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Date: 12/3/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Dhammakaya Temple has think-big policy

FROM the robes of senior monks to materials used in the construction of its ambitious dome-like pagoda, the Dhammakaya Temple has displayed anything but simplicity, which is a key fundamental of Buddhism, critics say.

If fact, ''thinking big'' is a motto of the temple which unveiled its wish to match the Vatican or Mecca in terms of architectural elegance.

Dhammakaya's abbot, Luang Phor Dhammachayo, has applied the no-holds-barred philosophy when preaching to his followers about merit-making. The more they donate, the more happiness they will receive, he keeps saying.

The ''go for it'' rallying cry has been getting louder since the temple embarked on its most ambitious project -- the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi (pagoda). Believers are encouraged to donate Bt30,000 each to have their own Dhammakaya images built inside the pagoda, or Bt10,000 each for similar images to be placed around the structure.

The number of Dhammakaya images available for reservation is one million. If all are booked, the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi will be one of the biggest fund-raising projects in Thai history.

''Anyone who wants to take part in the construction of the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi is recommended to go for it with no holds barred, so that the fruits of this merit will be yielded in a no-holds-barred manner,'' Luang Phor Dhammachayo once said.

He vowed that the structure will last until eternity. ''All materials are bought from overseas and they are of better quality than local material,'' the monk said.

The obsession with foreign material is not limited to the pagoda construction, sources said. At Dhammakaya, seniority or ranks of monks are defined by the robes they wear. The most senior ones wrap themselves in shining robes imported from Switzerland.

And while it preaches detachment from worldly temptation, its fund-raising campaign ironically promises donors and solicitors a financially-happy life. Solicitors -- working in a network similar to that of direct sales business -- are offered kanaen amulets.

There are three levels of the kanaen amulets -- for solicitors who can get 10, 20 and 100 bookings of Dhammakaya images, respectively.

The temple advertises that the kanaen amulets have a special power -- they can ''suck'' money from people with little merit to the owners. The words ''asset sucking'' are imprinted on every amulet.

''For Bt100 merit [made with Dhammakaya], the amulet's owner will get Bt1,000 in return,'' the temple boasts. ''For Bt1 million merit made, the owner will get Bt10 million.''

The go-for-it slogan has convinced many followers, but their family members are not so happy. A woman has written a letter to well-known TV anchorman Chirmsak Pinthong complaining that her husband has gone too far in his contribution to Dhammakaya, transferring millions of the family's own and borrowed money to the temple's coffers.

''I resent what the Dhammakaya Temple is doing to this family in times of a flagging economy. Why can't the temple just focus its efforts on preaching Buddhist fundamentals and asking believers to follow the path of the good? Why isn't the temple permeable to the grievances of the people? I wish the temple would stop assailing families before people decide to kill themselves to escape all these problems,'' said the woman, whose name was withheld.

The Nation

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