A coup, crackdowns, corruption and the clergy
Time flies. I can't quite believe that we will have a New Year party in the coming weeks, as it feels like we just had one. This reminds me of the Thai saying that time always moves fast for happy people.
I'm not sure whether this is the case for me. I only know that I feel much happier this year — especially after the coup last May. Some people might be giving me a dirty look now, but honestly, after having endured the political turmoil over the years, I was overjoyed to see our country go back to a peaceful state once again.
I really don't care how critical other people or countries are of our military government, as long as it can restore peace and order to the nation. Some might call me an optimist but many polls conducted over the past few months show that most people are also pleased with the junta's performance, especially to rid the country of corruption.
The latest notable move is the crackdown on the criminal network of former chief of the Central Investigation Bureau Pongpat Chayapan, who is currently in custody on various criminal charges ranging from bribery and abuse of power to lese majeste.
The movement surely signifies that every bad cop will be rumbled no matter how high up they are.
The NCPO's latest endeavour makes me look at our Buddhist community and wonder whether we can have a similar resolution to end the long-standing problems concerning bad monks, whose behaviour often portrays the clergy in a negative light.
I see a light at the end of the tunnel as I learn that the junta is reportedly in the process of trying to push for the passage of a bill that allows legal prosecution against clergy members whose conduct damages the reputation of the religion.
According to the Patronage and Protection of Buddhism Bill, monks who break cardinal rules such as having sex, possessing obscene materials, gambling, consuming alcohol or narcotics and distorting Buddhist principles, will be liable to a prison term or a fine, or both.
This sounds rather stiff, especially compared with current monastic punishments, the most severe of which is expulsion from the Sangha. But considering countless allegations that have plagued the monastic community over the years, many believe that the conventional penalties are not severe enough to discourage corrupt monks from using the clergy as shelter.
One of the most interesting parts of the bill, if it really comes into effect, is the proposal to set up a panel to keep tabs on public donations given to temples.
Even though I'm positive most temples are honest in handling this money, I don't think it hurts to allow checks. Some of them might regard this as interference, but I believe that transparency is the best way to convince donors their money will be used properly and not go to some of the less scrupulous monks, who have somehow managed to amass small fortunes.
The teachings of Buddha clearly state that celibacy is a necessity in order to reach enlightenment. That's why sex is considered as a major monastic offence.
So I find the bill very sensible to impose harsh punishment on monks who break this rule and, ideally, to file criminal charges against their accomplices, including the women who have sex with monks.
The most serious offence that needs to be tackled urgently, I think, is the dissemination of distorted teachings that are often preached by monks.
It might be difficult for the less well-versed followers to tell which lessons are truly from Buddha and which are not. So here is an easy guideline that I learned from a good monk.
He said Buddha taught that possessing samma-ditthi (the right view) is an essential part in Buddhism.
It's about understanding suffering, how it comes about and how to reduce or eliminate it.
Only teachings that encourage us to cease craving and clinging, which are causes of suffering, are truly Buddha's words.
Whether the bill will get the green light from our venerated Buddhist order remains to be seen.
Speculation about it being scrapped is rife, however, as some powerful senior monks might feel uncomfortable embracing any ruling beyond what is stated in the Vinaya Pitaka.
In my humble opinion, I think this bill will do more good than harm, as its main purpose is to protect our religion. In the eyes of most Buddhists, corrupt monks are no longer Buddha's disciples and deserve legal punishment.
A revered monk once recounted his early days in monkhood to his followers.
He said he felt deeply grateful after his very first alms round because he realised that people offered him food because they had faith in Buddha.
To express his gratitude, he was determined to try his utmost to spread Buddha's words of wisdom.
He hoped his followers would put them into practice until they free themselves from all suffering, which is the goal of the religion.
If every member in the clergy had a similar sense of gratitude, however, I don't think we would even need such a bill.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.