Eight monks of the Korean Buddhist Jogye sect were secretly filmed drinking, smoking and gambling in their hotel suite. The hidden surveillance camera recorded them playing a game of high stakes poker in which $875,000 was won.
According to Reuters, the scandal erupted a few days before Korea's national holiday to celebrate the birth of Buddha, the holiest day of the religious calender.
According to the Daily Mail, six of the monks, leaders of the Korean Jogye Order, have quit.
Korea Bang reports the incident was allegedly filmed April 23. The eight monks spent the night gambling, smoking and drinking at a hotel suite in Yaksu-ri Buka-myeon Jangseong District in South Jeolla Province, close to the Baegyang Temple.
South Korean television showed footage of the monks who were at the luxury lakeside hotel for a colleague's memorial service. According to Herald Sun, the dead colleague was the Zen Master at Baekyang Temple.
The monks gambled all night and continued playing until well after eight in the morning. Korea Bang reports that among the gambling monks were high-profile members of the Jogye Order, including a member of the Jogye committee, a former member of the memorial service committee, and a chief monk of a temple branch.
Seoul District Public Prosecutor's Office said that Seong-ho, a former member of the order, lodged a complaint and accused eight monks of gambling $875,0000 from 8 p.m. on April 23 to 9 a.m. the next day. The monk wrote: "They have violated good customs and social order, and I therefore request them to be punished severely." The monk handed over the videos showing the monks gambling to the authorities. According to Daily Mail, Seongho said he obtained a USB drive containing a video clip taken by a camera hidden in the hotel room, but did not give information about the source of the clip.
The Daily Mail reports that gambling outside of licensed casinos and horse racing tracks is illegal in South Korea and is a social taboo even for those who are not of the religious order. According to Daily Mail, Seongho said: "Basically, Buddhist rules say don't steal. Look at what they did, they abused money from Buddhists for gambling."
Korea Bang reports Monk Jin-je, the highest ranking monk of the Jogye Order, said, "any monk who gambles does not deserve to eat the offering meal or wear Indian ink clothes [the grey clothes that Korean Buddhist monks wear]. Someone who has left home and joined the Buddhist priesthood should not commit an unscrupulous act."
Herald Sun reports that Jin-je made a public apology vowing "self-repentance." He said "Basically, Buddhist rules say don’t steal... they abused money from Buddhists for gambling."
Jin-je also announced an investigation into the installation of the camera, which he said violated the law.
Daily Mail reports the episode has led to speculation of a power split within the order with observers saying the camera was installed by opponents to bring down the monks.
Reuters reports the civic group, Buddhist Solidarity for Reform, said:" A group of monks who gamble, drink and smoke in a hotel room is tainted in the eyes of all people in the nation."
There are about 25 Buddhist orders in South Korea, and the Jogye Order is the largest with about ten million followers, about a fifth of South Korea's population.