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Date: 12/2/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

When larger donations bear fruits aplenty

Dhammakaya's proclaimed ''miracles'' are as controversial as the temple's fund-soliciting techniques. The Political Desk reports in the second of a series.

WITH eloquent arguments and substantiated accounts of real-life miracles, the Dhammakaya Temple is defending its fund-raising tactics and other activities, which have been criticised recently for being religiously inappropriate.

In a book published recently to promote the temple's ambitious fund-raising drive, there are several tales of followers whose ''merit'' -- made through large donations -- bore great rewards.

In the story of Nopparat Panpetch, who worked low-paying, undignified jobs such as cleaning dogs' droppings, she and her husband quarrelled after she demanded that he empty his meagre bank account to donate to the temple. When the debate reached a peak, he picked up a plate and said that if it did not hit her in the face in one throw, he would believe in the temple's power.

He threw the plate at her, and it hit her arm. He agreed to make the donation.

From that point on, only good things happened to Nopparat. From a poor woman who sometimes had had only Bt2 in her pocket, she soon became better off, devoting herself to soliciting donations for the temple and setting a goal of Bt10 million.

There is also the story of a three-year-old girl, Chayaporn Boonmee, who out of the blue told her mother that she wanted to have two of her own personal Dhammakaya images within the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi, each image requiring a Bt30,000 donation. Surprised and delighted by the ''miracle'' of her daughter's request. The mother agreed.

Another story involves a teenage boy whose mother was a believer. He was caught in a brawl and beaten up. Doctors told her to prepare for the worst, but she continued to pray. The boy soon made a miraculous recovery.

There is story about a man who had lost his job but got a new one because of his donations; a flower vendor who enjoyed a big boom in business and made Bt50,000 in just a few days, and a singer who believed that an invitation for him to sing for the Royal family was a result of his donation.

People mentioned in the book are ordinary people, and their stories cannot be independently verified. But in the wake of a well-publicised miracle in September which is said to have been witnessed by tens of thousands of worshippers during a mass meditation gathering, Dhammakaya has published accounts of a few traceable witnesses to the event.

According to their accounts, the sun suddenly appeared to be ''sucked out of the sky'', and was replaced by an illuminated crystal which could be seen with the naked eye. Then, the image of Luang Phor Wat Paknam, the creator of the Dhammakaya meditation methods, appeared in the sky. Some saw him in the form of a golden sculpture, and others in the form of a giant crystal.

''I looked around, and the Buddhist disciples were rising and making loud noises, waving Dhammakaya flags,'' actor and former beauty queen Leelawadee Watcharobon was quoted as saying. ''My mother screamed with extreme contentment. My feeling was no less overwhelming. I looked up, and Luang Phor Wat Paknam was there in the sky. I was so delighted that I cried.''

Chulalongkorn University associate professor Saowalak Piempiti insisted that during the event, the sun became like a drawing. It was easy to look at it without protecting one's eyes, he said. Then, the image of Luang Phor Wat Paknam slowly emerged, his saffron robe appearing first.

''It was not a dream. It is a real experience,'' she was quoted as saying.

Dhammakaya's proclaimed ''miracles'' are as controversial as the temple's fund-soliciting techniques which have been the subject of state scrutiny. Good things seem to happen to people who make big donations or those determined to do so, and critics point out that the temple's publications rarely encourage followers to do other good deeds apart from making donations.

Dhammakaya books sometimes describe fund-raising and the building of personal Dhamakaya as ''tricks'' intended to provide a tangible reward for good deeds. The temple says that only a few people have the spiritual strength to do good deeds and expect nothing in return, while most people still need incentives.

''Doing good deeds is like making water flow upstream. We need the help of dams to achieve that, or the water will flow back down.

''To encourage people to do good, sometimes we need to use tricks, which serve as spiritual dams,'' the book says.

While preaching detachment from worldly assets, the temple implicitly boasts that its amulets can make one win a lottery.

''The Sirimahathat amulet is to us a reminder of the three gems [Lord Buddha, his teachings and Buddhist monks] and our own good deeds. The amulet should not be used for other purposes. Although some people have experienced the amulet's money-making powers, especially in a lottery, we don't recommend using the amulet for that purpose,'' abbot Luang Phor Dhammachayo said in the book.

''There should be no more doubt. Some have won seven times in a row. Enough should be enough. No more proof needed.''

When science dominates and technology progresses, people ignore the potential of spiritual power. When their faith declines, people feel uncertain. When they feel uncertain, they stop searching for true knowledge. And without true knowledge, they can't [experience miracles] -- From one of the Dhammakaya publications.

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