Thai King Strips Spiritual Head of Dhammakaya Sect of Royal Title
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has moved to strip the spiritual head of the controversial Dhammakaya sect of Theravada Buddhism of his royally bestowed monastic rank after the influential monk refused repeated summons to appear before the authorities to face legal charges, culminating in a two-week standoff at his temple complex between Dhammakaya followers and some 4,000 police and military personnel.
Seventy-two-year-old Phra Dhammajayo, the former abbot of Wat Dhammakaya, the temple at the center of the controversial Dhammakaya Buddhist movement, reportedly has ties to a number of powerful public figures—including the family of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra—and has been hounded by allegations of involvement in embezzlement, money laundering, corruption, conspiracy to receive stolen goods, and taking over land unlawfully to build meditation centers. According to The Nation newspaper, Thai police are now pursuing some 350 legal cases against Phra Dhammajayo and Wat Dhammakaya.
A statement in the Royal Thai Government Gazette, signed by Prayut Chan-o-cha, the head of Thailand’s ruling junta, said the monk's refusal to surrender to police to face criminal charges made him unfit to hold the royal ecclesiastic title Phra Thepyan Mahamuni Sri Dhamma Kosol, which he received in 2011. “Phra Thepyanmahmuni has refused to surrender per his warrant and fled the aforementioned charges, therefore he does not deserve to remain in the rank,” the statement said. “His Majesty hereby issues a royal command stripping Phra Thepyanmahmuni from the rank.” (Khaosod English)
According to the Bangkok Post newspaper, officials of Wat Dhammakaya have not commented on the move. Although stripped of his royal title, only the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand has the authority to defrock Phra Dhammajayo and he remains a Buddhist monk. Phra Dhammajayo’s aides have previously dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated. They have also claimed that Phra Dhammajayo is too sick to face questioning and that they have not seen him for months. Wat Dhammakaya in Thailand's Pathum Thani Province has been designated a special controlled area as authorities stepped up operations to track down arrest the renegade monk, who is believed to have concealed himself within the extensive temple complex since last year.
Critics also accuse the Dhammakaya movement of exploiting its followers and Buddhism to make money. The headquarters at Wat Dhammakaya, with its signature UFO-shaped temple dome and donation rooms equipped with ATMs, occupies an area nearly 10 times larger than the Vatican, including underground chambers and tunnels. The movement, which also operates television stations and websites, has established some 90 branches in 35 countries since 1970.
However, the movement denies any ties to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra or his supporters. “We have never been involved in any political affairs,” said Phra Pasura Dantamano, a senior Dhammakaya monk. “Every project we have conducted is transparent. If anyone fears a threat, it’s only those who obtained power improperly. All we do is teach monks, teach self-discipline, meditation. Is that wrong?” (Asian Correspondent)
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, with 93.2 per cent of the country’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to 2010 data from the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center. The country has approximately 38,000 temples and a population of some 300,000 monks. Although full bhikkhuni ordination is not recognized in Thailand, a number of groups of female renunciants exist, some of whom have been ordained overseas, although they do not enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.
Dhammajayo stripped of monastic rank (Bangkok Post)
HM KING STRIPS DHAMMACHAYO OF MONK TITLE (Khaosod English)
Thai king strips fugitive monk of his rank – army (Asian Correspondent)
Thailand temple row exposes power struggle (Asian Correspondent)
Phra Dhammachayo and his Dhammakaya Temple face total of 350 charges (The Nation)
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