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Date: 12/8/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Dhammakaya temple responds

In the first detailed defence of its activities, the Dhammakaya temple released a book over the weekend which addresses key questions it had been asked about itself. There follows the first part of a two-part excerpt.

Why has the Dhammakaya temple come under attack?

Whenever someone has new ideas, he faces both support and criticism. Criticism often comes from those who adhere to old concepts. New ideas and action which benefits the public always receives attention and generates much criticism.

Those who intend to do good to the public have to heed criticism. If they have made mistakes, they should correct them, but if they find that criticism is caused by misunderstanding, they should let critics know the truth.

Sometimes attacks are made by people with ulterior motives. They may be jealous, hateful or paranoid, or their interests may be threatened. In any case they have to be patient in order to prove their good deeds.

This applies not only to commoners: King Rama VI was criticised when he initiated the building of Lumpini Park. At that time critics said the park would be too big and unnecessary. Now the public appreciates King Rama VI's vision.

When the late Phra Bhuddhathas initiated a new preaching method, without carrying the larn leaf, he met with strong opposition. He was even called a mad monk, although his style has since become accepted.

When then finance minister Sommai Huntrakul devalued the baht in 1984, he was vigorously attacked. Later everybody understood the benefits to the country. Several letters of apology were written to him. These letters were published in a souvenir book at his funeral.

Those who intend to do good should prepare to face criticism. We Buddhists should let go of old concepts. We should give priority to essence rather than appearance and should reform Buddhist teaching methods. People should accept new methods of learning, but the essence of what they learn should be preserved.

Why do we have to build a huge religious structure? Buddhism preaches modest life, dose it not?

We Buddhists are children of the Lord Buddha, so we should follow his example. We should study how the Lord Buddha established Buddhism for us over 2,500 years ago.

We found that the temple where the Lord Buddha stayed the longest, 20 years, was the Great Chetawan Temple, which was built by a rich merchant, Anathabinthika. He spent 540 million kahapana. In today's money, a kahapana is worth several US dollars. So the construction of Chetawan Temple cost the equivalent of several tens of billion baht, or even hundreds of billion. The Chetawan temple became the base for establishing Buddhism.

The Lord Buddha taught monks to live modestly and concentrate on practising dharma. The Lord Buddha appreciated donations for the construction many large temples. Chetawan aside, his great benfactress Visakha donated money equivalent to several tens of billions of baht to build the Buppharam temple. The Lord Buddha even sent his closest disciple to oversee the construction. Great temples house many people and eventually benefit the public.

The Dhammakaya temple began as a small temple which could accommodate only 450 people. Because we sincerely set out to disseminate Buddhism, the number of people who come to our temple has increased significantly. We need to construct new buildings to accommodate them. The great Dhammakaya stupa is planned to unite the spirits of 10,000 monks and one million lay followers. Although the stupa is still under construction, over 100,000 followers come to pay respect to it on each religious day. All structures at the Dhammakaya temple were built to be used. The funds come from those people that use the temple. All Buddhists in the country benefit.

Would it not be better to build schools and hospitals instead of a temple?

Schools and hospitals should also be built. Schools educate, and hospitals heal. However, the educated and the healthy may harm society if they have no morality. So we need to build temples to teach dharma.

A point which is often overlooked is that when people are under stress form work they need recreation. Some people drink, some smoke, some go to the cinema, some travel, and some go to the temple.

Those who enjoy drinking spend money. This supports distilleries and causes bars and pubs to be built. Smoking supports tobacco companies and their distribution network. People who watch films support cinemas. Tour companies benefit from people who travel.

Those who prefer to go to the temple use their recreation budget for making merit. They donate for the building of temples, stupas and other religious structures.

We cannot tell drinkers and smokers to stop and donate their money to schools and hospitals. Similarly, we cannot force people to stop making donations to temples. If they are forced to stop, their money will be used for the construction of schools and hospitals. They might as well switch to smoking and drinking.

If we think that people over-frequent temples and are too moral, we should launch a campaign to ask them to refrain from going to the temple. If we think that people are deficient in morality, we should launch a campaign to encourage them to go to the temple.

A country is in trouble if it has many entertainment venues but few religious sites to attract people. There is a high level of morality a country if it has many religious sites and many people who frequent them.

There should be support for the building of those religious structures that are intended to be used.

Why build it during the economic crisis?

The construction of the International Dhammakaya Council pavilion and the great stupa began before the economic crisis. We have two arguments to demonstrate this:

1. Looking to the past, we find that the Temple housing the Emerald Buddha was built during the reign of King Rama I, soon after Thailand declared independence from Burma. The country had been at war and needed restoration. The king decided to build the temple, which took a lot of money. As a result the morale of the population increased, and the country enjoyed peace.

The stupa at the Temple of the Dawn was also build during an economic crisis, in the reign of King Rama II. This helped revive the economy. At that time people were unwilling to spend. They buried their money, the equivalent of depositing money in banks today. People dug up their money and donated it for the building of the stupa. Construction materials were bought, jobs created, labourers employed. These were positive effects on the economy, which began to revive. The spending on the Dhammakaya temple is similarly helping the economy now.

2. Both foreign and locally produced alcoholic drinks and cigarettes still sell well, despite the recession. The film ''Titanic'' alone generated income equivalent in hard currency to several hundreds of million baht that had left the country.

This shows that during the recession people suffered stress and needed recreation. People should be invited to go to the temple, make merit and avoid social vices. When donations are made, religion is served and the economy revived. This is better than wasting money on vices.

Media Categorised

Wat Dhammakaya has categorised both Thai- and English-language newspapers into three groups. This follows the weeklong coverage of the controversy surrounding the temple's Maha Dhammakaya Jedi and fund-raising tactics.

The following list was displayed at a booth inside the temple over the weekend:

* Papers that are just monitoring the development: Krungthep Turakij, Thai Post, Thai Rath, Ban Muang and Naew Na.

* Those ''sticking'' to the controversy: Khao Sod, Matichon and Siam Thurakij.

* hose with ''unusual'' coverage: The Nation, Daily News and Matichon Weekender.

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