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Date: 12/1/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Chan's donation methods blasted

COMMITTED to their faith in Buddhism, abbot Luang Phor Dhammachayo and his meditation mentor and nun Ubasika Chan Khonnokyoong are the main driving force behind the establishment and development of Wat Phra Dhammakaya into what they term as an ideal kingdom for meditation.

Luang Phor Dhammachayo, firm on pursuing the Buddhist path of attaining nirvana even before he was ordained into monkhood, has aspired to build the temple as the best Buddhist showcase ''in the world''.

Ubasika Chan, respected meditation teacher who studied the Dhammakaya meditation method directly from the late Luang Phor Wat Paknam Phasi Charoen, has dreamt of a peaceful environment conducive to meditation like no other place on earth.

In spite of the Buddhist sacred principle of the middle path, Dhammachayo, Chan and their disciples have relentlessly encouraged lay worshippers at the temple to commit themselves to, what critics claim to be, the excessive drive for contributions in order to fulfil their vision of ''larger, bigger and best-ever'' religious edifices, built to glorify Buddhism and the meditation method of Dhammakaya.

Born in 1944, Dhammachayo, whose real name is Chaiyaboon Suthiphol, showed serious interest in Buddhism since his student days at Suan Kularp School and later at Kasetsart University.

Inspired by the student movement of the early 1960s which called for strict adherence to Buddhist doctrines, Dhammachayo set out on a search for a Buddhist scholar who could demonstrate the practicality and relevance of Buddhist teaching, while aspiring to achieve what often could be only described in abstract terms such as nirvana and enlightenment.

Dhammachayo's search led him to Chan in 1964 and their mutual interest to practise Buddhism helped to cement their work and aspiration to propagate the religion.

Chan, born in 1909 to a farmer's family in Nakhon Pathom's Nakhon Chaisi district, was illiterate but demonstrated a strong passion and a monumental ability to study and recite Buddhist teachings.

Attracted by the tales of religious miracles and the blissful experience of Dhammakaya meditation, which allegedly allows the meditator a glimpse of what enlightenment is like, Chan left her home in 1937 to devote herself as a nun and disciple of Luang Phor Wat Paknam, also known by his religious title of Phra Mongkol Thepmunee.

With her dedication to meditation and a unique gift to explain the intricacies of Buddhist doctrines, Chan became a leading disciple of Luang Phor Wat Paknam and helped to further propagate his meditation method after the monk died in 1959.

As a meditation teacher, Chan had a residence within the Paknam Phasi Charoen temple where she conducted meditation classes for Dhammachayo and a growing number of youth who aspired to prove that the Buddhist path to enlightenment was ''really'' attainable.

After Dhammachayo demonstrated his seriousness to pursue the religious profession by taking a vow of celibacy years before entering the monkhood, the meditation teacher started plans to build a temple for her ''prized'' student to propagate Buddhism for a new breed of followers who want to practise religion instead of only visiting a temple for merit-making ceremonies.

Following Dhammachayo's entry into the monkhood in 1969, construction of Wat Phra Dhammakaya started the following year. And five years later the temple commenced it full activities after Dhammachayo served his five-year monkhood under close supervision of his preceptor, Somdej Phra Maha Ratchamangkalacharn, one of the top monks in the Supreme Sangha Council.

Under the meditation guidance of Dhammachayo and Chan, the temple attracted hundreds of thousands of disciples seeking a glimpse of the enlightened experience through the easy-to-follow Dhammakaya meditation method.

But it also launched a series of controversial donation drives to solicit funds from worshippers to build more and more religious monuments even though the meditation was supposed to put human inclination toward excesses on hold.

The Nation

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