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Date: 12/5/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Temple fund-raising checks urged

DEPUTY Education Minister Arkom Engchuan on Friday asked officials to consult with the Sangha Supreme Council on new ministerial regulations about religious objects and buildings.

The pending regulations are expected to set a standard for the solicitation drives conducted by Buddhist temples in the wake of the concerns over Wat Phra Dhammakaya's campaign to build monuments by soliciting ''larger and larger'' donations from worshippers.

Arkom said the Religious Affairs Department was to inform the Supreme Sangha Council on Friday about the temple's finances and the complaints lodged against the method of propagating donations based on miracles.

Phra Dhammavarodom, a top member of the Supreme Sangha Council, said the highest governing body for Buddhist monks had planned to discuss the controversy surrounding Wat Dhammakaya over the method it uses to attract worshippers and donations, pending the outcome of a probe conducted by the chief monk of region 1.

Dhammavarodom also pointed out that the council was slow in reviewing activities at Wat Dhammakaya because no injured parties had come forward.

The deputy education minister predicted that the monks' highest governing body would rule on what constitutes a ''proper'' limit to solicitation, the promotion of religious objects and temple buildings.

Religious Affairs Department director-general Pipop Kanchana revealed that his office had opened a hotline, 282-2445, for the public to air their complaints about the temple's activities.

A religious affairs official said hundreds had called in to voice mixed views on Wat Dhammakaya's drive to solicit donations.

He added that in one complaint, a worshipper claimed that a temple official had persistently called in late every night to solicit donations.

Nearly 90 per cent of the respondents to a Bangkok University poll rejected Wat Phra Dhammakaya's method of soliciting donations by promoting so-called miracles.

The poll surveyed 1,300 Bangkok residents between Nov 29 and Dec 1 about the controversy surrounding the temple.

Of the total, 88.5 said the temple's tactics of having worshippers ''buy merits'' was not right, while 11.3 per cent said they did not oppose the strategy.

Eighty-seven per cent said construction of the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi, which requires more than Bt10 billion, was not the right way of propagating Buddhism, while 12 per cent said it was alright.

Eighty three per cent said the government should scrutinise the temple's tactics, 16 per cent said the government should not interfere, while the rest said the matter should be left up to the Sangha Supreme Council.

The Nation

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