Weeks of front-page scandals involving Buddhist monk Luang Pu Nenkham have left many Thais in dismay and disbelief as more lurid details about the jet-setting monk emerges, allegedly involving drugs, untold wealth, lavish lifestyle and sex with underage g
Similarly, the sudden decision by well-known Thailand-based Japanese preaching-monk Phra Ajahn Mitsuo Gavesako, who teaches the virtue of celibacy, to discard his robes and almost instantly marry a Thai woman disciple shocked many of his followers.
Facing such revelations, many Thais wonder: What has gone wrong with Thai Buddhism?
These dramatic letdowns, are, nonetheless, almost insignificant compared to other aspects of collective failure among Buddhists in Thailand. Think, for example, how disturbing it is to realise that most Thai monks and lay people are silent on the spreading of hatred and Islamophobia by Buddhist monks and lay people in neighbouring Myanmar, a country also predominantly and supposedly Buddhist.
This is a much bigger letdown than both Luang Pu Nenkham and Phra Ajahn Mitsuo could ever be, and yet most Thai monks and lay Buddhists, and even the media in general, don’t recognise our collective failure as Buddhists to help prevent or mitigate the exacerbation of hate-preaching against Muslims, by sending a strong message to our fellow Buddhists in Myanmar. Sadly, to many parochial Thai Buddhist monks and ordinary folks, this is not even an issue.
If you think it’s “too much” to expect Thai monks and lay people to be interested in the state of Buddhism in Myanmar and the plight of the Rohingya and other Muslims there, let us look at how many temples in Thailand are needlessly and lavishly built in poor communities upcountry. This money could go to help build a hospital, school, library or even an agricultural cooperative – but it goes instead into building and maintaining grand, pricey and fancy temples and nothing is being done to condemn it, unlike the fancy lifestyles of monks like Luang Pu Nenkham.
Many Thai Buddhists are also deeply into the habit of donating money for the construction of this and that gigantic Buddha or statues of venerable monks, despite the fact any fairly well-educated Buddhist must be fully aware that the historical Buddha forbade the making of Buddha statues for worship.
Next, there’s widespread belief in praying for health, wealth, and whatever you want from monks, Buddha statues, Hindu statues, Buddhist and Hindu amulets by those who are supposedly Buddhists. Never mind if the Buddha himself said one should depend of oneself and not on others.
Such practice is not just un-Buddhist in its thinking, but also constitutes one of the roots of a culture of bribery as people invariably promise to give something in return if and when their wishes are granted. Yet those who cry out so loudly against graft and corruption fail to see the connection as to how the daily culture of bribery is being deeply propagated and nurtured by these supposedly ‘Buddhist’ practices.
Last but not least, is the inability of many Thai monks and lay people to embrace the Buddha’s teaching of forgiveness and abstention from exacting revenge. Many monks and ordinary Thais still support the death penalty as the ultimate form of revenge and punishment for hideous crimes, despite the Lord Buddha stating clearly that revenge has no role in his faith. Activists opposing capital punishment made it clear that a major obstacle to abolition of the death penalty is Buddhist monks and lay Buddhists who see execution as a right.
And so I laugh at the tiny farce surrounding monks like Luang Pu Nenkham – no fancy private jet or Maybach limo, or alleged sex in a cemetery, would shock me. What shocks me most is our collective failure as a society to live up to claims of being Buddhist.