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A new modern university educational system will be introduced to temples on top of the long-existing traditional monastic training system. Now, monks and nuns can also learn English, Japanese, and Chinese in addition to the classical Chinese. There will also be courses in Buddhist Socioeconomics, Buddhist Social Welfare, Buddhist Ecology, Comparative Religious Studies, as well as study of the original Buddhist text in the Pali language.
Ven. Hyeoneung, the director of the Jogye Order Bureau of Education made a report on the ‘reorganization of the monastic educational system’ at the district head temple abbots’ meeting on July 6. This report was based on the work of the last six months gathering information from public hearings and the convergence of extensive opinions. The main ideas from this report were to get out of the traditional Confusion educational system, which is done in classical Chinese, modernize the Sutra Schools (Gangwon), which are the basic monastic training institutions, and make the graduate programs more diverse and specialized. The new monastic educational system will begin with “Admonition for Beginners” followed by Chimun, Sajip, Sakyo, Daekyo courses, etc. This new system will have a 16-week semester with classes six days a week. Two 90-minute classes will be held each day. There will be more specialized graduate programs such as ‘Buddhist Classical Chinese,’ ‘Seon Studies,’ ‘Vinaya,’ and ‘Theravadan Sutra Studies.’ The cost of these changes will be taken care of by the Jogye Order.
For some time, the need for a reorganization of the monastic educational system has been voiced. Ven. Kwangdeok (1927~1999), a pioneer in making dharma more accessible to the general public, studied philosophy, law, ethics, and logic with other monastics. He said that we must learn world academics in order to share the dharma with the world. Like this, there have been efforts from monastics and temples to modernize monastic education, however this is the first time it has been initiated by the order.
One main reason for the reorganization is the change of circumstances. For example, there are dramatically fewer people interested in monastic life. There were only 266 hangjas (postulants) who finished the hangja training this year, compared to 528 in 2000. In addition, only 60 to 70 monastics are enrolling at Joongang Sangha University compared to the standard of 120. Another concern is that new monastics that don’t know classical Chinese must go through the current system, which is based on classical Chinese. Many monastics have shown interest in a modern curriculum. Another reason for the reorganization, is that there are plenty of qualified teachers for the modern curriculum including over 300 monastics who have PhDs or finished their doctoral courses.
The new system will continue to learn the Diamond Sutra and Seonga-guigam in classical Chinese as well as the basics of temple life such as chanting, meditation, and work practice. The educational reorganization does not include the Fundamental Seon Meditation Temples (Gibon Seonwon) for the novice meditation monks because feedback from the Suja Association (association of meditation monastics) has been delayed.