May 11, 2012

Buddha Buzz: More Monks in Trouble

Mainstream media has done it again. I'm sure you've heard already, but neuroscience and meditation are the new "It" couple. This week the NY Times joins the fray in an article that is essentially a roundup of the different benefits that meditation can have on the brain. In addition to citing a few studies at various universities around the country, they trot out 63-year-old Buddhist practitioner Katherine Splain, who claims that her long meditation practice helped her finish an 80-page master's thesis—when she was 60.

As I've written about in previous Buddha Buzzes, I'm dubious about the influx of neurological studies in regards to meditation. That notwithstanding, I have one major bone to pick with the NY Times on this one: Where's the religion? The protagonist of the story, Splain, is clearly religious. Just look at the photo to the upper right! And yet the article neglects to mention that she's a devout Buddhist until the second to last paragraph of the article. To me this neglect highlights exactly the problem with science examining meditation: there's just no way to take the religious or spiritual element of it into account.

 Then again, it's not like religion is always a wonderful modifier of human behavior. In yet another case of Buddhists behaving badly, eight monks belonging to South Korea's Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in South Korea, were caught on film smoking, drinking, and playing high-stakes poker. And by high stakes, I mean high stakes—the merry monks were gambling with the equivalent of almost $900,000, apaprently taken from donations. The icing on the cake? The gambling party occurred after the monks had come together at a "luxury lakeside hotel" for another monk's memorial service. Here are the monks caught on tape:

ln response, six high-ranking members of the Jogye Order resigned. The president of the order, Venerable Jaseung, will bow 108 times in repentance every morning for 100 days. The Korea Herald has reported that the monk who sent the film to the South Korean prosecution office found it on a flashdrive that was lying in front of a Buddha statue in an unknown temple. The Herald continued, "Insiders claimed that opponents of the Most Ven. Jaseung, the rival group that lost the election for the top post in the Buddhist sect, secretly recorded the incident and released the video with the aim to topple the current leadership."

And that's what you call Buddhist politics, folks.


Image: By Michelle V. Agins for the New York Times.

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jackelope65's picture

Of thousands of Buddhist monks, many of whom did not choose this occupation, we could only expect minor to major failings, as we would in any group of people. With the potential of collecting millions of dollars, Buddhist orders need more modern accounting systems, including computers, with more accountability to leaders and the public donors alike.
The scientific studies cited above are being done with good intentions but in no way should be expected to explain fully or harm one's devotion and beliefs regarding Buddhism. It is not politics as usual but human nature to become confused, and,for which, we should have compassion.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"Only the worms that are born from the body of the lion itself will feed on the lion’s flesh. In the same way, Ananda, the Buddha’s teachings cannot be destroyed by outside forces. But the evil monks who exist within the body of my teachings — they are the ones who will destroy these teachings that the Buddha has labored over and worked to establish." ( Lotus-like Face Sutra)

Loanwolfz's picture

Good example of Karma at work. bad behavior caught up on them, May they Learn from this, and redeem themselves.

buddahbear01's picture

Buddhists behaving 'badly?'

Perhaps they are human?

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Of course they are! But humans behave badly sometimes, no?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Problem is these are priests who've supposedly dedicated themselves to protect and correctly transmit the dharma. Their irresponsibility with lay believers' monetary offerings is a betrayal of trust.

R_DeVeau01970's picture

I appreciare these remarks about the betrayal of trust. I think the beauty of what happened is that we object to it even more strongly when we are attatched to our own ego and sense of indignation. They are no better or worse that any other person who violates a public trust. Replace them, pray for them and be compassionate as they will, undoubtedly, have to deal with their own actions. They have years of good merit. That should also be in our thoughts.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute (religious) power corrupts absolutely. It's the people who've been taken advantage of by wolves in priests' clothing who are more deserving of the Buddha's compassion.

Tharpa Pema's picture

I think each and every one of us is deserving of the Buddha's compassion. Buddha probably does not keep score!

Dominic Gomez's picture

But your life does. It's called karma. As Emma notes in her most recent Buddha Buzz, "putting on Buddhist robes doesn't automatically elevate you to an ethical superhuman status". In which case, why retain a priestly caste at all? Cannot your average citizen be trusted to develop and strengthen his or her life without such intermediaries?