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Date: 12/17/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Temple has exploited community, says banished disciple

WAT Phra Dhammakaya, spoiled by the unreserved faith of its followers, has in the last five years exploited the Buddhist community, by falsely teaching that merit making is a solution for all personal and social problems, a key detractor who had been close to the temple's abbot said.

Such misleading interpretation of the Buddhist canon has led to the disintegration of many families. Followers have been lured into making ever-increasing donations to fulfil the temple's aspirations.

Phra Mano Mettanantho, a disenchanted disciple, claims that the controversial temple is no longer an ideal meditation centre. Instead the temple thrives on a religious scam of portraying itself as a sanctuary for Buddhist followers. These followers have to seek salvation by totally committing themselves to a series of contributions, he said.

He pointed out that the solicitation campaign seems to have no religious or ethical limits.

Phra Mano, a trained doctor and pharmacist, was ordained into the monkhood in 1982. He introduced the unique Dhammakaya meditation method to university students. This was before he graduated in the Pali language from Oxford University and in religious and medical ethics from Harvard University in the US.

In one of its solicitation drives, the temple proclaimed Phra Mano as a model monk who had dedicated his life to Buddhism.

''The last five years of my life in Wat Phra Dhammakaya have been of suffering and darkness. I feel like an animal confined in a zoo that attracts people to buy tickets but has no right to manage its own life,'' he said.

The monk said the management of the temple has veered from its initial goal of offering solitude to meditators. He said the character of abbot Dhammachayo has also been transformed.

People with the ulterior motive of seeking commercial gains have replaced the religious on the management board. Dhammachayo has apparently abandoned his principle of modesty to embrace the social trappings of fame, he said.

In spite of the Buddhist teaching that one should not boast of religious power and achievement, Dhammachayo recently made no objection to a praise by one lay woman. She claimed that the abbot's Dhammakaya -- psychic power -- is ''the beginning of all mundane things''.

The praise is unfounded in mainstream Theravada Buddhist teaching. It curiously implies that the abbot might be a ''bodhisatva''. This term has context with the Mahayana sect, who say that the implied state only exists in the after-life, or after the death of an enlightened monk.

Phra Mano, whose real name is Mano Laohavanit, was a close disciple of Dhammachayo during his student days at Chulalongkorn University.

Early in his religious studies at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, he helped construct the temple.

After completing his medical training, he entered the monkhood with the encouragement of Dhammachayo. He expanded the propagation network to the US and international Buddhist organisations while studying abroad.

When he returned to the temple, he found it had grown into a gigantic organisation. It welcomed a huge crowd of worshippers, but nobody knew what happened to the donations.

The recent development at the temple is in stark contrast to Dhammachayo's first Sunday sermon when the temple construction was just completed.

''We will stop now. Our wat has 20 monks and a pavilion which can be converted into a temple. We will not build anything large,'' he recalled.

Following the change in policy to construct ambitious religious edifices worth billions of baht, Phra Mano lobbied for financial transparency. He was banished to ''forever'' propagate the religion abroad.

He is studying for a doctorate in Thailand's Buddhist history at the University of Hamburg.

The Nation

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