Published: 16:35, May 14, 2024
Celebrating Buddha's birthday, a South Korean DJ is in spotlight
By Reuters
A Buddhist carries lanterns and walk in a parade during the Lotus Lantern Festival, ahead of the birthday of Buddha at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

SEOUL - The man with a shaved head, a beatific smile and flowing grey monk's robes was not offering meditation tips to soothe stress.

Instead, he was playing electronic dance music and shouting "This too shall pass! If you overcome suffering, you will live in paradise!", unlocking the roar of thousands of fans.

Known as "NewJeansNim", he is not a real Buddhist zen master but a South Korean DJ who is captivating young audiences by blending electronic dance music, or EDM, with the teachings of Buddha.

On April 30, Venerable Jinwoo, the head of Jogye Order, the largest sect of Korean Buddhism with some 10 million followers, gifted DJ NewJeansNim with prayer beads and a headset, asking him to keep spreading hope and happiness to young people

At an annual lotus lantern festival organized by South Korea's largest Buddhist sect on Sunday night to celebrate the Buddha's birthday, a large crowd gathered near a temple in Seoul to enjoy DJ NewJeansNim's performance, chanting "Buddha Handsome!" and jumping with their palms joined in prayer.

His stage name derives from "Sunim", a Korean title of respect for Buddhist monastics.

His real name is Youn Sung-ho, a 47-year-old comedian who debuted in 2001 and has since appeared on several TV shows, well known to many South Koreans by his character name "bbakoo". He worked as a model before his comedy career.

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But he is now living another life.

His alter ego as DJ NewJeansNim, drawing younger generations with EDM chanting sutras, is welcomed by South Korea's Buddhist community for promoting "young Buddhism".

"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," Youn told Reuters.

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On April 30, Venerable Jinwoo, the head of Jogye Order, the largest sect of Korean Buddhism with some 10 million followers, gifted DJ NewJeansNim with prayer beads and a headset, asking him to keep spreading hope and happiness to young people.

"He is really fresh and new because normally when you think about monks they are pious and quiet. I thought he was really hip," said Lee Hyo-min, 25, one of his fans.