Priest Gomyo brings Buddhism to the world through hip hop.
Could the introduction of hip hop in a Buddhist temple signify a new revolution in the Buddhism religion? One priest has it all. An American Buddhist priest who lives in Japan, Kevin Seperic, popularly known as Gomyo, has made this possible through his movement ‘Hoodie Monks.’ The movement aims at incorporating hip hop into Buddhism to give a larger impact to the Buddhist wisdom a different generation might not have normally be interested in.
Priest Gomyo, 45, was born in Michigan, and started his rapping career in the early 90s. He later moved to Japan where he was introduced to Buddhism in 1994.
The idea of using hip hop to impart Buddhist wisdom came to him after listening to the Beastie Boys song the ”Bodhisattva Vows” in the early 1990s. He said that "After hearing that song, I thought, ‘I should write lyrics like that!' "
During his exclusive interview with The Japan Times Gomyo also said, “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."
In the recent years, studies show that Japan has experienced a decline in Buddhist practice, especially among the youth. Despite the fact that more than 75% of Japan’s total population still identifies themselves with Buddhism, the majority of them only visit a temple for a family member’s funeral.
According to Gomyo, “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."He views ‘Hoodie Monks’ as an educational tool that imparts the Buddhist wisdom into people’s daily life.
His group’s name, “Hoodie Monks” bears its origin from a nickname given to Gomyo by his friend, a graffiti artist. He had noticed that Gomyo used to wear a hooded sweater under his Samue, a monk’s work clothes, during winter.
In 2004, Gomyo became an ordained Buddhist priest in the Shingon traditions. Today, Gomyo works in Okayama, Japan at Yugasan Rendaiji temple. This temple is the home of his movement of ‘Hoodie Monks.’
Gomyo released his first hip hop album in 2014, declaring, "These elements of hip hop do have a nice correlation with elements of Buddhist practice. The MC rapping is represented in Buddhism by chanting. The DJ or producer keeps the beat going; in Buddhism we use Taiko drums or wooden blocks to keep the beat when chanting in a group."