Sangha Council clears Dhammachayo

Sangha Council clears Dhammachayo

Wat Phra Dhammakaya abbot Phra Dhammachayo is expected to face continued scrutiny from the National Reform Council, notably for links to the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal. (Photo by Seksan Rojjanametakun)
Wat Phra Dhammakaya abbot Phra Dhammachayo is expected to face continued scrutiny from the National Reform Council, notably for links to the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal. (Photo by Seksan Rojjanametakun)

The Supreme Sangha Council (SSC) on Friday cleared Wat Phra Dhammakaya abbot Phra Dhammachayo of wrongdoing in a case dating back 16 years, saying he had already transferred donated assets to the temple.

The resolution went against the written recommendation of the late supreme patriarch, His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, that Phra Dhammachayo should be defrocked for having committed a grave sin.

The abbot had been accused in 1999 of failing to transfer to Wat Phra Dhammakaya assets including 1,500 rai of land donated to him by his followers.

The transfer of the donated assets showed that Phra Dhammachayo had done nothing that violated Buddhism, the SSC concluded.

Council spokesman Phra Phrommethee said Friday's resolution confirmed its previous resolution in 2006, adding that in the interests of national reconciliation, the issue should not be revived again.

The religious reform committee of the National Reform Council (NRC) recently revived the issue by citing the late supreme patriarch's 1999 letter that accused Phra Dhammachayo of two serious transgressions.

One was the abbot's reluctance to transfer to the temple some 1,500 rai of land and money with a combined value of 900 million baht donated by followers. The other was Phra Dhammachayo's alleged distortion of Buddhist doctrines.

The Sangha Council spokesman did not mention the second topic.

The NRC, meanwhile, has indicated that it is not finished with Phra Dhammachayo. It plans to ask the Anti-Money Laundering Office and the Department of Special Investigation about separate allegations that the abbot colluded with suspects in the 12-billion-baht embezzlement scandal that has engulfed the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative.

The monk is alleged to have received hundreds of millions of baht in stolen cash in the form of donations.

Phra Buddha Isara, the activist abbot of Wat Or Noi in Nakhon Pathom province, on Friday wrote to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to request the reform of the SSC and punishments against those who abused Buddhism.

Phra Buddha Isara wrote that the council members could not handle their work effectively because each of them held several executive positions.

Mano Laohawanit, a member of the NRC's Buddhism protection committee, said on Friday that Phra Dhammachayo apparently had influence over the SSC. He said that the abbot had arranged for the council chairman, Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalajan, the abbot of Wat Paknam Pasicharoen and acting supreme patriarch, to receive his new fan of rank from His Royal Highness the Crown Prince on his behalf although he should have received it by himself.

Dr Mano said that the letter of the late supreme patriarch about the infringements was clear and an SSC resolution that deviated from the content of the letter would spark backlash.

He said that Phra Dhammachayo also had influence on government authorities. He noted that the abbot had faced prosecution in 52 cases including embezzlement and lese majeste cases but the then attorney general had withdrawn all the cases from court in August 2006.

The withdrawal was the first in Thai history and was never explained to the public, he said.

The developments took place late in the term of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In 2011 the rank of Phra Dhammachayo was promoted to Phra Thephayan Maha Munee during the term of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, Dr Mano said.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani is the richest and largest Buddhist temple in Thailand. It has overseas branches, operates satellite television stations and broadcasts programmes in several languages. It is supported by billions of baht in donations and counts many extremely wealthy and prominent Thais among its followers.

However, it has run afoul of religious authorities for its ostentatious religious spectacles as well as its implicit message to followers that the more money they donate, the more merit they earn.

Followers are encouraged to donate to improve their next life, which runs counter to the Buddhist principle that believers donate to reduce their feeling of attachment and do not expect anything in return.

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