'Hoodie Monks' Use Hip Hop To Impart Buddhist Wisdom

Spittin' dharma like no one's business.

What if the chants emanating from a Buddhist temple were actually rap lyrics and the intricate mandalas were actually graffiti?

That's how Gomyo, an American Buddhist priest living in Japan, envisions the future of his faith. Born Kevin Seperic, Gomyo began rapping in the 1990s and got introduced to Buddhism when he moved to Japan in 1994. Now he's spearheading a movement called "Hoodie Monks" to use hip hop as a vehicle for Buddhism practice and education.

“By expressing Buddhism through hip-hop culture, we hope to do two things: introduce people to Buddhist thought who might not otherwise be exposed to it, and offer an alternative to mainstream hip-hop, which is often preoccupied with materialism,” Gomyo told The Japan Times.

Gomyo became an ordained priest in the Shingon tradition in 2004, and he currently works at Yugasan Rendaiji temple in Okayama, Japan, which serves as the home for his group of "Hoodie Monks." His first hip hop album came out in 2014.

Japan has witnessed a decline in Buddhist practice, particularly among young people, in recent years. Though roughly 75% of Japan's population identified as Buddhist as of 2008, many only visit a temple at the time of a relative's death.

“In Japan, it’s not about exposing young people to Buddhism — it’s all around them — it’s more about showing them that Buddhism is more than something you do at funerals," Gomyo told The Japan Times. "It’s a useful tool in dealing with daily life and it can be cool.”

Read more about "Hoodie Monks" here.

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