• Supreme Patriarch Somdet Phra Ariyavongsagatayan is accompanied by officials as he went to preside over the Sangha Supreme Council meeting yesterday.

Sangha ‘can’t disrobe monk’

national March 11, 2017 01:00

By THE NATION

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Search of temple called off while |fugitive ex-abbot remains at large.



THE SANGHA Supreme Council (SSC) has no power to disrobe controversial former abbot Phra Dhammachayo as that authority belongs to his direct monastic supervisors, it was concluded at the council’s meeting yesterday.

Meanwhile, following a 23-day stand-off, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is going to seek to lift the designation of the fugitive monk’s Dhammakaya Temple as a controlled area, after searches of its compound proved fruitless, DSI director general Paisit Wongmuang said.

Authorities yesterday ended the operation to search the sprawling temple complex in Pathum Thani.

Yesterday’s decision by the SSC was in response to a complaint filed by the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) against the monk, who is now honorary abbot of Dhammakaya Temple and wanted by authorities for alleged money laundering and accepting stolen assets.

The NOB then requested the SSC deal with Dhammachayo through its rule No 21 that empowers monastic supervisors to defrock any monk who regularly violates the Vinaya (monastic rules) or does not reside in a temple, the office’s newly appointed director Pongpon Pramsaneh told a press conference after the meeting.

Pongpon, who is the SSC secretary-general ex-officio, said his agency had requested in writing that the monastic chief of the central region, which had jurisdiction over Wat Dhammakaya, should investigate the complaint against Dhammachayo.

“The disrobing process is not easy. The Sangha Supreme Council has no power to do so,” he told the media briefing at the Buddha Monthon Religious Complex in Nakhon Pathom province.

Pongpon said that by filing a complaint with the monastic body, his agency just started the monastic action against Dhammachayo. 

He said the process called for the monastic chief of the central region to refer Dhammachayo’s case to the abbot of his temple through the line of command. The abbot needs to consider the complaint against Dhammachayo and allow him to explain himself, he added.

According to SSC rule No 21, Dhammachayo will be deemed to waive his right if he fails to explain himself in relation to the complaint. Then disciplinary action can be taken against him, the official said.

However, he declined to speculate as to when the monastic disciplinary process would be completed as that was a matter for the monks dealing with it.

 “This is the same way that you cannot ask a judge when he or she will make a verdict,” he told the press conference. Respected monk Phra Paisal Visalo, a temple abbot in Chaiyaphum, expressed concern over the possible intervention in the monastic disciplinary process against Dhammachayo.

‘How do you stop intervention?’

“We know well that Dhammachayo has a lot of influence, in the Sangha Supreme Council and in the Central monastic region. What should be done to prevent intervention into the monastic court?” he told Thai PBS.

The monk said the monastic disciplinary procedures against Dhammachayo in the past “went nowhere” due to intervention and legal tactics. 

“I suspect this new case in 2017 may end in the same way,” he added.

Over the past 23 days, the DSI, other police and the military have been involved in a stand-off with Dhammakaya monks and the temple’s followers.

It came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as the junta head, issued an order declaring the temple compound a controlled area for an operation to arrest Dhammachayo. 

The ex-abbot has refused to turn himself in for more than a year despite repeated summonses and warrants issued for his arrest.

Paisit, the DSI chief, said the temple had cooperated with authorities over the past 23 days. When things return to normal, the DSI will request that the justice minister lift the designation of the temple being a controlled area, he said.

However, he added that the junta order issued under Article 44 of the interim charter would remain intact until then.

“We did not see Dhammachayo in the temple [yesterday] so we consider him a fugitive. The relevant authorities will attempt to arrest him later,” Paisit said, adding that officials will still be stationed near the temple. 

He noted that the warrants for Dhammachayo’s arrest expire in 15 years.

The DSI will work with immigration police in the attempt to locate the monk, Paisit said, adding that the monk has not left the country through any immigration points.

Dhammakaya monks and followers yesterday ended their demonstration at a market next to the temple and agreed to remove obstacles placed inside and around the vast complex.

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