The Korea Herald


Celebrity monk returns to TV after uproar over his wealth, lifestyle

By Choi Si-young

Published : March 8, 2024 - 20:46

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The Ven. Haemin stars in a TV show about finding inner peace that started airing Monday. (BTN) The Ven. Haemin stars in a TV show about finding inner peace that started airing Monday. (BTN)

A star Buddhist monk who saw his following plunge amid an uproar over what critics said was self-indulgence that betrayed the monk’s preaching, has returned as a TV show host after some three years out of the public eye.

In the first episode of the weekly show “A Cafe Where Mind Finds Rest,” which aired Monday, the Ven. Haemin began the 42-minute episode by saying he “repents for not living up to the standards expected of a monk.”

“Your words will be my teaching and it will guide me to do what I’m supposed to do as a monk, to spread the words of Buddhism and be of service,” Haemin added, without going into the details regarding the 2020 scandal that forced him to cancel all TV and other high-profile public appearances.

In a November episode of the tvN reality series “On & Off,” which followed celebrities and TV personalities as they reveal their daily routines, Haemin appeared living what some critics said was the life of an ambitious startup CEO.

The episode showed Haemin working with his employees at a company he set up in downtown Seoul to develop a meditation app. Some considered him to be indulging in luxuries traditionally shunned by monks: using a MacBook Pro and preparing a meal only loosely based on the Buddhist code.

The clip set off a furor that led to the revelation that Haemin -- whose name reads Joo Bong-seok on his Korean national ID but Ryan Bongseok Joo on his passport because the Korean-born monk has obtained US citizenship -- might have purchased an apartment in Brooklyn, New York for $610,000 in 2011.

By choosing not to speak directly about the issue despite repeated calls for an explanation, Haemin emboldened critics who contended that the monk is not as orthodox as he presents himself to be.

He did not respond to The Korea Herald’s request for comment on his return to TV.

The monk, who studied religions at the University of California, Berkeley, earned his master’s degree at Harvard Divinity School and Ph.D. from Princeton University. He received his formal monastic training at Haeinsa, one of the Jogye Order temples, according to his website.

The website, written in English, connects to Amazon, Instagram and X, formerly Twitter -- links that discuss his book releases, including the bestselling “The Thing You Can See Only When You Slow Down.”