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Buddhists Debate Korean “DJ Monk” After Controversy in Malaysia


The Korean DJ, NewJeansNim, has recently developed a polarizing reputation in the Buddhist world. In South Korea he has been praised by members of the monastic community for creating a bridge between Buddhism and young people. However, his recent performance in Malayasia brought widespread criticism from the Buddhist community, who have been concerned that he is confusing young people.

In his recent performances in Taiwan and Seoul, NewJeansNim can be seen incorporating Buddhist themes into his music, encouraging the audience to, “put your hands up. . . If you overcome suffering, you will live in paradise.” (Time)

The name NewJeansNim was created by Yoon Seong-ho, the man behind the DJ persona. Yoon was previously a comedian, changing paths and adopting the monastic appearance to connect Buddhism with younger audiences. The new name was created by blending the names of a popular Korean pop girl group, NewJeans, with “sunim,” the Korean title for a Buddhist monastic.

In Korea, religiosity in general and Buddhism in particular are in decline, leading some monastics to embrace new techniques and styles for reaching young people. Last year, a monk became widely famous for his good looks in Korea, earning the moniker “flower monk”—something that might be frowned upon in other Buddhist countries.


Concerning NewJeansNim, the president of the Jogye Order, the country’s larges Buddhist sect, said, ““I am thankful for the work you have done in spreading a much younger Buddhism to the young generation.” (Time)

Last month, he drew cheers from a large audience of mostly young Koreans a the International Buddhism Expo in Seoul.* There, participants could dance to his music, experience Buddhist scriptures in VR headsets, or view a large statue of a bodhisattva made out of chocolate. Monastics at the event stressed the religion’s openness to new approaches as it seeks new followers in a quickly changing modern world.

NewJeansNim, who is not ordained, has also faced backlash, particularly in Malaysia, where some consider his appearances in nightclubs inappropriate and disrespectful to Buddhist rituals.


The Young Buddhist Association Malaysia condemned NewJeansNim’s performances earlier this month, claiming that they could confuse the public about the true meaning of Buddhist practice.** In a statement about his performance in a night club, they said, “Such an arrangement will not only affect the solemnity of Buddhism but may also confuse the public about the true meaning of Buddhist rituals, such as chanting sutras and holding palms together.” (Time)

Malaysian lawmakers have also weighed in, with calls to ban NewJeansNim from entering the country to preserve religious harmony.

In response to the controversy, Malaysian authorities have ordered NewJeansNim’s activities to be stopped, leading to the cancellation of his scheduled performance in Kuala Lumpur. Despite the setbacks, NewJeansNim plans to continue performing across Asia, aiming to change young people’s perceptions of Buddhism through his EDM performances.

In response to the controversy, NewJeansNim said, “I am just starting to feel that young people are changing their views on Buddhism. Whoever calls me, or wherever, I will go and perform to make it easier for people to accept Buddhism through my EDM performance.” (Time) NewJeansNim has upcoming performances scheduled in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

* Buddhists Look to Youth at International Buddhism Expo in Seoul
** Malaysian Buddhists Seek Ban on Korean DJ for Dressing Like a Monk

Read more

‘Flower monk,’ social media’s latest sensation (The Korea Herald)
NewJeansNim Makes Buddhist Dance Music. Why Some Love It and Others Think It’s Wrong (Time)
Celebrating Buddha’s birthday, a South Korean DJ is in spotlight (Reuters)
‘Monk’ DJ spreading Buddhism goes global (The Korea Herald)

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