Thailand’s Monastic Sangha Riven over Nomination of Supreme Patriarch

By Craig Lewis
Buddhistdoor Global | 2016-01-13 |
Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn is the most senior monk vying to become Thailand's 20th supreme patriarch. From bangkokpost.comSomdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn is the most senior monk vying to become Thailand's 20th supreme patriarch. From

The selection of a new leader for Thailand’s Buddhist clergy appears likely to remain unresolved for the foreseeable future as controversy dogs the selection process for the office of supreme patriarch. Lying at the tangled roots of the issue are the ties that some of the eight potential nominees are believed to have to Wat Dhammakaya, the temple at the center of the controversial Dhammakaya Buddhist movement, which reportedly has the backing of a number of powerful politicians and other public figures—including the family of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra—and has been hounded by allegations of involvement in fraud, embezzlement, and corruption.

The supreme patriarch—the full title is Somdet Phra Sangharaja Sakalamahasanghapariṇayaka—is the head of the Thai monastic sangha and president ex officio of the Supreme Sangha Council, the administrative body that governs the Thai sangha. The post is formally appointed by the king of Thailand on advice of the prime minister and with the approval of the Supreme Sangha Council. The supreme patriarch oversees both of Thailand’s Theravada orders, the Maha Nikaya and the Thammayut Nikaya, as well as the country’s small minority of Mahayana Buddhists.

On Monday, Thai prime minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted that he would not forward the name of any candidate for royal endorsement until disputes over the nomination were settled. “I have said that the problem must be cleared up first. If not, I cannot nominate a name [for post of supreme patriarch],” he said. (The Bangkok Post)

The prime minster’s remark followed the submission of a petition to the prime minister’s office early on Monday by activist monk Phra Buddha Issara, the abbot of the temple Wat Or-noi in the province of Nakhon Pathom. The petition, reportedly bearing 300,000 signatures, voiced opposition to the endorsement of acting supreme patriarch Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, the most senior monk among the candidates.

Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, also known as Somdet Chuang, of the Maha Nikaya order is the 90-year-old abbot of Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen. However, Phra Buddha Issara and other groups have voiced doubts over his suitability for the role, accusing him of having violated monastic rules and of having close ties to Phra Dhammachayo, the abbot of Wat Dhammakaya, whom Somdet Chuang mentored when he was ordained in 1969. 

Dhammakaya followers attend a ceremony in front of the spaceship-like stupa of Wat Dhammakaya. From dmc.tvDhammakaya followers attend a ceremony in front of the spaceship-like stupa of Wat Dhammakaya. From

Speculation over who will be appointed Thailand’s most senior monk has been rife since last month, when the previous office holder was cremated in a royally sponsored ceremony. The 19th supreme patriarch of Thailand, Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara, died in October 2013 shortly after his 100th birthday. His remains were formally cremated in December 2015 after lying in state for two years.

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, some of whom have been ordained overseas, exist, although they do not enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.

See more

Top monk battle heats up (Bangkok Post)
Selection of new Patriarch in a mess (Bangkok Post)
‘Resolve Sangha issues first’ (The Nation)
Activist monk petitions Government over imminent nomination of new supreme patriarch (Thai PBS)
PM: Naming of next Supreme Patriarch can wait (National News Bureau of Thailand)
Thailand Pays Last Respects to Supreme Patriarch (Buddhistdoor Global)

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