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Full Access A Retreat in a South Korean Buddhist Monastery. Becoming a Lay Devotee Through Monastic Life

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A Retreat in a South Korean Buddhist Monastery. Becoming a Lay Devotee Through Monastic Life

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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 broadened their access to 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. This paper explores how far this new spatial proximity signifies a rapprochement between monastic and lay Buddhists. Through an ethnographic approach and a participant observation methodology I focus on a one-week retreat for laity in a Buddhist monastery dedicated to meditation. This case study examines the ambiguous goal of this retreat programme that combined two aims: initiating lay practitioners to the monastic lifestyle and the practice of kanhwa son meditation; and establishing a group of lay supporters affiliated to the temple. This temporary monastic experience was directed towards an intense socialisation of the participants to the norms and values of an ascetic lifestyle, blurring some aspects of the border between lay and monastic practices of Buddhism. However, this paper suggests that this transitory rapprochement contributed to both challenge and strengthen the distinction between the renouncers (ch'ulga) and the householders (chaega).

Affiliations: 1: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) Paris China, Japan, Korea Joint Lab (UMR 8173 CNRS-EHESS);, Email:


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