The mess some monks create

opinion April 26, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

Anyone in robes found behaving immorally should not be allowed to remain in robes



More and more senior monks have been implicated in a large-scale embezzlement scandal involving temples around the country. They include three members of the Sangha Supreme Council, the ruling body of Thai Buddhism, who are also in charge of some of the temples linked to the scandal.

The National Office of Buddhism (NOB) started its investigation into this corruption scandal almost two years ago. Many of the agency’s officials are accused of working with senior monks in charge of at least 45 temples in Bangkok and other provinces allegedly embezzling more than Bt270 million from state funds. 

However, the agency’s progress in the case seems to have been difficult. After its director-general, Pongporn Parmsneh, pursued legal proceedings against five senior monks over alleged embezzlement of state funds, groups of Buddhists demanded his dismissal and called for legal action against him.

The NOB chief so far has the backing of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and PM’s Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvar-dhana, who is in charge of the agency. We hope Pongporn’s bosses will not yield to the pressure to unseat him, as they did last year following a similar campaign by monks. Fortunately, Pongporn was re-appointed to head the NOB a few weeks after he was transferred elsewhere.

Priests making personal gain dishonestly is a sin in every religion. But this was exactly what many senior monks did, skimming millions of baht from state funds allocated for temple development and the education of novices, according to investigators. It seems that, for many monks, the longer they remain in monastic life and the more senior they are, the more corrupt they become. They might steer their followers away from greed and dishonesty, but it seems they do not practise what they preach.

Monks who lack the conscience to control their behaviour do not deserve to remain in robes. They no longer have the merit or values to preach about ethical and moral principles. 

A major problem for the Thai monastic world is that the power is centralised among small groups of senior monks. Abbots have the power to single-handedly control their temples and the Sangha Supreme Council has total control over the entire monastic hierarchy throughout the country. There are no problems when good monks are in control. But scandals often emerge when temples are in the hands of abbots of dubious morality. 

These monks need to be “weeded out” from Thai Buddhism as a necessary reform measure. The question is why people calling themselves Buddhists come out against the very people who are trying to get rid of the weeds.  

Priests with corrupt morals are a threat not only to their temples and followers but also the Thai Buddhist community as a whole. They bring a negative image to Buddhist monks and disillusion many worshippers. To really protect the religion, we need to prevent greedy and selfish priests from making personal gain from taxpayers’ money. We cannot defend individuals who are accused of committing wrongdoing.