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Date: 11/28/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Sun halo heats up temple critics

THE Education Ministry will next week ask the Sangha Supreme Council, which monitors the activities of Buddhist temples, to investigate the fund-raising strategies of Dhammakaya Temple in the construction of its new pagoda.

The ministry will also ask the council to look into the ''miraculous'' recent phenomenon of a halo over the sun.

The immensely popular temple accused the media of incorrectly reporting the event, and insisted in the truth of the miracle, and that it happened for devotees at the temple. The temple also said that the fund-raising campaign was initiated by those with faith, rather than by the temple.

''In fact, we started building the pagoda during the economic boom three years ago, and have already spent about Bt1 billion. Dhammakaya has to serve more than 200,000 people who come to meditate. It does not matter that people have different views, but they should not be misled by the media. This is the only temple which can draw more than 200,000 people,'' deputy abbot Phra Phavana Viriyakhun told reporters.

He said the temple allows anyone to own their own Buddhist statues by donating Bt10,000. Even students can own Buddhist statues by paying instalments of Bt150 per month. This is the temple's fund raising strategy, he said.

After staying silent for some time, Deputy Education Minister Arkom Engchuan on Friday visited the temple because of public concern.

After chatting with the abbot in private, Arkom told reporters that he will ask the Buddhist council at its next monthly meeting on Dec 10, to investigate two issues, the miracle phenomenon and the method used for fund-raising, to see whether the practices were suitable for a Buddhist temple.

''The Religious Affairs Department wonders why so many people prefer Dhammakaya Temple when there are more than 40,000 temples nationwide. The Buddhist council will clear up confusion surrounding the temple, which reflects on Buddhist temples everywhere in the country,'' he said.

Phra Phavana Viriyakhun confirmed that 20,000 people who were meditating, including 700 monks, witnessed the miracle phenomenon a few months ago, where the sun turned into a multi-coloured ''crystal'', and that the temple did not engineer the event.

This phenomenon was later used in a local newspaper advertisement to raise funds for the pagoda's construction. The monk said the advertising campaign, which includes the use of large billboards, is run by followers who want to help the temple and was not organised by the temple itself.

In the last two weeks, local newspapers have reported the strange methods which the temple uses to raise funds for constructing its great pagoda, including large billboards picturing the crystal.

''Billboards picturing the miracle that are used to invite donations are not suitable. Instead, they should be used to invite the public to study the teachings of Lord Buddha at the temple. I have already told the abbot this,'' he said.

The interview with the minister was interrupted by temple followers who accused reporters of asking the type of questions that mislead the public and tarnish the temple's image.

The deputy abbot said donations will be used for the construction of the great pagoda. The temple plans to build about one million Buddhist statues to put into the pagoda.

The pagoda will be constructed of special imported materials that will prevent decay for more than 1000 years, the temple claims. It will be used for Dhamma meditation for more than 200,000 people.

The deputy abbot denied there was group of followers involved in direct selling to raise funds, but the temple has professionals with Buddhist knowledge who look after those who come to meditate.

''Never before and never again'' is the motto which appears on the temple's large notice board in the main office. The pagoda is under construction.

The Nation

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