Se-Woong Koo | Korea Exposé
In 2012, monk Hyemin's book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down was published, topping the best-seller chart for weeks to come. Although Hyemin is only the latest in a long list of South Korean Buddhist monks to try and quench the public's thirst for instructions on overcoming the unhappiness imposed by the conditions of South Korean society, his rise as South Korea's current it-guru has particular significance, coinciding with the overall direction of Korean Buddhism, which has actively sought to rebrand itself as a religion of consolation in the past few years.
Battered by serial accusations of corruption and moral turpitude, not to mention a plunge in the number of followers, various South Korean Buddhist orders have embarked on projects to render their teachings in an immediately accessible form, whether it be counselling, weekend getaways or lifestyle products for easy consumption, without addressing fundamental problems at hand.
Young and educated, Hyemin is an especially appealing embodiment of the ‘new’ Buddhism that traditional orders such as his own Jogyejong aspire to represent. Yet his popularity in itself is an indication of the state of Buddhism in South Korea, robbed of its traditional support base and desperate to reach new devotees through a process of radical transformation that calls into question the very meaning of Buddhism.