Wat Dhammakaya's rise to power

Wat Dhammakaya's rise to power

Alleged: As a child Phra Dhammachayo admired Hitler. Later, the rigid discipline & personality cult of the Nazi Party would serve as a model for Wat Dhammakaya.

The structure of the Dhammakaya temple is said to be partly modeled on the rigid discipline and personality cult of the Nazi Party and practices of Adolf Hitler. The glowing banners shown here and the nighttime spectacle do seem to bear some resemblance.


Phra Dhammachayo's rise to power


[Abridged from Spectrum article by Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai and Jeerawat Na Thalang]

His official biographers paint Phra Dhammachayo as a golden child... who was destined to lead his army of followers on the path to enlightenment.

But to his detractors, the monk is little more than a master manipulator, a self-confessed admirer of Hitler who has voiced his desire to "rule the world" ....

The mysterious abbot of the controversial Dhammakaya temple looks much younger than his 71 years, reportedly due to two facial massages a day and expensive skin cream...

"Dhammachayo successfully built his empire by copying a military structure with rigid ranks and discipline. Like a soldier, you are not allowed to question your superior," said Dr Mano Laohavanich was once the top-ranking monk at Wat Dhammakaya and one of Phra Dhammachayo’s most trusted aides.

Dr Mano is now a lecturer at Thammasart University and the Chulabhorn International College of Medicine, as well as a key member of the Reformation of Buddhism Committee.

Dr. Mano once questioned Dhammachayo’s teachings and was forced to leave the temple, later becoming one of the temple’s most outspoken critics.

Phra Dhammachayo was born Chaibul Sithiphol on April 22, 1944, in Sing Buri province.

At age 13, Chaibul began high school at Suankularb Wittayalai School.

While studying there, he formed a Buddhist Youth Club with his friends.

Chaibul also apparently liked to read and became interested in the biographies of great leaders from world history. He would read their stories repeatedly until he could recite the facts of their lives from memory.

The Dhammakaya website says Phra Dhammachayo was inspired by these people’s lives as he set his sights on greatness. "With his wisdom beyond his years, he wrote in his memoir when he was 13 that, 'If I choose to be in the secular world, I will go to the apex of the secular world. If I decide to choose Dhamma, I also want to go to the top,' " the biography says.

The website, however, excludes the name of the historical figure that, according to Dr Mano, young Chaibul was most interested in — Adolf Hitler.

Dr Mano said Chaibul became infatuated with Hitler, admiring the way the Nazi dictator could control a crowd, and expressed a desire to follow in his footsteps.

Chaibul was obsessed by the fact their birthdays were only two days apart, and that they shared similar childhoods of poverty and loneliness.

One day when Dr Mano was still a monk, he took a ride in a red truck with Phra Dhammachayo and passed a billboard with a picture of the world on it. Phra Dhammachayo told Dr Mano that he had no desire to be Thailand’s supreme patriarch. Instead, he pointed to the sign and said, "Look at that, it is the world. I want to own it."

Nowadays, Dr Mano said, the structure of the temple is partly modelled off the rigid discipline and personality cult of the Nazi Party.

"His first strategy was to target students, just as Hitler did when he first established the Nazi Party," Dr Mano said. "Then he slowly spread his teachings to the rich and powerful."

Senior politicians, as well as some of the country’s leading businessmen, are known to be among the prominent supporters of the temple.

Dr Mano explained that during major ceremonies that Dhammachayo attends, the seating arrangement is based on the "rank" of his followers. Ranks can be purchased for anything between 1,000 baht up to several million. Those who donate more are able to sit in the inner circle, while those in the lower ranks are forced to remain at the fringes.


According to his biography, when he was still in high school Chaibul stumbled across a book called Dhammakaya, based on the teachings of Phra Mongkol Thepmuni, of Pak Nam Phasi Charoen temple. The title refers to a philosophy of meditation that, it claims, will lead to enlightenment...

Chaibul became infatuated with the idea of visiting Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen to learn more, convinced he was now on the path to finding true meaning in his life.

A book about meditation referred to an Ajarn Lukchan, a nun who was a disciple of Pra Mongkol Thepmuni. This fortified Chaibul’s resolve to practise Dhamma at Pak Nam Temple, and to track down the mysterious nun.

In 1963, when Chaibul was 19 and preparing to go to college, he visited Pak Nam Phasi Charoen temple hoping to meet Ajarn Lukchan. But he was unable to track her down...

During his first semester at university, however, he returned to the wat to study meditation. This time, according to the temple website, he found Ajarn Lukchan who was at that time age 53.

The book he had read about Ajarn Lukchan had described the nun — also known as Mae Chi Chan — as a magical figure, capable of flying simply by using the power of her mind. In a more bizarre part of the story, she was able to use this mental strength to divert two atomic bombs that the US had apparently dropped on Thailand in 1945 — redirecting them to the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...

On his first day of meditation study, Dhammachayo asked Ajarn Lukchan if heaven and hell were real. The nun replied, “They are real. I have been there to help my father who was in hell because of drinking. I entered a phra body [similar to an angel] to bring him to heaven. Do you want to go? I will teach you and we will go together.”

Spectrum went to Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen to learn more about Ajarn Lukchan — who died in 2000 — and her supposed "magical powers". The temple was full of people who had come to make merit on Makha Bucha Day. Somdej Phramaharatchamangkhalacharn, the abbot of the temple, is now the Acting Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. He was also the preceptor of Phra Dhammachayo.

Spectrum approached several people and tried to ask them about Mae Chi Chan. Most were unwilling to answer. But one person agreed, so long as his name was not published. He said he had known Dhammachayo since his university years, and was among the first to be ordained as a Dhammakaya monk before becoming disillusioned and abandoning the order.

Asked about Ajarn Lukchan, he said: "Mae Chi Chan is real, but the Mae Chi Chan or Ajarn Lukchan that Chaibul believes in was nothing but a liar."

"Mae Chi Chan was a blind old nun at the temple, who was very talented. The one Chaibul met was just a fraud."

He explained that when Chaibul went looking for Mae Chi Chan, this "fraudulent" nun happened to be there at that time, and was able to convince Chaibul that she was the real deal.

She later taught Chaibul and his friends from the Youth Buddhist Club meditation at the temple...

On August 27, 1969, after graduating from Kasetsart, Chaibul was ordained at Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen by Phra Somdej (currently acting Acting Supreme Patriarch of Thailand) and given the name "Dhammachayo", or victory by Dhamma.

On Feb 23, 1970 — Makha Bucha day — construction began on Dhammakaya temple.

The Dhammakaya website said funding for the construction started with 3,200 baht collected by Mae Chi Chan and a 196-rai land plot donated by a supporter, Khunying Prayat Paetpongsavisuthathibodi.

In 1972, another 80-acre piece of land was donated to the temple, expanding its site in Pathum Thani, about 40km north of Bangkok. The plot has now grown to some 3,000 rai.

But just a few years after the temple was built, the two other founders had a falling out with Phra Dhammachayo over his teachings and management style. They eventually moved on to other temples.

Within three years, the temple's revenue grew 300%. The target was young and educated people who could be easily impressed by the polished appearance of the temple. The grounds were clean and tidy, dominated by the unusual golden dome at its centre.

Dr Mano also later helped establish a Dhammakaya temple in California, as part of Phra Dhammachayo’s quest for global expansion.

Wat Dhammakaya expanded its followers by using what was essentially a multi-level marketing model, where one follower would be given incentives to recruit new ones... Publicity stunts, such as parades of hundreds of monks through the streets of Bangkok, help draw in followers lured in by the temple’s grandeur.

Questions began surfacing over the temple’s doctrine as early as the 1990s, especially its insistence that merit-making be linked to the amount of money donated. It also drew flak over the selection of a woman dressed up in a golden peacock costume to lead a religious ceremony.

More recently, it has been embroiled in scandal over alleged links to the 12-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal.

Phra Dhammachayowas absent at Makha Bucha day celebrations this year.

The previous day, the DSI had summoned him and other monks from the temple for questioning after they were accused of receiving more than one billion baht from suspects in the embezzlement scandal.

Though impossible to determine because of the temple’s refusal to reveal details of its finances, Wat Dhammakaya is believed to be the richest in the country. It has more than 50 branch temples nationwide, and has expanded overseas with more than 130 temples around the globe.

The preliminary investigation into the Klongchan scandal has also found that the cooperative would lend Dhammakaya followers money to make merit at the temple, charging them above-market interest rates. Some followers were asked to donate money regardless of its source.

The complicated connections between Wat Dhammakaya and the failed credit union chief.

Wat Dhammakaya activities have at the center, the one founder and leader Phra Dhammachayo.

Leading businessmen who support Wat Dhammakaya get seated according to their rank and donations.


Learn from listening

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  • abandon: to leave a person or group that you are with - ละทิ้ง
  • abbot (noun): the head monk at a temple - เจ้าอาวาส
  • abridge: to make a book, play, etc. shorter by leaving parts out - ย่อ, ตัดทอน, ทำให้สั้นลง
  • according to (prep): as stated or reported by somebody/something - ตามคำบอกเล่า, ตามรายงาน
  • acting: doing the work of the usual person in a particular job while they are not there, or until a new person starts - ที่รักษาการแทน
  • activity (noun): a thing that you do for work, interest or pleasure, or in order to achieve a particular aim - กิจกรรม
  • adapt: to change something to suit different conditions or uses - ทำให้เหมาะ, ทำให้เข้ากับ, ปรับ
  • adj (noun): connected with soldiers or the armed forces - ในทางทหาร,เกี่ยวกับทหาร
  • admire: to respect somebody for what they are or for what they have done - ชมเชย,ยกย่องสรรเสริญ
  • admirer: someone who has a feeling of great respect for someone or something - ผู้ชมเชย
  • aide: someone whose job is to help another person in their work - ผู้ช่วย
  • angel: a spirit who is believed to be a servant of God - เทพธิดา
  • apex: the top; the highest point -
  • apparently: based only on what you have heard or think, not on what you are certain is true; seemingly - ตามที่ได้รู้มา
  • arrangement: a plan or preparation that you make so that something can happen; an agreement that you make with somebody that you can both accept - การจัดการ, ข้อตกลง
  • attend: to go to an event, such as a meeting, a show, a sports competition, etc. - เข้าร่วม (ในการประชุม, งานต่าง)
  • based on (verb): information or facts used to make a story, calculation, judgement or decision - ตั้งอยู่บน,ยึดเป็นหลัก
  • billboard: a large board on the outside of a building or at the side of the road, used for putting advertisements on - ป้ายหรือกระดานใช้สำหรับโฆษณา
  • biography: the story of a person's life written by somebody else - อัตชีวประวัติ, ประวัติชีวิต
  • bizarre: very strange and unusual - แปลกประหลาด,วิตถาร,ผิดปกติ
  • blind: unable to see - บอด
  • capable: able to do something; very good at a job - มีความสามารถ
  • ceremony (noun): a formal public event - งานพิธี
  • chief: a person with a high rank or the highest rank in a company or an organisation - หัวหน้า, ผู้นำ
  • childhood (noun): the period of somebody's life when they are a child - วัยเด็ก
  • claim (noun): saying that something is true although it has not been proved and other people may not believe it - ข้ออ้าง ข้อกล่าวหา
  • committee: a group of people who are chosen, usually by a larger group, to make decisions or to deal with a particular subject - คณะกรรมการ
  • complicated: difficult to deal with, do or understand - ซับซ้อน
  • connection: a relationship between people or groups - ความสัมพันธ์
  • construction: the work of building or making something, especially buildings, bridges, etc. - การก่อสร้าง
  • controversial: causing disagreement or disapproval - ความไม่ลงรอยกัน
  • convince: to make somebody/yourself believe that something is true; to persuade somebody to do something - ทำให้เชื่อ, ทำให้แน่ใจ, ชักจูง
  • credit union: an organization that is run like a bank but run by members who can obtain loans from their combined savings; a savings and loan cooperative - สหกรณ์ออมทรัพย์, สถาบันการเงินเครดิตยูเนียน
  • critic: a person who expresses disapproval of somebody/something and talks about their bad qualities, especially publicly - ผู้วิจารณ์, ผู้จับผิด, ผู้วิเคราะห์
  • crowd: many people gathered at one place - ฝูงชน, กลุ่มคน, มวลชน
  • desire: a strong wish to have or do something - ความอยาก, ความประสงค์, ความต้องการ
  • destined: certain to do something,or certain to happen in the future - ซึ่งมุ่งหน้าไปทาง, ซึ่งถูกกำหนดไว้ล่วงหน้าแล้ว
  • detractor: someone who criticises something or someone, often unfairly - ผู้กล่าวร้าย
  • Dhamma (noun): Buddhist teaching, known as the truth taught by the Buddha - ธรรมะ
  • dictator: someone who uses force to take and keep power in a country - จอมเผด็จการ
  • disciple: someone who admires a famous person such as a political or religious leader and is influenced by them - ลูกศิษย์, สานุศิษย์
  • 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  
  • disillusioned: disappointed because you have discovered that someone or something is not as good as you had believed - ความผิดหวังเมื่อรู้ว่าบางสิ่งไม่ได้ดีอย่างที่คิดหรือหวังไว้
  • divert: to cause something to change direction - เบนเส้นทางเดิน
  • donate: to give something such as money or goods to an organisation, especially to a temple, charity, school, political party, etc. - บริจาค
  • donation: money or goods that you give to an organisation, especially one that helps people - เงินหรือสิ่งของบริจาค
  • due to: because of - เนื่องจาก
  • empire: a group of commercial organizations controlled by one person or company - เครือบริษัทที่ยิ่งใหญ่
  • enlightenment (noun): knowledge about and understanding of something; the process of understanding something or making somebody understand it - การให้ความรู้,การทำให้กระจ่าง, การตรัสรู้, ความเห็นแจ้ง, การรู้แจ้ง (พุทธศาสนา)
  • establish: to start a company or organization that will likely continue for a long time - สถาปนา, ก่อตั้ง, จัดตั้ง
  • exclude: to intentionally not include something - แยกออกไป
  • expensive (adj): costing a lot of money - แพง
  • express: to tell someone about a feeling, opinion, or aim by speaking or writing about it - แสดงออก (ทางความคิดหรือความรู้สึก) โดยใช้คำพูดหรือการเขียน, พูดออกมา
  • facial (adj): connected with a person's face; on a person's face - เกี่ยวกับใบหน้า
  • fact: something that is true - ความเป็นจริง
  • figure: someone who is important in some way - บุคคลสำคัญ
  • follow in his footsteps: to do the same things in your life as another person -
  • follower: a person who believes in and practices a religion -
  • fortified (adj): able to resist attack, especially by building high walls จัดเครื่องป้องกัน - จัดเครื่องป้องกัน
  • founder (noun): a person who establishes an institution, business, or organisation - ผู้ก่อตั้ง
  • fraud: something (or someone) that deceives people by not being what it seems to be; bogus - ไม่แท้ การโกง การหลอกลวง
  • fraudulent: made with the intention of tricking someone, especially illegally - การฉ้อโกง
  • fringe: the outer edge of something - ขอบรอบนอก
  • graduate: to get a degree from a university or college; to complete a course in education, especially at high school - ได้รับปริญญา,สำเร็จการศึกษา
  • heaven: the place believed to be the home of God where good people go when they die - สวรรค์
  • hell: in some religions, the place where some people are believed to go after death to be punished forever for the bad things they have done during their lives - นรก
  • high school (noun): a school for children between 14 and 18 in the US and between 11 and 18 in the UK - โรงเรียนมัธยมปลาย, โรงเรียนมัธยมศึกษาตอนปลาย, โรงเรียนเตรียมอุดมศึกษา
  • historical: about history; about events that really happened in the past - เกี่ยวข้องกับการศึกษาประวัติศาสตร์
  • infatuated: to have very strong feelings of love or attraction for somebody/something, especially when these are unreasonable and do not last long ความหลงใหล, ความมัวเมา -
  • infatuation (noun): very strong feelings of love or attraction for somebody/something, especially when these are unreasonable and do not last long - ความหลงใหล, ความมัวเมา
  • inspire: to give people a particular feeling or a desire to do somethng - จุดประกาย
  • key: very important - ที่สำคัญ
  • leading (adjective): among the first and most important in a group - ชั้นหนึ่ง, ชั้นแนวหน้า, ชั้นนำ
  • lecturer (noun): a teacher at a university or college - อาจารย์ผู้บรรยาย
  • liar (noun): a person who tells lies - ผู้โกหก, คนที่พูดปด
  • loneliness (noun): being unhappy because you have no friends or people to talk to - เหงา, หงอยเหงา
  • magical (adj): containing magic; used in magic - พิทยาพล, ฤทธา, มหัศจรรย์, ซึ่งมีเวทมนตร์
  • major: very large or important - สำคัญมาก
  • make merit: to do good things according to religious beliefs - ทำบุญ
  • manipulator: a person who controls something or someone to their advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly จัดการเพื่อหวังผลอย่างใดอย่างหนึ่ง -
  • massage: the action of rubbing and pressing a person's body with the hands to reduce pain in the muscles and joints - การนวด
  • master: a man who is very good at something - ปรมาจารย์
  • meditation: the practice of thinking deeply in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm - การทำสมาธิ, วิปัสสนา
  • member: a person, a country or an organization that has joined a particular group, club or team - สมาชิก
  • memoir: a book or other piece of writing based on the writer's personal knowledge of famous people, places or events - บันทึกชีวิตประจำวัน
  • memory (noun): something that you remember from the past; the ability to remember information, experiences and people - ความจำ
  • mental: connected with or happening in the mind; involving the process of thinking - เกี่ยวกับจิตใจ
  • model: something such as a system that can be copied by other people - น่าถือเป็นแบบอย่าง, ต้นแบบ
  • model on: to make a copy of something - จำลองแบบ
  • mysterious: not explained or understood; full of secrets - น่าพิศวง, น่าประหลาด
  • nun: woman who belongs to a religious community and who lives in a temple, convent, etc. - นางชี, แม่ชี
  • obsessed: considering something as so important that you are always thinking about it, in a way that seems extreme to other people - หมกมุ่น
  • official: connected with the job of somebody who is in a position of authority - ที่เป็นทางการ
  • ordain: to officially make someone a monk or priest in a religious ceremony - บวช อุปสมบท
  • order (noun): a group of people living in a religious community, especially monks or nuns - นิกาย
  • outspoken: giving your opinion strongly and honestly, even if other people do not like it - พูดโผงผาง,พูดตรงไปตรงมา,พูดจาเปิดเผย
  • party: an organized group of people who have similar ideas about the way in which a country should be governed, and who work together to try to persuade people to vote for them in elections - พรรค การเมือง
  • path: a plan of action or a way of achieving something - เส้นทาง, วิถีทาง, แนวทาง
  • personality cult: the condition of being adored or worshipped by many people - สิ่งที่ฮิตราวกับเป็นลัทธิ
  • philosophy: a set of beliefs or an attitude to life that guides somebody's behaviour - ปรัชญา
  • politician: a person whose job is concerned with politics, especially as an elected member of parliament, etc. - นักการเมือง
  • poverty: the condition of being extremely poor - ความจน
  • powerful (adj.): being able to control and influence people and events - ที่มีอิทธิพล
  • practice: a way of doing something - การปฏิบัติ
  • practise: to do something regularly, often according to a custom, religion or set of rules, or as a habit - ทำตามหลักทางศาสนา
  • preceptor (noun): a teacher; a mentor - ครู, ผู้สอน, ผู้ให้ความรู้
  • prepare (verb): put in order, get ready - เตรียม, เตรียมตัว, เตรียมพร้อม, จัดเตรียม, ตระเตรียม
  • prominent: important and well known - สำคัญ, มีชื่อเสียง, เด่น
  • publish: to make something available to the public through books, magazines, the Internet, etc. - เผยแพร่, จัดพิมพ์
  • purchase: to buy something - ซื้อ
  • question: to have or express doubts or suspicions about something - สงสัย
  • rank: someone’s official position in the armed forces, police, fire services, etc. - ยศ, ตำแหน่ง
  • rank: to put someone or something into a position according to their success, importance, size etc - จัดลำดับ
  • recite (verb): to say something that you have learned or memorised - อ่านออกเสียง
  • redirect: to divert; to sent in a different direction or route - เปลี่ยนทิศทางใหม่
  • refer: to mention someone or something - อ้างถึง, อ้างอิง
  • reformation: to reform or make a change to correct a situation that is wrong or unfair แก้ไข ปฏิรูป -
  • repeatedly: happening, said or done many times - อย่างซ้ำๆ
  • reportedly: as reported (often used for showing that you are not certain that something you are reporting is true) - ตามที่รายงาน
  • resemblance (noun): the fact of being or looking similar to somebody/something - ความคล้ายคลึง, ความเหมือนกัน
  • resolved (adj.): determined - ซึ่งตัดสินใจแล้ว, ซึ่งตกลงใจแล้ว
  • rigid: not able to be changed, bent, moved, or persuaded; stiff or fixed - ความแข็งแกร่ง, ตายตัว
  • secular: non-religious -
  • self-confessed: to admit something is true about yourself especially when it is bad -
  • semester: one of the two periods that a school year is divided into in some countries - ภาคการศึกษา
  • senior: with a high rank or position - อาวุโส
  • set his sights on: to have as a goal -
  • share: to have or use something at the same time as someone else - ใช้ร่วมกัน
  • similar: like somebody/something but not exactly the same - คล้ายกัน
  • skin: the outside covering of the body - ผิวหนัง
  • spectacle: an exciting and impressive public event or performance; an unusual, exciting, or impressive event or sight - การแสดงต่อหน้าสาธารณชน,การแสดง
  • spread: to gradually affect or cover a larger area - แพร่กระจาย
  • strategy: a plan or method for achieving something, especially over a long period of time - ยุทธวิธี, แผนการ  
  • structure: the way in which the parts of something are connected together, arranged or organised - โครงสร้าง
  • stumbled across: to discover something by chance, or to meet someone by chance; stumbled upon - พบโดยบังเอิญ
  • superior: someone who holds a higher job or position than you do - ผู้บังคับบัญชา
  • support: to give help, encouragement or sympathy to somebody - สนับสนุน, เป็นกำลังใจ
  • supporter (noun): a person who helps and supports a person, organization or idea - ผู้สนับสนุน
  • Supreme Patriarch: the head of the Buddhist monks in Thailand - พระสังฆราช
  • talented: very good at something - มีความสามารถพิเศษ
  • target: something you want to achieve; a particular number or amount that you want to achieve - เป้าหมาย
  • the real deal: the real thing; not a fake -
  • track down (verb): to try to follow and find someone or something - ตามรอย
  • trust: a feeling of confidence in someone that shows you believe they are honest, fair, and reliable - ความเชื่อใจ, ความไว้วางใจ
  • unwilling: not wanting to do something and refusing to do it - ไม่เต็มใจ, ไม่สมัครใจ
  • victory: winning a competition or a battle - ชัยชนะ
  • voice: to express your feelings or opinions - ออกความคิด
  • wisdom: the knowledge that a society or culture has gained over a long period of time - ปัญญา
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