Buddhist leaders are concerned that their religion has been brought into disrepute, after two men posing as monks were seen drinking alcohol on the subway, and checking into hotels with women, according to film of them posted on microblogging site Sina Weibo.
The pair of bogus monks was detained by police on Saturday afternoon at Fayuan Si, a temple in Xicheng district, reported the Legal Mirror yesterday.
The report said the two monks wore robes and posed for photos at the temple Saturday afternoon while bona fide monks and laymen were attending a lecture.
Fayuan Si is the oldest temple in Beijing, originally dating from 645, and is the headquarters of the Chinese Buddhist Academy.
A lay Buddhist, surnamed Du, spotted the imposters after recognizing them from the microblog posts. He reported the sighting to the master of the temple, Master Mingxin.
The fake monks tried to flee, but were caught trying to disrobe in a temple toilet, and held by a group of over 20 monks and laymen until police arrived.
"They got really nervous when we found them," Master Mingxin told the Legal Mirror, adding that they would not reveal their names, and were unable to recite a Buddhist mantra.
"I suspect they are taking advantage of the fame of Fayuan Si to cause a sensation," Du told the Global Times yesterday.
"They are slandering Buddhism and may give people who are not familiar with the religion a false impression of it," Du said.
Du said the men were wearing robes that Buddhists wore when attending lectures or ceremonies. He thought they were desperate to become famous, and did not care how they attained that fame.
Li Xiangping, professor of religious studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, agreed with Du.
"Obviously, their behavior has tarnished the image of Buddhism," Li said, adding that it would be a challenge to judge how to deal with the fake monks, as while they had worn the robes, they had apparently not committed a crime or swindled anyone.
"Buddhism is still widely believed in by Chinese people, but the image remains a problem," said Li, referring to a number of scandals which have involved fake monks, and even temples, in "money making" scams.
In January, Yanquan Si in Kunming, Yunnan Province, was exposed after visitors were swindled and even threatened by men who were paid by temple managers to impersonate genuine monks, reported China Newsweek.
Du said police told him the imposters could not be punished, if they were not involved in any fraudulent activities.
Du suggested that regulations should be set to prevent people with ulterior motives from "casting foul water" on Buddhism, which will harm devout people's feelings.
Xicheng police refused to comment.