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Date: 12/18/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Dhammakaya abbot 'free to spend donations on land'

DESPITE reports of religious irregularities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a senior government regulator of religious affairs yesterday claimed a lack of evidence to file charges against abbot Luang Phor Dhammachayo and his disciples.

Religious Affairs Department deputy director general Yuthachai Uttama said the allegations against the abbot and the temple's questionable fund-raising methods have so far not been substantiated.

In commenting on press reports on Dhammachayo's accumulation of land in Phichit, Yuthichai argued that based on religious and civil laws the abbot was free to spend unconditional donations at his discretion.

Even though any property owned by a monk should become the temple's estate, the monk is allowed to make a will or to transfer the ownership before his death.

Yuthichai said Dhammachayo's land ownership, though not legally wrong, begged questions by followers that the abbot should clarify how he financed the land procurement and what he intended to do with it.

He also urged victims and witnesses to come forward to substantiate press reports about the alleged sexual affairs between senior Dhammakaya monks and female disciples.

If proven, being defrocked is the punishment for breaking the vow of celibacy, he said.

''So far the allegations [about sexual affairs] have not been substantiated by evidence,'' he noted, rendering no grounds for the investigation.

The deputy director general revealed that he submitted about 111 texts of Dhammakaya's teaching materials for the scrutiny of Phra Phrommolee, chief monk of region 1 who supervises the temple.

Phra Phrommolee has been assigned by the Sangha Supreme Council, the highest governing body for Buddhist monks, to head a fact-finding probe into alleged irregularities in the temple's interpretation of Buddhist canon and its relentless drive for larger donations which is causing hardship to many followers.

A religious regulator said that the Dhammakaya scandal, fuelled by its unorthodox teaching and the controversial solicitations, is a sensitive issue, needing cautious handling to avoid splits among followers as the temple continues to attract huge numbers of worshippers.

But another official, who is a veteran in monitoring the monk's alleged misconduct, voiced concern that the temple's problems might be too chronic to tackle.

''Throughout the years, senior administrative monks and the public have turned a blind eye to the growth of the temple, allowing it to amass financial resources and social contacts to be above censure by any authority,'' he said.

The official further asserted that several ranking monks at key temples, such as Wat Ratcha-oros, Wat Pak Nam Pasicharoen and Wat Benjamabopit, remained supporters of the temple despite its alleged flaws.

He also revealed that Wat Phra Dhammakaya had expanded its network to include three more temples in the US, located in Atlanta, a town in Texas and Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Wat Phra Dhammakaya has distributed a book titled, ''Deep Scrutiny of Dhammakaya (Top Secret)'', aimed at rebutting allegations against the temple.

In the rebuttals, 12 popular disciples contributed articles aimed at improving the temple's image.

The writers are Anant Asvabhokin, property development tycoon and the chief building contractor of the controversial Maha Dhammakaya Jedi, Pisit Ningnoy, a Chiang Mai judge, Sukasem Phamonsatit, religious academic and expert on pagoda design, Pissamai Saenghiran, director of the Krungthep Turakij School, businesswoman Penchan Asvasophon, former forestry chief Pong Leng-e, actress Leelawadi Watcharobon, psychiatrist Prapas Uttranan, former Thai News Agency director Sathaphon Khosajan, educator Tawil Wattirangkul, former city adviser Manit Rattanasuwan and school administrator Thaworn Chaiyajak.

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