Officials may be wishing monk has fled
Is Phra Dhammajayo, the elusive former abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, still within the vast reaches of 2,300-rai compound of the temple, playing hide and seek with the authorities trying to bring him to the court to face charges ranging from embezzlement and money laundering to receiving stolen property and forest encroachment?
Or was he spirited out of the temple months ago when the temple was not cordoned off by authorities as it is now after being declared a restricted zone and placed under siege?
No one in the government seems to have the answer, but most believe he is still in the kingdom -- if not hiding somewhere inside the temple which is yet to be thoroughly searched. They dismiss suggestions he may have slipped out of the country because "he does not have a passport".
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.
Even Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha does not seem to care whether the elusive monk is arrested or not. "If he is still in the temple, he will be arrested. If not, he will not be arrested," he said in response to a reporter's question about whether the search of the temple by officials from the Department of Special Investigation and police will manage to locate him.
The prime minister said that what is more important in this Wat Phra Dhammakaya drama is not the arrest of Phra Dhammajayo, but how to weed out bad elements from our monastic circle.
I can't agree more with the prime minister. This huge operation in which more than 4,000 men from the Department of Special Investigation, the police and the army have been deployed, plus the use of Section 44 of the interim charter, to look for one single rogue monk is overkill.
The real objective of the operation, I believe, is to clamp down on the temple, to strangle the Dhammakaya cult until it is no longer active and does not pose a threat to Buddhism for its distorted Buddhist teachings.
What is the point of or what benefits can be gained from putting Phra Dhammajayo on trial? At the end of any trial, which likely will drag on for years if the case or cases run through the three levels of courts of law, he may be convicted and sent to jail. His situation of having to live like a fugitive, hiding from the authorities and, perhaps, shifting from one place to the other to evade the authorities is not much different from being incarcerated -- complete with lack of freedom of movement that he once enjoyed.
But imagine the scenario when thousands of his followers, including monks, show up in front of the court to give him moral support, to chant prayers before both the local and foreign media. More importantly, the trial of Phra Dhammajayo -- if there is one -- is not the trial of the monk as an individual. It can also be seen as a trial of our own monastic order for its failure to rein in the monk and for its complacency that allowed the monk and his sect to grow so strong they can defy the state and the monastic order with impunity. This does not mean there are no other rogue monks who have misbehaved, but they were deemed a lesser threat than Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult.
I honestly don't think the trial of Phra Dhammajayo will bode well for the clergy and the government even though there is slim chance that he will be arrested or voluntarily surrender. I don't think he subscribes to the notion that there is an opportunity in any crisis that he may seize upon to reverse the situation to his favour by turning himself into a martyr instead of a convict.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than a temple. It qualifies as an empire. Besides the main headquarters in Pathum Thani with its golden dome that looks like a flying saucer on top of a grand hall, there is a 3km long underground tunnel through which water from a lake is pushed by over 230 pumps up a wall 14 stories high to splash down and form an artificial waterfall, and a building topped with a globe-like structure. It has spread its wings to reach out to the world with meditation centres overseas and across the country, most of which encroach on forest reserves or parks.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya branched out in a similar fashion that a business branches out to get a bigger share of the market.
For the cult, its goal is to attract a bigger following and spread its adulterated Buddhist gospel to encourage its followers to make donations under the slogan that the bigger the amount of the donations, the higher the plane to heaven for the donors.
What the preachers didn't tell their gullible followers is that some of them may find hell in this life before they may or may not go to heaven in the after-life.
Phra Dhammajayo is on the run. His empire is crumbling and may collapse. But that does not mean that the clergy will be any better off.
Or perhaps they will earn more trust and respect from the lay people if there is a real reform among our monks, starting from the top down.
After all, Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult are just one major problem that poses a threat to Buddhism in this country.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.