Should we just dismiss it as crazy when a Buddhist monk claims he knows about the late Steve Jobs's afterlife and that Jobs's spirit is now blessed with a sacred crystal ball inside his body?
If this out-of-this-world claim came from a nobody, we could just laugh it off as a wacky idea from someone trying to use the name of a famous person to get himself some attention.
But it's definitely no laughing matter when the claim comes from the almighty abbot of the country's richest and most politically connected temple which _ despite criticisms about its grave distortions of Buddhist teachings _ is set to take control of the clergy.
If you missed Phra Dhammachayo's talk in Thai on the afterlife of Jobs and the stories about his previous lives, go to the Dhammakaya Temple's website at www.dmc.tv.
The abbot's talk is divided into three parts: where Steve Jobs is now after his death, why he was born talented, and why he became a successful businessman in the first place.
The abbot, clad in a saffron garb that is distinctive from mainstream monks, told the audience that despite his good deeds on earth, Jobs's mind was clouded by anxiety and fear before he succumbed to cancer. This is why, he said, Jobs's new form in the afterlife is that of "a middle-class celestial male being in the category of half celestial male, half giant demon" with dark complexion, and complete with hidden fangs which will show when his famous temper takes over.
"Can you follow me?" The abbot asked this question every few minutes as he described in minute detail Jobs's celestial abode _ a sleek, hi-tech six-story building with a floating bed and a 20-strong entourage _ near his old office building.
I admit it was very hard for me follow the abbot although his followers kept on responding to him, exclaiming "oh, wow" and "yes, yes".
The first part of the talk ended with Jobs's bliss and thankfulness after receiving a stream of light and a sparkling crystal sent by a group of Dhammakaya followers into the centre of his body.
Can you follow me?
In the other two parts of his talk, the abbot told of Jobs's previous lifetimes, one in which he was a merchant who donated large amounts to an orderly, serene, well-organised temple (like Dhammakaya?) even when he did not have much money, who became one of the temple's faithful, learned meditation with a monk with special powers (like Phra Dhammachayo?) and attained wealth by always making a strong wish for it after every merit-making (like the Dhammakaya followers are told to?).
Once a target of state suspicion for its rapid growth, Dhammakaya is now enjoying support from both business and political elites as well as urban supporters who are drawn to the temple's hypnotic mixture of grandeur, a sense of modernity, tales of supernatural powers, and the promises for quick nirvana fixes that money can buy.
The clergy, pampered by Dhammakaya wealth and under the spell of nationalism, also support Dhammakaya's overseas expansion, viewing it as part of the propagation of Thai Buddhism.
The temple is also making sure that every new batch of monks is growing on Dhammakaya scholarships to build a firm foundation of support as their members continue to climb up the ecclesiastical ladder.
According to Dhammakaya defector Mano Laohavanich, formerly Mettananando Bhikkhu, the threat doesn't stem only from the abuse of Buddhist teachings on giving for commercial gain. It also affects the very core of Buddhism by turning it into a theological religion.
In his article "Esoteric Teachings of Wat Phra Dhammakaya," he discusses the belief among the temple's inner core members that the abbot is the reincarnation of the "Creator" who is leading an army of the Sons of Light to fight the Sons of Darkness in a cosmic battle to save humankind.
It's just getting weirder and weirder, isn't it?
I just can't imagine what the future holds for Thai Buddhism when the clergy is under Dhammakaya's full control.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.