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Leading Buddhist Figure Accused of Faking Academic Credentials, Breaking Vows

South Korea’s foremost Buddhist leader, Seoljeong, has been implicated in a corruption scandal and ordered to quit after accusations that he lied about his academic credentials, accumulated excessive wealth and broke his vows of celibacy. Seoljeong, 76, is the president of the Jogye Order, a Buddhist order widely believed to have begun in the country since the 12th century.

The central committee of the order in a 56-14 vote of no confidence asked the Buddhist executive leader to remove himself from office. Demanding that a top Buddhist leader step down from office is a first in the hundreds of years of existence of the Order. The Order has over 3,000 temples, 13,000 monks and 7 million followers and constitutes a powerful social and political force in South Korea.

The scandal began when last May Seoljeong said on television that in his autobiography he claimed to have attended the Seoul National University, but the school has denied that he is a graduate. The same broadcast reported that Seoljeong broke his celibacy by fathering a daughter and owned large real estate investments despite taking a vow of poverty.

Following the revelations, thousands of followers mounted mass demonstrations and called for Seoljeong to step down from his position. Outside of the Jogyesa temple headquarters in central Seoul, a senior monk went on a 41-day hunger strike until he was hospitalized to protest Seoljeong’s religious violations.

For his defense, Seoljeong calls the allegations against him an attack conducted by the Jogye Order “old guard” who are trying to prevent his reform initiatives. Seoljeong’s predecessor Jaseung was also plagued by corruption scandals during his eight-year term.

Reformists are thus calling for mass rallies and a complete overhaul of the Jogyesa Order.

“We call for the resignation of all the old guard, not only President Seoljeong but all the central committee members to pave the way for reform and democracy,” said Kim Young-Kuk, head of the Buddhism Reform Movement.

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