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Supreme Patriarch appointment: Dhammakaya or not?

Dhammakaya followers attend a grand ceremony in front of the spaceship-like stupa at the Dhammakaya Temple to mark Maka Bucha Day last year. (File photo)

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Through modern-marketing techniques the Dhammakaya sect has grown so powerful that it may select the next Supreme Patriarch & gain total control of Buddhism in Thailand.


Supreme Patriarch appointment: Dhammakaya or not?

Sanitsuda Ekachai

...The current infighting in monastic circles over the appointment of the new supreme patriarch actually mirrors Thailand's fierce colour-coded politics: red, yellow, etc....

On one side are the supporters of the wealthy Dhammakaya temple, known to be close to the Shinawatras.

On the other side is not only the anti-Shinawatra camp but also those who see Dhammakaya as a cult that has distorted the Buddha's teachings to increase its wealth.

Its systematic infiltration into the Sangha Council since its conception is viewed as a calculated move to increase its power...


Dhammakaya, meanwhile, teaches that the amount of merit points you get in life depends on the amount of money you donate to Dhammakaya. Nirvana is also regarded as a heavenly place. The level of luxury and comfort you will get depends on your donations. In short, you get what you pay for.

Purists may not like it, but it is not much different than folk-Thai Buddhism, is it? With modern marketing and an incentive system, however, Dhammakaya is much more effective in raising funds, which makes its the richest temple in the country.

The more followers you recruit and the more donations you raise, the better your chances of sitting in rows closer to the abbot at its grandiose ceremonies. According to Dhammakaya cosmology told by insiders and defectors, Dhammakaya's abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, is not just a monk; he is a saint and a saviour who will rescue the world when Doomsday comes.

While traditional temples are often dirty and noisy, Dhammakaya focuses on orderliness, cleanliness, and grandeur. This strikes a chord with the middle class and the new rich who believe in supernatural powers but want a temple with a modern look and style to suit their worldly status. The fund-raising groups also give followers a sense of community in a big city, not to mention the business connections that come with it. In short, Dhammakaya answers the needs which the irrelevant clergy fails to do.


The temple's close connections with the elders explain why the Sangha Council did not follow through with the late supreme patriarch's ruling against Phra Dhammachayo, on claims of divisive teaching and theft, which could have led to his defrockment.

Its close connections with political and business elites also explain why so many lawsuits against Dhammachaya on public fraud never stick. It is no secret that the key candidate, Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, the abbot of Wat Paknam, is close to Dhammakaya. But so are several other members of the Sangha Council.

The wealthy Dhammakaya has no problem pampering the elders who also view Dhammakaya's expansion overseas as a global expansion of Thai Theravada Buddhism without the Sangha having to lift a finger. Dhammakaya scholarships to monks over the years have also expanded the movement's support base nationwide.

If the next supreme patriarch is a Dhammakaya supporter, it is feared the controversial sect will take over the whole Sangha. Distorted Buddhist teaching will be institutionalised and the allocation of the much sought-after clerical ranks will be also decided by Dhammakaya, giving it total control over the clergy.


...there would actually be no need to fear Dhammakaya if the clerical structure was decentralised; if the system to award monks with feudal ranks and power were no more; and if temple finances were transparent. Better still, temples should no longer receive state subsidies, which would force them to shape up to win back public trust.

If we want clerical reform, we need to tackle this centralised, autocratic structure. If not, the conflicts over the supreme patriarch's nomination are mere power games between political rival camps.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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a sense of : a feeling of -

abbot (noun): the head monk at a temple - เจ้าอาวาส

according to (prep): as stated or reported by somebody/something - ตามคำบอกเล่า, ตามรายงาน

allocation : an amount or share of something that is given to someone - การแบ่งส่วน

anti (adjective): against - ตรงกันข้าม, ต้าน

appointment : when someone is officially chosen for a job - การแต่งตั้ง

calculated : done deliberately in order to have a particular effect - ที่คิดพิจารณาไว้แล้ว

candidate : a person who is trying to be elected - ผู้สมัครรับเลือกตั้ง

ceremony (noun): a formal public event - งานพิธี

circle : a group of people who are connected because they have the same interests, jobs, etc - หมู่คณะ

claim : to say that something is true although it has not been proved and other people may not believe it - อ้าง

cleanliness : being clean; situation or state of something being clean -

clergy : the priests or ministers of a religion - คณะสงฆ์, คณะพระคริสต์

comfort : a thing that makes your life easier or more comfortable - ความสะดวกสบาย

community : a group of people who share the same job, interests, religion, etc - สังคม

conception : an idea about what something is like - ความคิด

connections : people or organisations that you know and that can help or advise you in your social or professional life - วงศ์วานวงศ์ญาติมิตร

cosmology (noun): the study of the nature and origin of the universe - ผลงานยอดเยี่ยม

council : a group of people chosen to give advice, make rules, do research, provide money - สภา, คณะกรรมการ

current : of the present time - ปัจจุบัน

defector : a person who leaves a country, political party or organisation for another one - ผู้ละทิ้ง

defrockment : officially removing a monk from the monkhood - ทำให้สึกจากการเป็นพระ

depend on : according to; affected by things that happen - ขึ้นอยู่กับ

distort : to change something such as information so that it is not longer true or accurate - บิดเบือน

divisive : likely to cause arguments between people - อันจะก่อให้เกิดความแตกแยก

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

doomsday : the last day of the world - วันโลกาวินาศ, วาระสุดท้าย

effective : producing the result that was intended - ได้ผลดี

elder : an old person - ผู้สูงวัย, ผู้อาวุโส, ผู้อายุมาก

elite : the richest, most powerful, best educated or most highly trained group in a society - คนที่มีอภิสิทธิ์ที่สุด

expansion : when something increases in size, number or importance - การขยายออก

fierce : very strong - รุนแรง, ดุเดือด

folk : of the folk or common people; folklore; the beliefs, traditions and stories of a country or community - คติชาวบ้าน,ความเชื่อหรือขนบธรรมเนียมประเพณีของชาวบ้าน

follower : a person who believes in and practices a religion -

fraud : the crime of intentionally deceiving someone or cheating in order to gain an advantage or benefit - การฉ้อโกง การหลอกลวง เล่ห์เพทุบาย

fund-raising : to collect money for an organisation or person - การระดมทุน

global : throughout the world - ทั่วโลก

grandeur : an impressive quality that a place, object or occasion has - ความสง่างาม

grandiose : very big and impressive -

heaven : the place believed to be the home of God where good people go when they die - สวรรค์

incentive : something that makes you want to do something or work harder, because you know that you will benefit by doing this - สิ่งกระตุ้น

infighting : when people in a group or organization are fighting over who leads and has power in the organization -

infiltration : when one group enters another group secretly to take control, or make it weak or gain information -

insider : a person with special information because they work in an organization or company or know people -

institutionalised : made official and part of an institution (such as the Sangha) -

irrelevant : not important to what you are discussing or doing - ที่ไม่เกี่ยวข้องกัน ไม่สัมพันธ์กัน

key : most important - ที่สำคัญ

lawsuit : a claim or complaint against somebody that a person or an organisation can make in court - คดีความ, คดีในศาล

luxury : the best and most expensive of something - ที่หรูหรา 

meanwhile : at the same time - ในเวลาเดียวกัน

merit : the quality of being good and of deserving praise, reward or admiration - บุญ, คุณความดี, คุณค่า

middle class (noun): people who earn enough money to pay their family's expenses and save some too; people who are not rich and not poor but in the middle, in between; bourgeoisie, white-collar class - ชนชั้นกลาง

monastic (adjective): having to do with monks - เกี่ยวกับพระหรือที่อยู่ของพระ

move (noun): action -

nationwide : throughout a whole country - ทั่วทั้งประเทศ

Nirvana : the state of peace and happiness that a person achieves after giving up all personal desires - สวรรค์, สถานที่สงบสุข

not to mention : in addition; also -

orderly (adj): arranged or organised in a neat, careful and logical way - ซึ่งเป็นระเบียบเรียบร้อย

pamper : to treat a person or an animal in a special way by making them as comfortable as possible and giving them whatever they want - ประคบประหงม, เอาอกเอาใจ

purist : people who believe that no changes or exceptions should be made to rules or beliefs -

raising funds : doing fund-raising; to collect money for an organisation or person - การระดมทุน

recruit : to get someone to work in a company or join an organisation - รับคนใหม่, จ้างคนใหม่

rescue : saving a person or animal from a dangerous or unpleasant situation - การช่วยชีวิต

ruling  (noun): a judgement; a decision by a court of law - คำตัดสิน คำชี้ขาด

Sangha : ordained Buddhist monks or nuns - สงฆ์

saviour : a person who saves someone or something from trouble or danger - ผู้ช่วยให้รอด, ผู้ช่วยเหลือ, ผู้ช่วยชีวิต

scholarships : money given to a student to pay for the cost of education - ทุนการศึกษา

strikes a chord with : is something that these people understand, agree with and feel is right -

suit : to be right or good for somebody/something - เหมาะกับ

supernatural : caused by forces that cannot be explained by science - สิ่งที่เหนือธรรมชาติ

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

systematic (adj): done according to a system or plan, in a thorough, efficient or determined way - ซึ่งเป็นระบบ

traditional : things (buildings, clothes, music, customs, etc.) that have been part of a country or society for a long time - แบบดั้งเดิม, เป็นประเพณี

wealth : a large amount of money, property, etc. that a person or country owns - ความมั่งคั่ง


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