Controversial temple holds massive alms-giving event

A novice posing for a picture yesterday while monks gathered to receive alms at Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple, in what organisers said was a meeting of 100,000 monks in Pathum Thani, outside Bangkok.
A novice posing for a picture yesterday while monks gathered to receive alms at Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple, in what organisers said was a meeting of 100,000 monks in Pathum Thani, outside Bangkok.PHOTO: REUTERS

100,000 Thai monks, novices said to take part even as temple is dogged by graft claims

PATHUM THANI (Thailand) • Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks yesterday gathered at a Thai temple mired in controversy to join in a ceremony that organisers called the world's largest offering of alms to renunciates.

The temple, 49km north of the capital, Bangkok, is run by the influential, if controversial, Dhammakaya sect, and has been dogged by allegations of corruption for years, but has always denied them.

Around 50,000 monks clad in orange robes chanted as devotees wearing white to symbolise the purity of the Buddha flocked to give alms at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya, famed for its enormous golden stupa that resembles an unidentified flying object.

"Giving alms to 100,000 monks is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said one devotee, Ms Patsara Limkangwanmongkol, 47, adding that she had made similar offerings at the temple for a decade."It is a must."

As many as 100,000 monks and novices took part in the event, organisers said in a statement, calling it the largest of its kind.

Religion in predominantly Buddhist Thailand is fast becoming a proxy war for the country's divisive, colour-coded politics and the temple is one of several issues tearing at Thai Buddhism.

Another issue is a battle for the post of supreme patriarch, Thai Buddhism's top post, which has divided the country between the leading candidate, who has ties to the Dhammakaya temple, and those who oppose him.

The monastery's abbot has been summoned by justice ministry officials dealing with cases that could affect national security to show up at their office on Monday to face charges of money-laundering and receiving illegal donations, among other offences.

Abbot Phra Dhammachayo has said he received donations but did not know where they came from. Last month, he was ordered to acknowledge charges in connection with the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal, the Bangkok Post reported.

The monk is allegedly one of the recipients of 878 cheques worth a combined 11 billion baht (S$424 million) paid by former cooperative chairman Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, who admitted siphoning money from the cooperative's accounts in 2013 and has been sentenced to 16 years in jail, according to the newspaper yesterday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Controversial temple holds massive alms-giving event'. Print Edition | Subscribe