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Date: 12/11/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Temple evicted villagers to make room for gigantic pagoda

IN stark contrast to the absolute faith commanded by the controversial Dhammakaya Temple from its rich followers, eager to buy a stairway to heaven at all costs, it gets sheer hostility from its neighbours.

Most villagers living around the temple in the Klong Sam area of Pathum Thani's Klong Luang district do not make merit or give alms to Dhammakaya monks.

When asked about the temple, villagers in the neighbourhood did not hesitate a second to vent their fervent disapproval.

Klong Sam villagers have their own reasons for disliking the temple. About 300 families were evicted years ago after the temple bought the land they were living on.

During the height of the land dispute, villagers facing eviction, held angry protests and threatened to burn down the temple which prompted the police and provincial authorities to intervene and tighten security for the temple.

At least one villager was jailed for six months for disobeying an eviction notice. The temple succeeded in moving the inhabitants off the plots it had bought after compensating them and seeking legal back-up from the provincial authorities.

From the 196 rai of land it first covered in 1977, the temple's perimeter now covers about 2,600 rai.

Villager Chumpol Pleekklang, 70, said he could still remember being forced off the land he had rented to grow rice 12 years ago and having to spend six months in jail for violating the eviction order.

''I had nowhere to go then and nobody could help me. It's strange that a temple which was supposed to help people was the villain itself,'' he said.

Chumpol now earns a living from menial farm and household jobs because he no longer has a field to cultivate. He said he accepts offers from anyone except the Dhammakaya Temple.

''Nobody here wants to have anything to do with the temple. When we want to make merit we go to other places like Wat Bang Khan and Wat Kla Cha-oom,'' he said.

Another villager Chamras Panpanya, 78, claimed the Dhammakaya Temple had an unwelcoming attitude towards the villagers and security guards often turned them out each time they attempted to enter the temple.

''We do not give alms to Dhammakaya monks. We have seen them dump the food we give to them and eat expensive dishes from a local restaurant,'' he claimed.

Siri Khodthong, 52, said she and her neighbours had also refused to give alms to Dhammakaya monks after learning that their contributions had been dumped.

''Some villagers said they had even picked up the discarded food to eat,'' she said.

Siri said she had never made merit at the Dhammakaya Temple because it's religious practices were different from other Buddhist temples.

''How can a Buddhist temple have no crematorium or even an ordination ceremony? It's bizarre,'' she said.

Siri was one of those evicted to make way for the expansion of the Dhammakaya Temple. She claimed the temple had initially offered villagers a three-rai plot to live on in addition to Bt200,000 as compensation of per family but had later retracted the offer of land.

She claimed the temple had deducted Bt70,000 from the compensation from those villagers who received the money after the disbursement date.

''That's why we had to stage protests,'' she said.

An engineering student living in Klong Sam, Tong, said he was just six-years-old when his family was evicted from the land on which the temple is now planning to build a giant pagoda.

''They may have a lot of rich followers and enjoy huge donations. But villagers here have no faith in the temple,'' he said.

However a food vendor stationed in front of the temple, Thidarat Kannetr, said she did not think there was anything wrong with the temple and has been a devotee for more than 10 years.

''Some lay temple officials might have been impolite to visitors. But monks here have done nothing bad.''

Thidarat said that even though the temple had aggressively promoted its campaign to muster public donations for the giant pagoda, it did not force people to part with money.

''The decision to donate or not depends on the individual. The amount they give is also their decision,'' he said.

BY Piyanooch Sawankjang and

Sarina Srikrissanapol

The Nation

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