Re: "Ex-monk's reflection of Thais and Buddhism", Editorial, April 28.
Thai Buddhists who were duped by the erstwhile Phra Yantra shouldn’t feel too bad about it. This sort of thing happens in many religions. Some years ago, the popular American tele-evangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker were both brought down by sex scandals, and there was a monk in the Tibetan tradition who had sex with his students even after he knew he had Aids. Where there is flesh, there will be flaws.
The moral should be clear. We shouldn’t put our faith in personalities. We should put our faith in principles. When the Buddha was on his deathbed and his disciples were lamenting the imminent loss of their teacher, the Buddha mildly rebuked them for forgetting his central teaching that all compound things are transient. He told them that thenceforward the dharma would be their teacher.
The editorial mentions the tendency of some Thai Buddhists to think they can buy their way into heaven. This is a logical extension of the custom of merit-making, and it is troubling in the extreme. It shows how deeply the corrupting power of worldliness has infected even minds that consider themselves religious.
I’m not a Buddhist, but I should think that merit-making motivated by craving for a reward would make no merit at all. The craving would poison the act and neutralise the merit. When Emperor Wu of Liang asked Bodhidharma if all the temples he had built and all the monasteries he had endowed had earned him merit, the monk boldly told him it had earned him none at all. But in this gimme-gimme age, asking human beings to act out of pure altruism may be asking too much.