In western popular culture Buddhist monks often are depicted as unflappably serene, wise, and really, really nice. So it might be jarring to hear about Buddhist monks behaving very badly. But, in fact, sometimes they do behave very badly.
Recently Korea was scandalized by a video showing Jogye monks drinking and playing high-stakes poker. Jogye is a Korean school of Zen. It is alleged that two monks also paid for prostitutes. The order has denied that allegation and has filed a libel suit against the Wall Street Journal, where the allegation first appeared.
Jogye has not denied the gambling (illegal outside a casino) and drinking, however. Needless to say, a number of precepts were broken here. Six leaders of Jogye have resigned.
Yesterday in Alabama a monk was charged with murdering another monk in a fight over food. Keep in mind that the accused monk deserves the presumption of innocence, and it's entirely possible the police arrested the wrong man. All we know for certain is that a monk was found beaten to death in Wat Buddharaksa Temple in Mobile County.
The accused monk also had been behaving strangely, refusing to speak and isolating himself. It's possible he had some kind of psychiatric illness.
Awhile back I wrote about charges of sexual abuse in U.S. Theravada temples. One monk who (according to DNA evidence) impregnated an adolescent girl in a Chicago-area temple was arrested in Anchorage, Alaska, where he had been working as a dishwasher.
Obviously we don't want to make judgments about all monks because of the bad behavior of the few. My larger concern is that so often when someone's unrealistically romantic notions of Buddhism and Buddhist monks come crashing to earth, the result is what I call Michael Jerryson Syndrome. Sufferers of MJS begin as besotted romantics, and then when disillusioned flip to the opposite extreme and rage against Buddhism as an evil that must be exposed. Neither extreme is skillful.
The truth is that all kinds of people become monks, often for less than spiritually pure reasons. In much of Asia Buddhist monks enjoy high social status and authority, for example, which can be very tempting perks. And nobody becomes unflappably serene just by shaving his head and putting on a robe.