Leaving the monkhood: For the love of a woman | Bangkok Post: learning

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Leaving the monkhood: For the love of a woman

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In two new books the famous former monk Mitsuo Shibahashi shares the true story behind his decision to leave the monkhood. 


The other side of the story

The marriage of Suttirat Muttamara & former monk phra Mitsuo Gavesako


Arusa Pisuthipan

Phra Mitsuo Gavesako, the abbot of a famous monastery in Kanchanaburi left the monkhood where he had served Buddhism for over 40 years and assumed his former identity as Mitsuo Shibahashi and then flew to his native Japan and married the 52-year-old businesswoman Suttirat Muttamara.  

Suttirat was immediately bombarded with questions and accusations from not just the public but also many of the former monk's devoted followers.

Shibahashi has written two books [Kwam Nai Jai Ajarn Mitsuo (Message From The Heart Of Ajarn Mitsuo) and Bot Tes Wan Sud Thai Nai Phet Banpachit (The Last Sermon In The Saffron Robe)] to tell the truth behind his decision to leave the monkhood.

"When the scandal broke, he [Shibahashi] said if we keep responding to criticism, it would become a never-ending argument. And it would appear like we made up excuses. He said it is better to write a book because in a book you can explain things in detail. And I think now it is time to speak," said the 52-year-old businesswoman. Admittedly Suttirat is an attractive, gentle-spoken woman and it is no wonder ... has a glowing complexion given that she owns a beauty business and has a master's degree in anti-ageing medicine.

But on the flip side, it was perhaps this attractiveness that was regarded by many as the thing that enticed the former forest monk - who once announced he would never leave the monkhood nor get married for the rest of his life - to choose the worldly route he had never thought of taking before.

Apart from Shibahashi, no one will ever know if it might truly have been something more than just such physical beauty.

"She [Suttirat] is likely to have been my soulmate in past lives - my supportive partner," said Shibahashi in his first online videoclip filmed in Japan after his marriage.

"Everyone might not understand why I decided to leave the monkhood. So they had many questions in mind. Some of my followers said that I was drugged and blackmailed and this has brought about a disgrace to Buddhism.

"Therefore, I have to explain the truth so that everyone understands and is not consumed by criticism from some certain groups of people who use the social network as a tool to destroy the faith people have towards myself," Shibahashi wrote in the foreword of Kwam Nai Jai Ajarn Mitsuo.

From Suttirat's side, her relationship with Shibahashi can be summed up as stemming from her managing his Budd-hist affairs during the two months she was appointed by the then Phra Mitsuo as his personal secretary, handling some of his work, transportation arrangements for his invitations, managing his Facebook page and providing him with health treatments.

And the then Phra Mitsuo's touching teachings were also where Suttirat sought emotional solace.

''I always believe in his teachings,'' she said. ''Back then I was in misery because of my business difficulties. He taught me about the uncertainty of suffering and of happiness. His guidance was full of kindness and compassion. With him, I learn dhamma everyday.''

And then came what can only be described as a life-changing moment.

''One day he told me he would leave the monkhood,'' Suttirat recalled. ''I was shocked because this was not what I was expecting. But at the same time I was glad. He told me he felt as if we had some sort of connection in our past lives ... and he said if he left the monkhood and we were meant to be each other's supportive partner, we will still be able to contribute to Buddhism and spread dhamma.

''From Phra Mitsuo Gavesako to Ajarn Mitsuo Shibahashi, he will definitely keep on promoting Buddhism,'' she added.

But wasn't all this a wrong, if not sinful, deed?

Suttirat asked her would-be husband this very important question and wondered if what they were about to pursue would block his road to enlightenment. And for her, the answer was apparently a relief.

''He said, 'You committed no sin. You were not the cause. My mind was the cause. And you were just a factor' ,'' she said, adding Shibahashi always says he had never before thought of getting married nor having a family of his own. But she said now that they were happy about one another in many ways, they had some sort of vision as to how it would be if they were together like a family.

''So when the mind changes, he said he only wanted to secure the 'true monkhood' . If a monk has a feeling of love towards a woman and he still remains in the saffron robe, that is simply inappropriate - a disgrace to Buddhism. If that person continues to live as a monk, he is not a true monk,'' Suttirat said.

So after the scandal broke, she was branded and accused of doing many bad, improper things to lure Mitsuo out of the monkhood.

One rumour involved Suttirat arranging a private van for the former monk to travel from his temple in Kanchanaburi to Bangkok for diabetes treatment. She was accused of staying with him alone during the ride in the passenger zone partitioned off from the front seats where his followers were all placed.

But then again the public response might be justified given Suttirat herself was also active in revealing her relationship, as well as posting photos of herself taken with the former monk on her Facebook page, which caused a major stir, especially among Buddhist followers countrywide.

''After the scandal broke, I kept checking news from the internet every day until he [Shibahashi] told me to stop doing so because it only made me stressed out,'' she recalled.

Now, as a husband, Mitsuo has responded to such accusations in his new book.

''I would like to reconfirm that I have been fully aware of the choice I made to leave the monkhood. I made this decision myself without being drugged, blackmailed, set up, consumed by black magic or anything. I would also like to confirm that I had been a perfectly-behaved Buddhist monk until my last day in the orange robe. And my departure from the monkhood is my willing and voluntary decision. The disrobing ceremony was carried out properly according to all Buddhist disciplines,'' he writes.

The controversy apparently involved a lot of social networking being used as a weapon.

In one of Shibahashi's new books, he also commented on an issue regarding the use of such weaponry.

''Digging out other people's private business and posting it on Facebook - some true, some not, some fabricated with an aim to break other people's families - are all detestable behaviours, which lead to disagreement and the destruction of peace in the society rather than creating harmony,'' he wrote.

''This is the downside and danger of the social network that can distribute any information or accusing someone without any evidence.

''A person's reputation can be severely attacked only by rumours from some certain groups of people. The mind is, by nature, subject to self-protection.

''We see other people's mistakes as huge as a mountain. But our own is as tiny as a needle' s eye. Other people's farts smell so foul but we do not mind the smell of our own.''

Four months into their controversial relationship, everything is turning out to be just like Suttirat expected. Living with a man who spent almost 40 years in the monkhood is indeed fortunate, she said. Shibahashi's health has also improved. The future is not ours to see but for now the couple plans to keep on promoting Buddhist education by holding dhamma classes both in Thailand and in Japan, where they have rented a house in Tokyo.

''We plan to stay both in Thailand and in Japan and will contribute to Buddhism through the approach he is good at, which is teaching,'' Suttirat said.

"What has happened increases the love and compassion I feel towards my wife," Shibahashi writes in his book, ''and we will hold our hands more tightly so that our minds will not be shaken by pressure from the outside."


Learn from listening

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abbot: the head monk at a temple - เจ้าอาวาส

accusation: a statement that someone has done something wrong or illegal even though this has not been proved - ข้อกล่าวหา

accused: to be said to have done something wrong or committed a crime - ถูกกล่าวหา

admittedly: it is true that -

affair: an event - เรื่องราว

ageing: growing old - สูงวัยขึ้น

announce: to tell people something officially, especially about a decision, plans, etc - ประกาศ, แจ้ง, แจ้งให้ทราบ

anti: against - ตรงกันข้าม, ต้าน

apparently: based only on what you have heard or think, not on what you are certain is true; seemingly - ตามที่ได้รู้มา

appear: to seem - ดูเหมือนจะ, ดูเหมือนว่า

appointed: officially chosen for a job - ถูกแต่งตั้ง

argument: a conversation or discussion in which two or more people disagree, often angrily - การโต้แย้ง, การแย้ง, การโต้เถียง

arrangement: a plan or preparation that you make so that something can happen - การจัดการ

attractive: pleasant to look at - มีเสน่ห์ดึงดูด

behave: to do things in a way that people think is correct or polite - ประพฤติดี

behaviour: the way that someone acts or behaves - พฤติกรรม, การกระทำตัว

believe: being fond and think of something to be right and will follow it - เชื่อใจ,ศรัทธา

black magic: a type of magic which is believed to use the power of the Devil in order to do evil - เวทมนตร์, คาถา

blackmail: the act of putting pressure on a person or a group to do something they do not want to do, for example by making threats or by making them feel guilty - การขู่ว่าจะเปิดโปงความลับ, หักหลัง, ขู่, ขู่กรรโชก

block: to stop someone/ something from moving through or along something else - ปิดกั้น, กีดขวาง

bombard: to ask someone so many questions, give them so much information etc that it is difficult for them to deal with it all - ระดม (คำถาม ความคิด คำวิจารณ์) เข้าใส่

branded: described as - เรียกว่าเป็น

carry out: to do something, to finish and complete a task - ทำให้สมบูรณ์, ทำให้สำเร็จ

cause: the person or thing that makes something happen - สาเหตุ

compassion: a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them - ความเห็นใจ, ความรู้สึกเศร้าใจไปกับความทุกข์ของผู้อื่น

complexion: the natural colour and condition of the skin on a person's face - ลักษณะผิว

confirm: to state or show that something is definitely true or correct, especially by providing evidence - ยืนยัน

connection: a relationship between people or groups - ความสัมพันธ์

consume: to completely destroy something - ทำลายอย่างสิ้นเชิง

contribute: to be a part of a group or an activity and help it to be successful - สนับสนุน

controversial: causing disagreement or disapproval - ความไม่ลงรอยกัน

controversy: a strong disagreement, especially about a public policy or moral issue - ความขัดแย้ง  ประเด็นข้อขัดแย้ง

countrywide: throughout a whole country - ทั่วทั้งประเทศ

couple: two people who are married or are involved in a romantic relationship - คุ่รัก

criticism: comments that show that you think something is wrong or bad - การวิจารณ์

deed: something that a person does; action - การกระทำ

definitely: without any doubt; for certain - อย่างแน่นอน

degree: the qualification obtained by students who successfully complete a university or college course - ปริญญา

departure: leaving - การออกจาก

detestable: very, very unpleasant, hateworthy -

devotee: a very religious person who belongs to a particular group; a person who admires and is very enthusiastic about somebody/something - ผู้มีใจศรัทธา,ผู้อุทิศตัวกับ,ผู้หมกมุ่นใน

Dhamma: Buddhist teaching, known as the truth taught by the Buddha - ธรรมะ

diabetes: a serious medical condition in which your body does not produce enough insulin to reduce the amount of sugar in the blood - โรคเบาหวาน

discipline: the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not; the controlled behaviour or situation that results from this training - ระเบียบวินัย  

disgrace: the loss of other people’s respect because of something bad that you have done; something that is extremely bad or shocking - น่าสยดสยอง, ความเสื่อมเสีย, ความอัปยศ, การขายหน้า

distribute: to give out information to many different places - แจกจ่าย

do not mind: it does not bother or annoy us -

downside: the disadvantages or less positive aspects of something - ผลเสีย

emotional: related to strong feeling such as anger or love, or strong feelings in general - มีอารมณ์

enlightenment: knowledge about and understanding of something; the process of understanding something or making somebody understand it - การให้ความรู้,การทำให้กระจ่าง, การตรัสรู้, ความเห็นแจ้ง, การรู้แจ้ง (พุทธศาสนา)

entice: persuade someone to do something by offering them something pleasant - ล่อใจ

evidence: facts, signs or objects that make you believe that something is true - หลักฐาน,ข้อแสดง

excuse: a reason that you give to explain why you have done something bad, or why you have not done something that you should have done - ข้อแก้ตัว, ข้ออ้าง

fabricate: to invent or produce something false in order to deceive - สร้างข้อมูลหรือเรื่องราวที่ไม่เป็นความจริง

factor: a fact or situation which influences the result of something - ปัจจัย

faith: trust in somebody's ability or knowledge; trust that somebody/something will do what has been promised - ศรัทธา

fart: gas passing from stomach out back side; pass the gas - ตด

flip side: different or opposite side; different and usually less welcome aspects of an idea, argument or action - อีกข้าง

foreward: a short section at the beginning of a book that explains what the book is about and to encourage you to read the book - คำนำ

former: of or in an earlier time; before the present time or in the past - อดีต, แต่ก่อน

fortunate: lucky - โชคดี, เคราะห์ดี

foul: extremely unpleasant - น่ารังเกียจ

gentle: not strong or extreme - เบาๆ, ค่อยๆ

glad: pleased; happy - ดีใจ, พอใจ

glow: to produce a continuous light and sometimes heat - แสงแวววาว

guidance: help and advice about how to do something or about how to deal with problems - การแนะแนว, การแนะนำ

handle: to be able deal with a situation - ควบคุมได้, เอาอยู่, จัดการได้

immediately: happening right after something else with no delay; right away - ทันที

improper: not suited or appropriate to the situation - ไม่เหมาะสม ไม่สมควร

inappropriate: unsuitable - ซึ่งไม่เหมาะสม

invitation: a written or spoken request asking someone to meet you or to do something with you - คำเชิญ

kind: caring about others; gentle, friendly and generous - ใจดี, ใจบุญ

lure: to attract someone/something - ล่อใจ, หลอกล่อ, ยั่วยวน

major: very large or important - สำคัญมาก

make up: to make or create something from your imagination -

marriage: the ceremony in which two people become husband and wife; the legal relationship between a husband and wife - การแต่งงาน, การสมรส, ภาวะที่แต่งงานกัน

mind: the part of a person that makes them able to be aware of things, to think and to feel; your ability to think and reason; your intelligence; the particular way that somebody thinks - สติปัญญา, จิตใจ, ความรู้สึกนึกคิด

misery: something that causes people to suffer or be unhappy - ความทุกข์ยาก, ความยากแค้น, ความเดือดร้อน

mistake: something that you do that is not correct, an error - ความผิดพลาด, ข้อผิดพลาด,ความเข้าใจผิด

moment: a very short period of time; a particular time or occasion - ชั่วขณะ, โอกาสสำคัญ

monastery: a building or series of buildings in which monks live, worship and work together - วัด, ที่อยู่อาศัยของพร

monkhood: the fact of being a monk - ความเป็นพระ

needle: a very thin, pointed piece of steel used on the end of a syringe for putting a drug into somebody's body, or for taking blood out of it - เข็ม(ฉีดยา)

no wonder ...: it is easy to understand why .... -

partition: a wall, screen, or piece of glass used to separate one area from another in a room or vehicle - ฉาก, กำแพง, ผนัง

partner: the person that you are married to or having a relationship with - คู่สมรส, คู่สามีหรือภรรยา

passenger: someone who travels in a motor vehicle, aircraft, train, or ship but is not the driver or one of the people who works on it - ผู้โดยสาร

personal: your own; not belonging to or connected with anyone else - เป็นส่วนตัว

physical: connected with a person's body - เกี่ยวกับร่างกาย

post: to send information, in this case, to a website -

private: intended for or involving a particular person or group of people, not for people in general - ส่วนตัว

promote: to encourage or support something - สนับสนุน

protection: the act of protecting somebody/something; the state of being protected - การอารักขา, การปกป้อง

pursue: to work at something or carry it out - ทำให้ลุล่วง

recalled: remembered - นึกทบทวน จำได้

reconfirm: to say or check again that something is definitely correct or as previously arranged - ยืนยันใหม่

relationship: a sexual or romantic connection between two people - ความสัมพันธ์

relief: a feeling of happiness that something unpleasant has not happened or has ended - การผ่อนคลาย

remain: to stay in the same place; to not leave - ยังอยู่, พักอยู่, รออยู่

reputation: the opinion people have about how good or bad someone or something is - ชื่อเสียง

respond: to say or do something as a reaction to something that has been said or done - ตอบสนอง, ตอบรับ

response: a reaction to something that has happened or been said - การตอบสนอง

reveal: to let something become known - เปิดเผย

robe: a long loose outer piece of clothing - เสื้อคลุมยาว

route: the roads, paths, waterways, etc., used to go from one place to another - เส้นทาง

rumour: a piece of information, or a story, that people talk about, but that may not be true - ข่าวลือ

saffron: a bright yellow powder made from crocus flowers, used in cooking to give colour to food - ผงสีเหลืองอมส้มทำจากดอก Crocus

scandal: a situation in which people behave in a dishonest or immoral way that shocks people - เรื่องอื้อฉาว

secure: safe from attack or harm - ปลอดภัย

set up: to arrange a situation so that someone is blamed for doing something, especially something illegal - ใส่ร้าย หาความร้ายป้ายผู้อื่นให้ได้รับความเสียหาย

shocked: very surprised and upset - ตกใจ

sin: an action, thought, or way of behaving that is wrong according to religious laws - บาป

sinful: against the rules of a religion or morally wrong - ชั่วร้าย, ร้าย, มีบาป

social network: websites or other services on the internet for communication with people who share your interests - เครือข่ายสังคม

solace: comfort, consolation, soothing, support, helping someone when they are having a difficult time - สิ่งปลอบใจ, การปลอบใจ,

soulmate: the person or "partner" who you were destined to spend your life with; the two of you were made for each other - เนื้อคู่

spread: to (cause to) cover, reach or have an effect on a wider or increasing area or number of people - แพร่กระจาย, แพร่กระจายไปทั่ว

stem from: to be caused by - เกิดจาก

stir: a lot of interest or excitement - ความตื่นเต้น

stressed: affected by pressure, worry, etc. - วิตกกังวล

suffering: physical or mental pain or problems - ความทุกข์ทรมาน

sum up: to summarise; to make a judgment about what someone or something is like - สรุป

supportive: giving help, encouragement or sympathy to somebody - เป็นกำลังใจ, สนับสนุน

touch: to make somebody feel upset or sympathetic - ทำให้ใรู้สึกไม่พอใจหรือเห็นอกเห็นใจ

transportation: the process of moving people or things from one place to another - การขนส่ง

treatment: the process of providing medical care - การรักษา

truthfulness: giving the true facts about something - ความซื่อสัตย์, ความจริงใจ

turn out: to be discovered to be; to prove to be - กลับกลายเป็น

uncertainty: something that you cannot be sure about; a situation that causes you to be or feel uncertain - ความไม่มั่นใจ (ต่อเหตุการณ์ ชะตาชีวิต ฯลฯ), ความรู้สึกไม่แน่ใจ

vision: the ability to imagine how a country, society, industry, etc. could develop in the future and to plan in a suitable way - วิสัยทัศน์

voluntary: done because you choose to do it, not because you have to do it - ด้วยความสมัครใจ

weapon: an object such as a knife, gun, bomb, etc. that is used for fighting or attacking somebody - อาวุธ

willingly: not objecting to or resisting doing something - อย่างสมัครใจ, อย่างเต็มอกเต็มใจ

wonder: to think about something because you want to know more facts or details about it - สงสัย

worldy: non-spiritual things in the world of humans - เกี่ยวกับมนุษย์โลก

would-be husband: a man who you will get married to soon - ผู้ชายที่จะได้แต่งงานเร็ว ๆ นี้

zone: an area that has an important or typical feature; an area where a particular activity is allowed or not allowed - พื้นที่, บริเวณ, เขต

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