Popular monk withdraws from public activities amid property controversy

November 16, 2020

A popular Buddhist monk, author and teacher has announced his withdrawal from public activities amid controversy over his property and lifestyle that appear to contradict his preaching of nonpossession.

Ven. Haemin has recently faced widespread criticism since a TV program unveiled his posh private home in central Seoul early this month and a subsequent news report claimed that he made gains by selling a building to a Buddhist organization allegedly run by him in the past.

In a social media post late Sunday, he apologized over the controversy and announced he will return to a monastic life.

“I repent before all the people who have been hurt and disappointed by this incident,” he said.

“I will put down all activities and go back to the Zen center to study Buddha’s teachings again and devote myself to prayer and practice,” he added.

This undated file photo shows Ven. Haemin, who has recently been engulfed in controversy over his property and lifestyle that appear to contradict his preaching of nonpossession. (Yonhap)

This undated file photo shows Ven. Haemin, who has recently been engulfed in controversy over his property and lifestyle that appear to contradict his preaching of nonpossession. (Yonhap)

Born in South Korea, the Zen monk in his mid-40s studied at UC Berkeley, Harvard and Princeton and taught Asian religions at Hampshire College in Massachusetts for seven years. He is now a U.S. citizen.

Ven. Haemin is a bestselling author, with his first book, “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down” (2012), translated into more than 35 different languages and selling more than 4 million of copies, according to his homepage.

He is a social media influencer with over 1.5 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

He has run The School for Broken Hearts, a Seoul-based nonprofit meditation academy and psychological counseling center, since 2015 and has recently engaged in a meditation mobile app service.

His announcement came hours after Ven. Hyongak, a renowned American monk and a sharp critic of Korean Buddhism, derided him on social media as “an entertainer and thief who does not know Buddha’s teaching at all.”

But after a 70-minute telephone conversation with him, Ven. Hyongak changed his mind and advocated for Ven. Haemin in a Facebook post Monday, saying that he is “an unbelievably beautiful human being of great sincerity with many many gifts to offer humanity.”

On Nov. 7, a cable reality program showed Ven. Haemin’s everyday life in an upscale home with a splendid view of Mount Nam at the center of Seoul, unlike his teaching of simple, frugal living.

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