Why Did Buddhism in Korea Start Becoming Trendy?

The Seoul International Buddhism Expo held this April garnered significant popularity with exciting performances and various events that could rival famous celebrity concerts, capturing the trendy sensibilities of Millennials and Gen Z. Traditionally emphasizing religious and traditional aspects, Buddhism expos have broken that mold this year. “Fun Buddhism” is touted as this year’s slogan.

Among the many reasons Buddhism is being entertainingly disseminated to the younger generation, Monk New Jin (뉴진스님) has played a significant role in disseminating Buddhism to the younger generation through entertaining means. He isn’t actually a real monk but a comedic character portrayed by the comedian Yoon Seong-ho. He uses the Dharma name received from Jogyesa Temple. “Jin(진)” signifies moving forward, advancing towards the new, translating to “Advancing anew.”

He has created memes such as “Nirvana(In Korean, the term ‘Geukrock’ translates to ‘Nirvana,’ which also means ‘rock’) is also rock” and “Buddhism, except me, is doing fun stuff again” to spread Buddhism. He even penned lyrics saying that though life may bring suffering, overcoming it leads to enlightenment, using his stage name New Jin. The response to Monk New Jin’s DJing is fervent.

Another signal of the growing preference for Buddhism among the younger generation is evident in their increased interest in meditation, temple cuisine, practice, and temple stays over the past few years. In fact, one of the hotspots at this year’s Buddhism expo was reportedly the “ordination counseling booth.”

On the other hand, memes like “went seeking non-possession but came back with full-possession” emerged regarding this year’s Buddhism expo. Reactions like “even Buddha would forgive me for wanting to convert because of these great merchandise” went viral online. The intertwining of consumerism with trendy Buddhism is evident. Even Buddhism, which advocates non-possession, has become associated with consumer culture as a means of spreading its message.

In today’s fast-paced and stimulating world, Buddhist messages offer inner peace, immersion, and even entertainment to the young, unstable generation.

We are anticipating where this trend will lead in the future.

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