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Date: 1/4/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Dhammakaya witnesses plunge in number of visitors

THE embattled Wat Dhammakaya was dealt a major blow when the number of New Year visitors to the temple declined sharply to around 15,000 on Sunday, compared with over 100,000 one year ago.

Normally the first Sunday of a new year draws more than 100,000 faithful to the temple, but Sunday's turnout was described as the most obvious sign of ''decline'' since newspapers late last year started digging into the temple's controversial fund-raising tactics and its abbot's questionable financial status.

Apparently stunned by the fast-dwindling following, Abbot Dhammachayo Sunday urged staunch devotees taking part in the New Year merit-making rituals to send ''blessing'' cards to newspapers and defend, in a non-confrontationist way, their faith in the temple.

''Let's send our best wishes to newspapers, using polite words and giving our real names and addresses,'' he said to the followers, whose relatively small number made the vast temple compound look all but empty.

''Let's tell them what we have obtained spiritually by coming here. Please don't be aggressive. Give them our best wishes,'' the abbot said.

As he spoke, temple employees distributed paper and envelopes to followers, along with documents which the temple has lately published to defend itself.

The number of visitors to the temple Sunday was almost the same as on Friday, New Year's Day, and Saturday. Even the most loyal followers commented that they had never seen such a big drop in turnout before.

The temple has been accused of arm-twisting tactics to force followers to make huge donations. Controversies shrouding the temple's operation were fuelled in December when it was disclosed that the abbot had bought vast plots of land worth hundreds of millions of baht.

The Nation

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