Top Buddhism institutions need to wise up

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VEERA PRATEEPCHAIKUL

There seems to be no stopping Thai Buddhists’ loss of faith in the Thailand’s two top Buddhist institutions – the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) and the National Office of Buddhism (NOB).

The SSC and the NOB seem to be living in their own little world, completely oblivious to the criticism directed at them for their inaction over the increasing incidence of misconduct by monks, widespread commercialism by temples and monks and, above all, scandals implicating Wat Dhammakaya and its abbot, Phra Dhammachayo.

members of Sangha Supreme Council

members of Sangha Supreme Council

In a recent ruling by the SSC and the NOB that there are no grounds to defrock Phra Dhammachayo for involvement in the alleged embezzlement of 900 million baht of land and other valuables donated to Wat Dhammakaya by faithful followers because the case was over is questionable at best – even laughable.

The case was over because the monastic court refused to accept the case, claiming it was incomplete, and the two plaintiffs, Somporn Thepsittha and Nanop Ponpairin, later withdrew their complaint. The public prosecutors also withdrew the case.

That, and the fact Phra Dhammachayo has returned the alleged embezzled assets to the temple, was enough to convince the SSC and NOB there were no legal grounds to defrock the controversial monk.

Phra Dhammachayo has returned the alleged embezzled assets to the temple, was enough to convince the SSC and NOB there were no legal grounds to defrock the controversial monk

Although the case was withdrawn by the prosecutors and the plaintiffs, the fact that embezzlement was committed remains intact and is undeniable. Which means Phra Dhmmachayo has already committed the offence, although he might have repented later and agreed to return the assets to the temple.

The ruling of the SSC and NOB could be interpreted this way: “It is not acceptable to cheat, but it will be all right if you return the spoils of your cheating to their owner and, for that matter, you should not be punished.”

I do not know whether the NOB and the SSC have thought carefully about the repercussions of this latest ruling involving Phra Dhammachayo. But I am quite sure the new supreme patriarch will not be appointed any time soon, and that Somdet Chuang, the incumbent acting supreme patriarch, will have to wait for a long time for confirmation in the job — definitely not within the life of this government, or the next.

Any government which decides to appoint a new supreme patriarch must think twice, and then think again, because of the repercussions that will follow.

For the time being, the SSC and the NOB will both face challenges from those who disagree with their favouritism in the handling of Phra Dhammachayo’s affairs.

New charges are also to be brought against the controversial monk in connection with the donation of money embezzled from depositors at Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative to the temple.

It will be interesting to see how the SSC and the NOB defend the Dhammakaya abbot in these cases.  Or whether they will actually grow wiser, learn to distinguish black from white and, above all, restore public faith in our Buddhist institutions.

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