The Korea Herald


‘Monk’ DJ spreading Buddhism goes global

By Choi Si-young

Published : May 12, 2024 - 15:14

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South Korean comedian Youn Sung-ho dressed as a Buddhist monk deejays at a dance club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 3. (Youn Sung-ho) South Korean comedian Youn Sung-ho dressed as a Buddhist monk deejays at a dance club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 3. (Youn Sung-ho)

A South Korean DJ-comedian in a Buddhist monk’s robe is making strides in Korea and abroad with the backing of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect that has employed him as part of its outreach to wider audiences.

Youn Sung-ho, the DJ known as the Ven. New Jean, will close the three-day Lotus Lantern Festival on Sunday, with an electronic dance music performance echoing Buddhist verses. The show is set in front of Jogyesa, the main temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.

Sunday’s event will mark the second time the DJ brings the annual lantern festival to an end.

Interest in the deejaying “monk” has spread beyond Korea.

Youn will perform in Hong Kong on May 17, followed by another performance on July 13 in Taiwan -- where Youn’s first overseas performance was staged on April 27.

The Jogye Order, which has set out to discard its overly traditional image and reach out to younger people, said it is appreciative of Youn’s work.

“I am thankful for the work you have done in spreading a much younger Buddhism to the young generation,” Jogye Order President Ven. Jinwoo said at a meeting with Youn in late April.

At the meeting, Jinwoo presented Youn with prayer beads and a headset he had personally picked out, a clear sign that the leader of the largest Buddhist sect in the country is firmly behind efforts to show that Buddhism is ready to embrace a broader audience and present itself as ready to engage with them, according to Jogye officials.

Outside Korea, the reception to the DJ in a monk's robe isn’t always favorable.

Last week, Malaysian lawmaker Wee Ka Siong openly rebuked the Korean DJ for “angering the Buddhist community in Malaysia” and “giving a wrong perception of Buddhist values and teachings.” The statement posted to his Facebook followed Youn’s May 3 club performance in Kuala Lumpur. His second show, scheduled for later in the month, has been canceled.

In Malaysia as of 2020, 63.5 percent of the population is Muslim, followed by Buddhists at 18.7 percent, according to a US State Department report.

“I agree with the Young Buddhist Association Malaysia and Fo Guang Shan Malaysia, which have called for action to be taken by the authorities to ban a DJ from Korea from performing again at a dance club in Kuala Lumpur,” Wee said in the statement, referring to local groups associated with Buddhism. The YBAM released a separate, similar statement.

Both Wee and the YBAM could not be immediately reached for comment.

Youn has yet to respond to such allegations, though he has posted an Instagram clip of his May 3 performance full of cheering crowds.

The Jogye Order said it has no response.