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Date: 1/17/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Dhammachayo spent Bt3 m on sumptous meals

IN spite of the Buddhist principle of modesty, Wat Phra Dhammakaya abbot Luang Phor Dhammachayo has spent Bt3 million, calculated at half price, on sumptuous feasts to satisfy his palate for more than a decade, a caterer said Saturday.

A member of House committee on religion, art and culture asked a new question, how the controversial abbot spent donations given as alms for monk's food since he and ranking monks always ignored public alms, indulging in culinary delights provided by caterers.

The temple solicited Bt30 million a month from devotees under the pretext of running the temple's kitchen, which was allegedly responsible for meal preparations for monks and laymen.

But the committee member discovered that the temple dispatched several teams of monks to beg for alms and that the donated food supplies were for the consumption of the temple staff.

''The donations for the temple's kitchen might have been wrongfully spent as Dhammakaya monks prefer gourmet food while temple laymen rely on another source of food -- alms,'' he said, referring to monastery rules that donations should be spent in accordance with the donors' stipulations.

Mak Sae Kang, a popular Chinese-food chef and owner of Kang Tiam Ju restaurant, said that for more than 16 years she had been the exclusive caterer for Dhammachayo's daily meal.

''I knew him even before his ordination,'' she said, recalling that Dhammachayo had been a regular customer while he was preparing to build the temple.

Mak said that the good impression she had gained of Dhammachayo's determination to propagate the faith had led her to agree to cater the equivalent of two full-course Chinese tables, enough to feed 20 people, at a cost of Bt500 a day.

The real cost of such meal would be more than double the amount charged, she said, explaining that her lower charge had been viewed as merit-making.

''I once asked Dhammachayo why he ignored food alms given by devotees,'' she noted. ''He just smiled without answering, and I remained his caterer.''

The restaurant-owner decided to discontinue her services to Dhammachayo following public criticism of his conduct.

''I was also fed up that the temple failed to return the tableware,'' she added.

BY PONGSAK BAI-NGERN

The Nation

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