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Date: 12/25/98

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Student disciples swear by temple

FOR student followers of Wat Dhammakaya belonging to two leading government universities, essence, not form, is what sustains their unwavering faith in the controversial Buddhist temple.

While the temple is facing a barrage of public criticism for its aggressive propaganda in soliciting donations from followers to build grotesque religious mementos, members of Buddhism clubs at Chulalongkorn and Kasetsart universities are loyally practising Buddhist teachings as per the temple's style.

''I only have faith in the Buddhist teachings as propagated by the temple. I don't have faith in or care about its material aspects that have become the topic of media scrutiny,'' said a third-year engineering student of Kasetsart University.

The student, who asked not to be named, said practising Buddhist teachings under the temple's guidance gives him peace of mind, adding, however, that he has nothing to do with its management or solicitation of funds.

''Some followers have deserted the temple after it became a subject of public criticism because they only care about their own reputation but do not appreciate the temple's teachings,'' he said.

Outsiders may find it hard to believe in miracles that Dhammakaya monks and lay followers insist they have encountered after practising meditation, as prescribed by the temple, but the student claimed that he had once seen a miracle when he was ordained a monk for a short time at the temple.

''As I meditated, I saw the blinding sun turn a gentle bright and then into different colours of green, red, orange, yellow and more. The solar circle then became clear and I saw a golden image of Luangphor Sod [the founder of Dhammakaya meditation practice] in the sky for about 30 minutes,'' the same student said.

He said the miraculous celestial phenomenon was witnessed by many people on the same occasion.

The student is among some 200 members of Kasetsart University Buddhism Club, which regularly conducts a meditation trip to Wat Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani province during the summer vacation every year.

Meditation in Dhammakaya style is held at the club between 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm every day and monks from Wat Dhammakaya come to preach and receive alms at the club every Thursday morning. Club members go to the temple every Sunday for meditation with buses provided by the temple while meditation in other provinces is held occasionally.

The club also arranges for Kasetsart students to enter group monkhood at the Marble Temple simultaneously with hundreds of other students from other universities under the annual Dhammathayat [Heirs of Dhamma] programme. After the ordination, the monks stay at Wat Dhammakaya to practise Buddhist teachings and meditation for about three months.

President of Chulalongkorn University Buddhism Club, Siwet Kitkanchanapaibul, said negative reports about Wat Dhammakaya were unlikely to affect the Dhammathayat mass ordination programme, since it has been going on for 15 years.

In addition to the group ordination, the programme now also covers a practice of Buddhist precepts by female lay followers and youths under 18 years of age.

He said the club decided to support the programme for four reasons -- it has a big enough perimeter to accommodate the large number of students who want to enter the monkhood during summer vacations, its teachings can be applied to everyday life, the temple charges no money for the ordination and most permanent Dhammakaya monks are university graduates whose knowledge and communication skills can make student monks understand Buddhist teachings more easily.

''What we are holding on to is Buddhist teachings. Miracles depend on the individual's mind and what one sees can be different from what others see,'' he said.

A club member, Ajja Liewcharoen, a third-year student of the Commerce and Accounting Faculty, said her goal in following Dhammakaya teachings is to achieve peace of mind, not witness a miracle.

The club has more than 1,000 members and regularly holds meditation in Dhammakaya style and other religious activities in cooperation with the temple.

Pitiporn Wattanatasanun,

Saovalak Losirirattanakul,

Sarina Srikritsanapol,

Surapong Wongjan

The Nation

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