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Date: 1/5/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Monks urge media chiefs to meditate

A LETTER campaign by monks and followers of the Dhammakaya Temple has gone into high gear, flooding newspaper offices with politely-written letters defending the embattled institution against mounting charges and controversies.

Yesterday alone, The Nation received more than 100 letters from Dhammakaya devotees, all of them describing positive things which had happened to them and other followers because of the temple's guidance. Other newspapers critical of the temple's fund-raising and other practices -- Daily News, Matichon, Khao Sod --have also reported an influx of letters.

The writers asked newspapers to be ''fair'' in reporting on the temple, and to rationalise such controversies as the construction of the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi and the temple's apparently endless demands for donations.

Some described themselves as genuine witnesses of the ''Crystal Sun'' miracle which the temple has used to advertise itself.

''I want to live in an ideal world and the Dhammakaya Temple is the place, because it is where everyone respects, forgives and is polite to one another. Everyone smiles and helps each other. It is where people uphold the five precepts and morality,'' Chawiwan Supakijchanusorn wrote in her letter to The Nation.

Dentist Kanungnit Cherdratsami said she believed that although the media attack has continued unabated, ''the truth will prevail one day, because I am just one of so many people who are ready to prove that the temple has done many good things for society, like teaching morality to young people.''

Sakthong Wansurat said he was 83 years old and too old to write so he asked his grandchild to type a letter for him.

''I did this because I pity you [the media] that you do not believe the miracle. Real Buddhism can be found in Dhammakaya Temple,'' he said.

Ngamjit Panjabutriwong defended the grand structure of the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi, which critics say was designed primarily to lure donors.

''Actually, the size of the Maha Dhammakaya Jedi is too small to accommodate hundreds of thousands or millions of the temple's followers. Of course, its construction needs money, but I wonder how many billions of baht other institutions might need to turn bad men to good ones. To attack the temple is to destroy Buddhism and erode Buddhists' faith in their religion,'' she said.

Most letters were written over the past few days when Wat Dhammakaya suffered a major blow as the number of New Year visitors to the temple fell sharply to about 15,000 a day, compared to more than 100,000 a year ago.

Normally the first Sunday of a new year draws more than a 100,000 faithful to the temple, and this New Year'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 on Sunday urged staunch devotees taking part in the New Year merit-making rituals to send ''blessing'' cards and letters to newspapers and defend, in a non-confrontational way, their faith in the temple.

In her letter, Nanthina Thepbusri said she achieved peace of mind and that was all she wanted.

''The temple has taught me all the qualities of a developed mind. It was the first place where I learnt to be patient and to sacrifice, and to work as a team,'' she said.

Pramual Petploy hailed his parents for introducing the temple to him.

''My folk had vision. They wanted their children to be good citizens so they took us to the Dhammakaya Temple. And they were right. None of us fell prey to vice. None of us gamble, nor do drugs, nor drink liquor,'' he said.

Monks from Wat Dhammakaya have also sent many letters to newspapers. The Nation received about 10 yesterday, with many inviting the paper's editor to try practising dhamma at the temple so that he could witness himself why so many people have faith in it.

Phra Thanawat wrote in his letter that he had been ordained at the temple over a year ago and his life had changed a lot.

He summed up the spiritual benefits he had received in five points:

1. ''The virtue in myself has grown up to the point that I would like to share it with all in the world.''

2. ''Before my ordination, I didn't know much about Buddhism, now I know enough to preach.''

3. ''Earlier, my parents and siblings rarely went to temples, but now they go to Wat Dhammakaya almost every week.''

4. ''I understand the true meaning of life -- why we were born and what duties we have. I would like to say it now that all of us have a duty to make merit.''

5. ''I intended to be in the monkhood for only a few months, but because the temple has a lot of good things for me, I decided to stay on.''

Phra Wichian Nattharo wrote that he had learnt ''everything'' from the temple.

''The temple teaches everything from head to toe. They teach even how to use toilet rooms and how to clean the toilet rooms, how to wash dishes and how to clean floors,'' Phra Wichian said in his letter.

Phra Apichart Yansupo wrote that he was happy to find that he could serve society by becoming a monk at Wat Dhammakaya.

Phra Surin Mahavayamo, who has been staying at the temple for four years, said all at the temple are united to work for the religion.

He said the ''dhammakaya'' body of virtue does exist in everybody and the temple will help all people to make most of their own dhammakaya.

''My dear editor, please understand and try to defend the temple and Buddhism,'' Phra Surin said.

Phra Teerayuth Sirikutto said peace would exist in society if everybody goes to the temple to make merit.

''I understand well that the media wants to make people happy with their coverage. So, I would like to ask the media to cover news which will encourage people to do good. We and the media share the same goal -- to create a good society,'' he said in his letter.

''Peace to you, the blessed editor,'' Phra Sathien Suwanachito said in his letter.

''All Buddhists still believe in reincarnation and believe in heaven and hell. They know that they will receive good results from merit making so they try to find a way in which they can make merit to accumulate merits for use during the transition of life. And Wat Dhammakaya is a temple where they can make merit and pray.''

Phra Sathien said the temple would like to invite the editor to the temple ''to prove it to yourself.

''You can try meditating or practising the Buddhist precepts. We are willing to answer all your questions so that you can understand and disseminate the facts,'' he said.

The Nation

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