|Buddhists who support Ven. Seoljeong, president of Jogye Order, rally in front of Jogye Temple in central Seoul, Sunday. They hold up a banner that reads "Let's save Ven. Seoljeong from groundless allegations that trapped him." The pro-Seoljeong protest came days after anti-Seoljeong rallies at the same venue. Yonhap|
Clash between pro-Seoljeong, rebels looms large
By Kang Hyun-kyung
A clash between the supporters of Ven. Seoljeong, president of the nation's largest Buddhist sect Jogye Order, and a rival faction seeking to bring him down and revamp the sect, seems to be inevitable.
On Sunday, a group of Buddhists who back Ven. Seoljeong, who's embroiled in multiple corruption allegations, gathered in front of Jogye Temple in Seoul and showed their support for him as president.
Earlier this month, the Jogye Order president offered to resign to take responsibility for the allegations, including rumors he has a wife and a daughter.
His supporters claimed the allegations Seoljeong faces are groundless and his opponents fabricated his past records to oust him from the leadership post. They said Ven. Seoljeong is the right person to revamp Jogye Order, calling on him to stay in power.
The pro-Seoljeong protest came two days after his opponent Ven. Seoljo, who ended his 41-day hunger strike two weeks ago, urged what he called "fake monks" to leave the sect and stirred up the public to stand up against the Buddhist leadership to revamp the sect.
In a statement which his spokesperson read on behalf of him, the senior monk labeled some Buddhist leaders implicated in corruption scandals as "parasites living on the host (Jogye Order)."
"There are some fake monks who cause trouble for the sect, as well as society, with their gambling and other illicit activities. They must repent for what they did and then leave Jogye Order," Ven. Seoljo said.
He also urged the general public to take collective action to end the vicious cycle of corruption scandals in the Buddhist sect and reform it to encourage transparency.
"The public has remained silent and seen what's happening inside the sect just like onlookers," he said. The senior monk urged the public to stand up to end corruption inside the Buddhist sect.
His remarks came amid a leadership vacuum in Jogye Order.
Earlier this month, Ven. Seoljeong announced he would resign before Aug. 16 when a key meeting among senior Buddhist monks is to take place.
If confirmed, he will leave the top job in the nation's largest Buddhist sect less than a year after he took the helm last November.
The leadership vacuum pits 300 ranking Buddhist monks in decision-making posts against the remaining 10,000 rank-and-file monks, as the two sides have different ideas about how to fill the leadership void.
The former insists a new leader be elected in accordance with the current election rules _ indirect selection _ and he who is selected through this indirect election must replace Seoljeong as the new leader of Jogye Order.
But the grassroots monks claim the current election rules need to be changed and all Buddhist monks need to be allowed to cast their votes to elect a new leader.
Under the current scheme, 300 representatives cast their votes to elect the Jogye Order president while the remaining 10,000 monks are not eligible to participate in the selection process.
The ranking Buddhists insist the current election system be used to elect the new Jogye Order leader to replace Seoljeong.
Ven. Milun, who is in charge of the interim taskforce committee to oversee the sect, reiterated the ranking Buddhist monks' view.
"If the leader, who was elected in accordance with the current election rules in a transparent and fair manner, is forced to resign as a result of the witch hunt, this will deal a blow to the authority of Jogye Order," he said during a news conference last week.
He called on Buddhist monks to wait and see how the investigation into allegations surrounding Ven. Seoljeong turns out and stop their endeavors to oust the current leader.
Ven. Seoljeong has been facing allegations that he had a wife and a daughter, hid his wealth under his sibling's name and fabricated his academic background. He admitted he lied about his college degree but denied allegations about his family and wealth.
Last week, Ven. Seoljeong took a DNA test in an attempt to prove his innocence. Earlier the Buddhist monk filed a lawsuit against the CEO of online media Bulgyo.com which raised the allegation about his wife and daughter born between them.
To deny this, Ven. Seoljeong needs to prove his and his alleged daughter's DNA samples don't match. The chances to prove this are bleak at best, as the woman's whereabouts are unknown. Even if she is found, it remains uncertain whether she will be cooperative in providing a DNA sample.
Ven. Milun called on the Buddhists not to make a hasty conclusion about Ven. Seoljeong regarding the suspicions. "We need to be careful until the DNA testing results come out," he said.
But his press conference didn't convince rank-and-file monks to stop pressuring the leadership to reform the election rules.
They said they would hold a massive rally on Aug. 23, where nearly 3,000 Buddhist monks all across the nation would gather to put pressure on the Buddhist leadership to reform the sect.
A group of concerned Buddhists held a news conference last week in front of Jogye Temple and urged the leadership to allow all monks to cast their votes to elect new leader.
The rank-and-file Buddhist monks say if a new leader is elected under the current scheme, those who represent the vested interests of the current leadership will be chosen again and thus overhauling Jogye Order will become a blown opportunity.
They alleged that Ven. Jaseung, a former Jogye Order president who retired last year after serving two terms, has been flexing his muscles behind the election. They claim current leader Seoljeong and those who are in the key posts of the sect are puppets serving the best interest of Jaseung.
According to them, Ven. Jaseung was able to solidify his power base during his tenure by currying favor with two former presidents _ Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. During the two administrations, Buddhists were able to secure increased financial support and Jaseung took advantage of money to "tame" Buddhist monks and placed loyalists in key positions.
Jogye Order is on a collision course as the two sides reveal deep differences about how to reform the Buddhist sect.