials held a ceremony in October and vowed to adhere to the teachings of the Buddha. The first step in that vow is to reveal finances and join hands with followers in managing temples.

Secret finances are the biggest weakness of Koreaís religious groups. In August, the Seoul diocese of the Catholic Church created a huge stir by revealing its 2005 and 2006 income and expense statement in its weekly bulletin, after having the documents verified by a CPA. There are a few exceptional Christian churches that reveal their records, such as the Godís Will Soongeui Church in Namsan, but most large religious institutions do not show them.

Religious groups serve as beacons of light leading Korean society. But it is true that religious groups have been lagging behind other areas of society when it comes to financial transparency. If religious groups change, this could serve as an impetus to get other areas of society to change as well. Thatís what happened a few years ago, when the head pastor of Sarang Community Church in Kangnam stepped down from his post with five years remaining before his retirement. It is our hope that the move toward greater transparency by Bongeun Temple could serve as the stimulus for broader changes among Koreaís religious groups, which in turn could trigger positive changes in Korean society.

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