Chequebook Buddhism: Threat to Buddhism in Thailand?

Chequebook Buddhism: Threat to Buddhism in Thailand?

From private jets to multi-million dollar donations from corrupt businessmen, Thailand's monks are being criticized for increasing commercialism.

A religious ceremony at the Dhammakaya Temple in Bangkok on the occasion of Makha Bucha day. In deeply religious Thailand, monks have long been revered. But badly behaved clergy, corruption scandals, and the vast wealth amassed by some temples has many asking if something is rotten at the heart of Thai Buddhism. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI

RELIGION

Chequebook Buddhism: Threat to Buddhism in Thailand?

Bangkok, April 2, 2015 (AFP)
By Delphine Thouvenot  and Thanaporn Promyamyai

In deeply religious Thailand, monks have long been revered. But badly behaved clergy, corruption scandals, and the vast wealth amassed by some temples has many asking if something is rotten at the heart of Thai Buddhism.

From selfies on private jets to multi-million dollar donations from allegedly crooked businessmen, Thailand's monks are coming under increasing fire for their embrace of commercialism.

So much so that even the military junta is threatening to intervene.

In Wat Hua Lumphong, a temple in downtown Bangkok, garlands of banknotes flutter in the breeze as trader Sakorn Suker slips a 20 baht note ($1) into an urn.

"It makes me feel good, boosts my health and makes me do better business," Suker told AFP.

His donation entitles him to take a "lucky" floating candle in the shape of a flower.

Nearby, coin-operated machines -- similar to jukeboxes, but with a Buddha statue on top -- churn out "lucky numbers" for the faithful as kneeling devotees hand over envelopes stuffed with cash, many picking up a tax reduction certificate on their way out.

In one corner of the temple complex sits a monk in an air-conditioned box.

"Donation means sacrifice. You sacrifice your things, sacrifice your time, sacrifice your money, sacrifice your heart," the monk, Pra Maha Noppadom, explains.

THE GIFT OF GIVING

In contrast to the increasingly empty pews and coffers of many European churches, temples remain a boom business in Thailand.

The overwhelmingly Buddhist nation is one of the most generous countries in the world, according to the 2014 World Giving Index.

It came third globally, behind Myanmar and Malta, with 77 percent of the population giving money to charity.

Temples are under no obligation to declare their assets, which makes guessing how deep this generosity runs difficult.

But last year the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) estimated the country's 38,000-odd temples receive between 100 and 120 billion baht in donations ($3.07-3.62 billion) every year.

And that's on top of their state funding. In 2015 the government has earmarked $113 million alone for renovating temples.

Donations have always formed the bedrock of Thai Buddhism. Every morning barefooted monks make their daily alms rounds in their local neighbourhoods.

But as the Southeast Asian nation has modernised, so have donation methods.

Thai supermarkets now offer an impressive array of pre-packaged yellow baskets and buckets of things for monks including saffron robes, instant coffee and soap. 

Few have mastered modern money collection techniques better than the Dhammakaya temple, one of the richest in the kingdom, with dozens of outlets worldwide and an enormous headquarters north of Bangkok.

It is renowned for its roster of wealthy patrons and even boasts a slick TV channel where -- much like evangelical mega churches -- pleas for devotees to reach deep into their pockets are never far away.

JETSETTING MONKS

But with wealth comes controversy.

Earlier this month the temple authorities returned some $20 million given by a company executive who has since been accused of embezzling the cash.

It was just the latest in a list of scandals involving Thai clergy embracing excess -- the most infamous of which involved celebrated monk Wiraphol Sukphol taking selfies while flying in a private jet.

Other embarrassing incidents in recent months include a monk arrested for multiple sexual assaults; clergy dressed in civilian [non-monk] clothes drinking alcohol and crashing a car; monks having girlfriends; and others brawling during the early morning alms collections.

Many monks feel some of their brethren, who number more than 300,000, have replaced merit-making with making money.

"Buddhism is overwhelmed by capitalism. We have become too much obsessed with the idea of getting benefits and money," Pra Maha Paiwan Warawunno, a charismatic 24-year-old monk who regularly criticises the state of Thai Buddhism on his Facebook page, told AFP.

Sulak Sivaraksa (Source: Facebook)

"In this country now, greed is promoted. Amulets, Buddha images, all kinds of things," said Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai Buddhist expert and founder of the International Network of Engaged Buddhism (See here), who is close to the Dalai Lama. (See Sulak Sivaraksa's Facebook page here and Wikipedia here).

"A monk cannot even touch money. By touching money, it makes the monk impure," said Sulak, denouncing greed that he says Thailand's top Buddhist body -- the Supreme Council of the Sangha -- has failed to address.

SANGHA RULES SANGHA

One of the peculiarities of the Thai clergy is that -- despite the major subsidies they receive from the state -- they are also self-governing.

The Sangha -- a Sanskrit word used to describe a community of monks -- is composed of a handful of the most influential monks in the country, and they alone decide when and whether clergy should be punished for transgressions and excesses.

Paiboon Nititawan, a member of the junta's National Reform Council, has been asked to draft a new law to improve control over the temples, which has enraged many monks who see it as unacceptable interference in spiritual affairs

"The goal is to have measures handling the properties of the temples and to get them to make proper accounts. And also to reveal the accounts to the public. So that it can be checked and balanced with transparency," he said.

"If there is no such law, monks will accumulate properties, which is against the monk disciplines," he added.

But few expect the junta to make much headway against such an entrenched group.

As Somchai Surachatri, spokesman for National Office of Buddhism, put it: "Sangha rules Sangha."

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Vocabulary

  • according to (prep): as stated or reported by somebody/something - ตามคำบอกเล่า, ตามรายงาน
  • account: a written record of money that is owed to a business and of money that has been paid by it - บัญชี
  • accumulate: to get more and more of something over a period of time - เก็บสะสม, สะสม, สั่งสมมานาน
  • accused: to be said to have done something wrong or committed a crime - ถูกกล่าวหา
  • address: to deal with a problem - จัดการปัญหา
  • adj (noun): connected with soldiers or the armed forces - ในทางทหาร,เกี่ยวกับทหาร
  • affairs: events and activities relating to the government, politics, economy etc of a country, region, or the world - ความสัมพันธ์ระหว่างประเทศ
  • alcohol: drinks such as whiskey, beer, wine, etc that make people feel good and become drunk - เหล้า, สุรา
  • allegedly: claimed to have done something wrong, but not yet proven - ที่กล่าวหา
  • alms: food, money, and other items that are given to Buddhist monks; money, clothes and food that are given to poor people - ของทำบุญ ของบริจาค
  • amass: to collect a lot of something over a period of time - รวบรวม
  • amulet: a small object that some people wear around their neck as a protection against evil, bad luck, disease etc - เครื่องราง
  • array: a group or collection of things or people, often one that is large or impressive - การจัดเรียง, ขบวน
  • arrest: (of the police or, in this case, soldiers) to take someone under control because they are believed to have committed a crime - จับกุม
  • assault (noun): a sudden, violent attack - การทำร้าย
  • asset: a thing of value - สิ่งที่มีคุณค่า
  • authority (noun): a person or group with special knowledge or expertise - ผู้เชี่ยวชาญเฉพาะทาง
  • banknote: paper money - ธนบัตร
  • barefooted: not wearing shoes - เท้าเปล่า
  • basket (noun): a container for holding or carrying things.Baskets are made of thin strips of material that bends and twists easily, for example plastic, wire or wicker - ตะกร้า, กระบุง, กระเช้า
  • bedrock: the solid rock in the ground below the loose soil and sand - หินแข็งชั้นล่างที่อยู่ใต้ชั้นดินและทราย
  • behave: to do things in a particular way - ประพฤติตัว
  • benefit: an advantage you get from a situation; a helpful or good effect, or something intended to help - ผลประโยชน์, ข้อได้เปรียบ, ผลดี
  • boast: to proudly tell other people what you can do or have done - คุยโว, โว, โม้, โอ้อวด
  • boast (verb): to have something that is impressive and that you can be proud of -
  • body: a group of people who work or act together, often for an official purpose, or who are connected in some other way - กลุ่มคน, นิติบุคคล
  • boom: a sudden increase in trade and economic activity; a period of wealth and success - ความเจริญรุ่งเรืองทางเศรษฐกิจ
  • boost: to increase; to strengthen - เพิ่ม; ทำให้มีกำลังมากขึ้น
  • brawl: to fight in a rough, noisy, uncontrolled way - ทะเลาะกัน,วิวาท
  • breeze: a light and pleasant wind - สายลมที่พัดเบาๆ
  • brethren: brothers; other people who you are close to like brothers -
  • candle: a stick of wax with a string in it called a wick that you burn to give light - เทียน
  • cash: money in the form of notes or coins - เงินสด
  • cash: money - เงินสด
  • celebrate (verb): to praise somebody/something - ยกย่อง, สรรเสริญ
  • celebrated: famous for having good qualities - ที่มีชื่อเสียง
  • certificate: an official document or record stating that particular facts are true - ประกาศนียบัตร เกียรติบัตร
  • channel (noun): TV channel - ช่อง, ช่องโทรทัศน์
  • charismatic: (of a person) having a strong personal quality that makes other people like them and become attracted to them - ผู้มีอำนาจ ผู้ที่ได้รับการเคารพยกย่อง
  • charity: an organisation to which you give money so that it can give money and help to people who are poor or ill, or who need advice and support - กิจการกุศล, มูลนิธิ
  • check: to look at something written or work that has been done and make sure it is correct - ตรวจ, ตรวจสอบ,
  • churn out (verb): to produce large amounts of something - ผลิตเป็นจำนวนมาก, ให้เป็นจำนวนมาก
  • civilian: of someone who does not belong to the armed forces or the police - พลเรือน
  • clergy: the priests or ministers of a religion - คณะสงฆ์, คณะพระคริสต์
  • coffer: a place where money is kept -
  • coin (noun): a flat round piece of metal used as money in a country - เหรียญ
  • collection (noun): gathering; the bringing together that have been spread around - การเก็บรวบรวม
  • commercialism: the fact of being more interested in making money than in the value or quality of things - หลักการหรือวิธีการพานิชย์,ลัทธิการค้าเพื่อหวังผลกำไร,ลักษณะพ่อค้า
  • community: a group of people who share the same job, interests, religion, etc - สังคม
  • complex: an area that has several parts - พื้นที่ประกอบด้วยส่วนต่าง ๆ
  • composed of: to be made of or formed from something; consist of - ประกอบด้วย
  • controversy: a disagreement that a lot of people have strong feelings about - ความขัดแย้ง
  • corner: a region or an area of a place; a part of something where two or more sides, lines or edges join - มุม
  • council: a group of people chosen to give advice, make rules, do research, provide money - สภา, คณะกรรมการ
  • criticise: to say that you disapprove of somebody/something; to say what you do not like or think is wrong about somebody/something - วิจารณ์, ติเตียน,จับผิด
  • crooked: dishonest - ไม่ซื่อสัตย์
  • daily (adj.): happening, done or produced every day - แต่ละวัน, ทุกวัน
  • declare: to announce officially - ประกาศ
  • denounce: to criticise someone or something severely in public - ประณาม, ติเตียน
  • 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
  • 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  
  • donation: money or goods that you give to an organisation, especially one that helps people - เงินหรือสิ่งของบริจาค
  • dozen: a group of twelve of the same thing - หนึ่งโหล
  • draft: to write a document, plan, etc. that may be changed before it is finally accepted - ร่าง
  • earmark: to decide to use something, often money, for a particular purpose - ตัดสินใจที่จะใช้สำหรับวัตถุประสงค์เฉพาะ
  • embarrassing: making you feel ashamed, nervous or stupid - น่าอับอาย, น่าอับอายขายหน้า
  • embezzle: to secretly take money that is in your care or that belongs to an organisation or business you work for - ยักยอกเงิน, ฉ้อโกงเงิน
  • embrace: to accept something such as a belief, idea, or way of life - ยอมรับ น้อมนำมา
  • empty (adj): having nothing inside; with no people or things - ว่างเปล่า, ว่างโล่ง
  • engaged: involved, paying close attention, trying to understand - ใส่ใจ, สนใจ
  • enormous: very large - ที่ใหญ่โตมโหฬาร
  • enrage: to cause to become very angry - ทำให้โมโห, ทำให้โกรธเป็นฟืนเป็นไฟ
  • enraged: very angry - โกรธเกรี้ยว
  • entitled: having the right to have or do something - มีสิทธิโดยชอบ
  • entrenched: firmly in place and difficult to move out - ตั้งมั่น
  • envelope: a flat container made of paper or plastic for keeping papers in - ซอง
  • estimated: thought to be a particular amount, size, etc. based on a guess or the best information available - ประมาณการ
  • excess: greater than is usual; too much of something   - มากเกินปริมาณที่พอดี
  • executive: a senior manager in a business or other organisation - ผู้บริหาร
  • expert: someone who has a particular skill or who knows a lot about a particular subject - ผู้เชี่ยวชาญ
  • faithful (noun): people who believe in a religion; the loyal supporters of a political party - ผู้ที่มีศรัทธาในศาสนาอย่างแรงกล้า, ผู้จงรักภักดี
  • float: an object that floats in the water - สิ่งที่ลอยได้ เช่น แพ
  • flutter: to move up and down or from side to side with short, quick, light movements, or to make something move in this way - สะบัด, กะพริบ
  • founder (noun): a person who establishes an institution, business, or organisation - ผู้ก่อตั้ง
  • funding: money given for a particular purpose - การให้เงินสนับสนุน
  • garland: a circle made of flowers worn around the neck or head as a decoration - พวงมาลัย
  • generosity: kindness, especially in giving things to people - ความกรุณา
  • generous: giving people more of your time or money than is usual or expected - มีน้ำใจ, เอื้อเฟื้อ
  • globally: throughout the world - ทั่วโลก
  • govern: to control the way that things happen - ควบคุม, บังคับ, ครอบงำ
  • greed: a strong wish to have more money, things or power than you need - ความโลภ
  • guess: to try and give an answer or make a judgement about something without being sure of all the facts - เดา
  • handful: a small number or amount - จำนวนน้อย
  • handle: to deal with a situation, a person, an area of work or a strong emotion - ควบคุม, ปฏิบัติ,จัดการ
  • headquarters: the place where an organisation or company has its main offices - กองบัญชาการ
  • headway: progress - ความคืบหน้า
  • heart: centre (of an activity) - ศูนย์กลาง
  • image: a photograph, painting, or other work of art that represents a person or thing - รูปภาพ
  • impressive: something that people admire because it is very good, very large or shows great skill - ซึ่งน่าประทับใจ
  • in contrast: different from - ตรงข้ามกับ
  • incident: something that happens, usually something bad - เหตุการณ์
  • infamous (adj): well known for something bad - เสียชื่อ, น่าอับอาย, น่าขายหน้
  • influential: of a person or group who has the power to affect a situation - มีอิทธิพล
  • interference: the process of deliberately becoming involved in a situation and trying to influence the way that it develops - การเข้าแทรกแซง
  • intervene: to become involved in a situation in order to try to stop or change it - แทรกแซง
  • jukebox: a machine you put money in and then will play music -
  • junta: a group of military officers that governs a country, usually without having been elected - รัฐบาลทหาร
  • kneel: to put one or both knees on the ground - คุกเข่า
  • latest (adj): newest; most recent - ] ล่าสุด, See also: ทันสมัยที่สุด, เกิดหลังสุด
  • local: in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about - ท้องถิ่น
  • major: very large or important - สำคัญมาก
  • measure: a firm action taken to solve a problem or stop a dangerous unpleasant situation - มาตราการ
  • mega-: very large or impressive - ยิ่งใหญ่, ใหญ่มาก
  • merit-making: doing good things according to religious beliefs - การทำบุญ
  • method: a particular way of doing something - วิธีการ,วิธีดำเนินการ
  • modernise: to make a system, methods, etc. more modern and more suitable for use at the present time - ทำให้ทันสมัย
  • multi-: more than one; many - มาก, หลาย
  • multiple: many - มากมาย
  • nation: a country considered as a group of people with the same language, culture and history, who live in a particular area under one government; all the people in a country - ประเทศ, คนในประเทศ
  • neighbourhood (noun): a particular area of a city or town or other area - ละแวก, ย่าน
  • note: banknote; paper money - ธนบัตร
  • obligation: something which you must do because you have promised, because of a law, etc. - สัญญาผูกมัด, ข้อผูกมัด
  • obsessed: considering something as so important that you are always thinking about it, in a way that seems extreme to other people - หมกมุ่น
  • on their way out: while they are leaving a place -
  • operate: to use or control a machine or make it work - เดินเครื่อง
  • overwhelm: to defeat someone or something by using a lot of force - ล้น,ท่วมท้น
  • overwhelmingly: by a very large amount or margin - อย่างท่วมท้น
  • patron: a customer; someone who uses a particular entertainment place, hotel, restaurant, etc. - ลูกค้า
  • peculiarity: the quality of being strange or unfamiliar, or an unusual characteristic or habit -
  • percentage (noun): an amount divided by 100 - อัตราร้อยละ, จำนวนร้อยละ, อัตราต่อหนึ่งร้อย
  • pews: rows of seats in a church -
  • pick: to choose - เลือก
  • pick up: to get something -
  • plea: an urgent and emotional request - คำร้อง, คำขอ, คำขอร้อง, คำวิงวอน
  • population: a particular group of people or animals living in a particular area - กลุ่มที่อาศัยอยู่ในที่เดียวกัน
  • pre-packaged: already prepared and wrapped -
  • 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
  • proper: right, appropriate or correct; according to the rules - เหมาะสม
  • property: a building or buildings and the surrounding land - อสังหาริมทรัพย์
  • punish: to make somebody suffer because they have broken the law or done something wrong - ทำโทษ
  • recent: happening or starting a short time ago - เร็วๆ นี้
  • reduction: the process or result of making something smaller or less in amount, size, importance etc - การลดลง
  • regularly: done or happening often, especially with the same time and space in between each activity and the next - เป็นประจำ, เสมอๆ
  • renovate: to make something old look new again by repairing and improving it, especially a building - การตบแต่งหรือซ่อมปรับปรุงสถานที่
  • renowned (adj): famous and admired for a special quality, skill or achievement - ที่มีชื่อเสียง
  • reveal: to let something become known - เปิดเผย
  • revered: highly respected and admired - ซึ่งแสดงความเคารพนับถือ
  • robe: a long loose outer piece of clothing - เสื้อคลุมยาว
  • roster (noun): a list of the names of people who are available to do a job, play in a team, etc. - บัญชีรายชื่อ, ทะเบียนรายชื่อ
  • rotten: spoiled; decayed - เน่า เสีย
  • round: one of a series of events, activities, etc. - รอบ
  • sacrifice: important or valuable things given up, so that you or other people can have or do something else - ความเสียสละเพื่อส่วนรวม
  • saffron (noun): a bright yellow powder made from crocus flowers, used in cooking to give colour to food - ผงสีเหลืองอมส้มทำจากดอก Crocus
  • Sangha: ordained Buddhist monks or nuns - สงฆ์
  • scandal (noun): a situation in which people behave in a dishonest or immoral way that shocks people - เรื่องอื้อฉาว
  • self-: does it to them self, not others -
  • selfie (noun): a photo you take of yourself or of yourself with someone else -
  • sexual: connected with a person's sexual desires - เรื่องทางเพศ, ลักษณะทางเพศ
  • shape: the form of the outer edges or surfaces of something - รูปร่าง, รูปทรง, โครงร่าง
  • slick: clever, efficient and impressive - คล่องแคล่ว, ว่องไว
  • slip: to put or slide something into a place, often quietly without causing people to notice -
  • spiritual: religious, or related to religious issues - เกี่ยวกับศาสนา
  • spokesman: a person who speaks on behalf of a group or an organization - โฆษก
  • state: condition - สภาพ
  • state: government - รัฐบาล
  • statue: a human or animal image that is made of stone, wood, metal, etc. - รูปปั้น
  • stuff: to fill a container or space with something, especially something soft - ยัดไส้
  • subsidy: an amount of money that a government or organisation pays to help to reduce the cost of a product or service - เงินชดเชยที่รัฐเป็นผู้จ่ายให้
  • supreme: most important, or most powerful - สูงสุด
  • tax: money that you have to pay to the government so that it can pay for public services - ภาษี
  • technique: a method of doing something using a special skill that you have developed - เทคนิค, กลวิธี (เฉพาะด้าน)
  • threaten: to say you might or will do something bad or harmful, especially in order to make someone do something - ขู่
  • trader: someone who buys and sells things - ผู้ค้า
  • transgression: breaking a law or moral rule - การกระทำผิด
  • transparency: an honest way of doing things that allows other people to know exactly what you are doing - ความโปร่งใส
  • unacceptable: that you cannot accept, allow or approve of - ซึ่งไม่สามารถยอมรับได้
  • urn (noun): a container for the ashes of a dead person after the body has been burnt - โลงศพ
  • vast: extremely large - ส่วนใหญ่
  • wealth: a large amount of money, property, etc. that a person or country owns - ความมั่งคั่ง
  • wealthy: having a large amount of money, land, and other valuable things   - ที่มั่งคั่ง ร่ำรวย
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