A Buddhist monk and head of South Korea’s biggest Buddhist denomination, with more than 3,000 temples, 13,000 monks and seven million followers, stepped down on Tuesday amid allegations that he forged his academic credentials, amassed vast wealth and fathered a child in breach of celibacy rules.
The Jogye Order President, Seoljeong, resigned after he lost an unprecedented vote of no confidence by the order’s governing committee, amid corruption allegations and factional feuds that often spill over into the headlines.
The Buddhist monk who was bid farewell to the followers and officials at the the order’s headquarters in Seoul and left for another temple south of Seoul where he had previously served for years, has been under intense pressure since an investigative TV programme claimed in May that he had fathered a daughter in breach of celibacy rules, and secretly owned vast real estate holdings despite taking a vow of poverty.
AFP reported that many rank and file members and civic groups staged months-long protests demanding his resignation, and a senior reform-minded monk was recently hospitalised after a conducting 41-day hunger strike against the monk.
Announcing his resignation in a press conference, he said;
“I joined this religious sect to bring changes to the flawed Korean Buddhism but will have to return to the mountain having failed to fulfill my wish.”
Seoljeong, who the leadership position last November, was also accused of forging his certificate as it was gathered that the nation’s top university denied Seoljeong had graduated from the institution, contradicting a claim made in his autobiography.
He however denied the allegation, and further accused an “old guard” within the order’s leadership of derailing his reform drive by framing him. He repeated the denial on Tuesday, claiming that “a handful of politically-minded monks are destroying the order”.
A 2014 survey by Korea Gallup showed 22 percent of South Koreans identify themselves as Buddhist, while nearly 30 percent are Christian.