Sangha must face up to sorry state of clergy
published : 12 Jul 2013 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
We have barely recovered from shock over the story of wayward billionaire monk Luang Pu Nen Kham Chattiko as the media digs deeper into details of his wealth and alleged crimes.
It would not be a mistake to say that it was by chance that our society found out about the wealth of Nen Kham, aka Phra Wirapol Sukphol, from Ubon Ratchathani, who ran his religious business in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket.
As layers and layers of scandal and crime are unfolded while the runaway monk is reported to have left France for the US where he has a huge mansion, we have come to realise that one major actor is missing from the picture. Yes, it's the Sangha Supreme Council _ the ruling body of monks.
We have not heard a word _ let alone seen a move _ from this top body of the clergy on the shameful Nen Kham since day one after the scandal was exposed by the media.
However, one may argue that the council does not see the necessity to make any move at all as the National Office of Buddhism, which serves as the council's secretariat, has joined the investigation with the Department of Special Investigation.
Perhaps the 22-strong council may think its regional office has already pursued the case.
Is that enough? I don't think so.
The Nen Kham scandal is a disgrace not only to the billionaire monk but sangha society as a whole. This disgraceful case reflects flaws in Thai Buddhism and also the weakness of the Sangha Supreme Council as a ruling body that fails to maintain itself as a knowledge-based institute and is gradually suffering a decline.
If the council has attempted to turn things around, we are not yet convinced.
Otherwise, commercialisation of Buddhism, the root of all evil, would not be so rampant.
Undeniably, one of the flaws is the screening (or lack of it) in the ordination process. It's an open secret that the system is too antiquated to select quality people _ scholars or those who really want to study dhamma or help others to become enlightened _ into this institution, not to mention to prevent crooks from entering the monkhood.
Under such circumstances, monks, even the decent ones, have lost their role as spiritual leaders. What they can do is conduct rituals. It's not difficult for bad guys to take advantage of the yellow robes to accumulate wealth.
The case of Nen Kham and other monk scandals is proof that these privileged Sangha Supreme Council members are unable to catch up with worldly affairs.
Is the hierarchical nature of sangha the problem? Membership of the council is automatically awarded to a monk when he gains a certain rank or seniority known as phra racha khana _ another weak selection process that is not based on capability, one might say.
Out of curiosity, I visited the Sangha Supreme Council's website at www.mahathera.org and tried to figure out the work of members of the council.
The minutes of the most recent meeting show the council was occupied primarily with routine work _ appointments, upgrading status, or approving overseas trips for monks. The rest was examining its bank accounts and coffers.
Given the age of the council members (most are in their 70s and 80s _ the youngest one is in his late 50s), this is a demanding task for them.
The council may be clinging on to that proverb, silence is golden, in the belief that by keeping quiet, it can escape criticism.
This may explain why it chooses to stay aloof from controversies or conflicts, such as an eviction war between a temple and a community that is escalating in Bangkok, as some monks find that it's the quickest way to fill their coffers. No one cares how many poor people will be homeless.
Let's face it. While Thailand is part of the international Buddhist community that took pride in celebrating the 2,600th anniversary of the Lord Buddha's enlightenment last year, are we really proud of the way our version of Buddhism has evolved?
If the backyard of someone's home is filthy, each member must be responsible and help in the clean-up work. The Sangha Supreme Council is no exception.
Ploenpote Atthakor is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.
Former editorial page Editor
Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.