Despite its 17-century-long history, Korean Buddhism is currently undergoing a crisis. In addition to the declining number of lay practitioners, Korea’s largest Buddhist order, the Jogye Order (K. Daehan Bulgyo Jogyejong
, hereafter “JO” or “the order”), is facing a significant drop in monastic recruitment. Compounding this crisis, a series of scandals within the order’s monastic leadership have caused widespread loss of confidence among the order’s laity. In addition to calls for greater financial transparency and moral accountability for JO monastics, many reformers are demanding greater lay participation within the order’s political hierarchy, challenging the centuries-old roles assigned to monastics and laity. However, these challenges have failed to produce any practical changes within the order while its monastic establishment continues espousing rhetoric reinforcing monastic authority and its supremacy over the laity. In light of these crises, this paper will conduct a perfunctory examination of the attitudes the JO’s monastic establishment exhibits towards its lay supporters and the roles it expects for them. Utilizing, in part, previously unpublished internal JO documents, this paper will begin by investigating monastic attitudes expressed towards the laity in the order’s 2015 General Meeting of the Four-fold Assembly as well as the ensuing debate over these roles in Korea’s Buddhist media. This paper will then explore how the laity are viewed within the JO’s lay education program, additionally examining how the needs and concerns of the laity are addressed in introductory textbooks used within this program. While not exhaustive, by examining this variety of sources, this paper seeks to clarify the roles the JO’s monastic establishment expects for its lay supporters and interrogate whether such attitudes are sustainable as the order attempts to respond effectively to the crises it currently faces.
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