Reprieve for monk accused of heresy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 May, 1999, 12:00am

The country's controversial monk-of-the-moment appears to have won a reprieve from religious leaders as they continue investigations into claims he is a heretic and owns property.

Phra Dhammachayo, abbot of the once-slickly marketed Wat Dhammakaya temple near Bangkok, faces a judicial review in the ecclesiastical courts after the Sangha Supreme Council dodged a final decision on his de-frocking.

His case, which has dragged on for months, grew more complex this week amid reports that the council is racked by indecision, despite demands for resolute action by the Supreme Patriarch.

The leader, who was too sick to attend a crucial council meeting on Monday, had demanded action, saying he had to 'protect Buddhism from destruction'.

But after the meeting, senior civil servants confirmed that Phra Dhammachayo had not yet been formally banished, a statement that led to angry shouts from a 1,000-strong crowd of monks backing the Supreme Patriarch.

Several senior members of the clergy across the country are dismayed at the continued delay, demanding support for their leader at a time of intense debate about the religion's future.

The abbot has already handed over extensive land holdings - originally donations from followers - but a final decision on his de-frocking over his role in a movement that offers 'nirvana by bank debit' could be months away.

The Wat Dhammakaya is seen by traditionalists as the latest symbol of the threat posed to spiritual life by rampant commercialism.

Eschewing conventional temple architecture, the movement attracted large numbers of wealthy young urban Thais by offering speedy 'miracles' directly linked to donations.

That is vastly different to a religion traditionally typified in Thailand by humility and selflessness.

'Everything about them is weird,' a rural Thai Buddhist intellectual said.

'Their temples do not look Buddhist, they look Maoist. All this money worship is evil and completely against our teachings.' Some critics warned that the poor, too, were getting caught up in a cult determined to build the largest temple in Thailand.

The situation is further complicated by fears that a string of politicians and public figures had been among the faithful - attracted by hotly contested miracles such as the supposed appearance in September of a monk hovering in the sky above the temple.