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A retreat in a South Korean Buddhist monastery: Becoming a lay devotee through monastic life

Abstract : In South Korea, the distance between Buddhist monastics and lay devotees tends to reduce as monasteries and temples multiply in urban areas. Even the remote mountain monasteries have, for a large number, broadened their access to the lay visitors. Nowadays monastic and lay Buddhists have more occasions to meet than before and the current intensification of their relationships brings important redefinitions of their respective identities. The purpose of this paper is to explore to what extent and limits this new spatial proximity does signify a rapprochement between the monastic and the lay Buddhists. Through an ethnographic approach and a participant observation methodology I focus on the case of a one-week retreat for laity in a Buddhist monastery dedicated to meditation. This case study examines the ambiguous goal of this retreat program that combined two aims: initiating the lay practitioners to the monastic lifestyle and to the practice of kanhwa sŏn meditation, and also establishing a group of lay supporters affiliated to the temple. This temporary monastic experience was directed toward an intense socialisation of the participants to the norms and values of an ascetic lifestyle and, for a while, blurred some aspects of the border between lay and monastic practices of Buddhism. However, this paper presents the idea that this transitory rapprochement contributed to both challenge and strengthen the distinction between renouncers (ch'ulga) and householders (chaega).
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Florence Galmiche. A retreat in a South Korean Buddhist monastery: Becoming a lay devotee through monastic life. European Journal of East Asian Studies, Brill Academic Publishers, 2010, 9 (1), pp.47-66. ⟨10.1163/156805810X517661⟩. ⟨hal-02310460⟩



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