Suan Mokkhabalaram Buddhist park, founded by the late and highly respected Phra Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, is ensnared in controversy as followers complain of recent changes and alleged efforts to control donations.
A group calling themselves Friends of Suan Mokkh posted on Facebook recently about problems at the Buddhist park, which is located in Chaiya district of Surat Thani province.
They claim divisions have emerged among monks at the park, which is part of Wat Than Nam Lai, since the appointment of a new abbot.
The group accuses the new abbot, Phra Athikan Suchart Panyateepo, of lacking adequate leadership and managerial skills.
They say the new abbot has let another monk, Phra Thongsuk Thammawaro, change the park from the original vision of its late founder, Phra Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.
The alleged changes include the replacement of executive monks appointed under the term of a former abbot, the temple management's takeover of donations at the park from the Thammathan Foundation, as well as alterations to the landscape of the Phuttha Thong mountain, where Suan Mokkhabalaram is located.
The group complains the landscape project will transform the natural Buddhist park into a big concrete structure without the consent of other local monks. The group calls for an end to the construction.
Vichak Panich, a philosophy lecturer at Silpakorn University, posted a letter listing the group's complaints on the "Tilopa House" Facebook account.
Phra Paisan Visalo, the abbot of Wat Pa Sukato, said Suan Mokkhabalaram should not deviate from its original concept, which focused on the use of nature as a tool to teach Buddhism to the public.
The abbot called for unity among monks at Suan Mokkhabalaram.
Tawatchai Jandaeng, custodian of Wat Than Nam Lai temple, said conflicts about the temple existed only among netizens.
He insisted locals and well-wishers who have witnessed the changes did not oppose them. He also said the renovation of Phuttha Thong mountain is aimed at stopping erosion
Monks only used soil and sand to strengthen the ground of the park.
He admitted that Phra Thongsuk was in charge of the renovation. He said the monk, who is nearly 80 years old, has been behind many projects at Suan Mokkhabalaram.
Mr Tawatchai said the renovation was in line with the intention of Phra Buddhadasa to improve the park to stage ceremonies on important occasions for Buddhists.
Concrete paths were being built to prevent erosion.
He denied allegations that any big tree has been removed.
Itthirit Witthaya, the architect who is supervising the renovation, said no contractor had been hired and the construction workers were local people.
Community leaders and followers of Phra Buddhadasa had agreed with the work, he said.
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- Writer: Nattaya Chetchotiros