(The following article/blog was published yesterday in The Nation. Below however, is the original un-edited submission)
Monks taking to the streets protesting for Buddhism to be declared The National Religion
All very interesting and even rather amusing to see masses of monks demanding that Buddhism be adopted as the national religion. Many must have been surprised to see these supposedly-enlightened ones getting their noses stuck in politics, taking to the streets like floods of Thaksin supporters. But who knows, perhaps some of them are taking generous donations from some former disgruntled politicians hoping to create even more national turmoil.
On the other hand however, it is no darned surprise – monks have been involved in politics for donkey’s years. Take the good-old days in the countryside, respected for their worldly advice, some revered ones would knowledgably inform their followers on the best choice for village headman in the local election. Maybe the wanna-be village headman wasn’t exactly ‘flashing the cash under the table’ but you could call it ‘flashing a handsome amount in the donation box’. Of course, many a villager, believes anything coming from the mouth of their favourite robed-one, and especially some old abbot who spends his days reading the daily newspapers and drinking green tea down at the local corner-shop. Rumours are rife that local wanna-be politicians used to and perhaps still are following in the fancy footsteps of the village headman, but that’s a story for another day.
I am a little sad to see former PM Thaksin in exile as I would, with coffee in hand, always look forward to reading up on his latest scenario, and he too enjoyed using the Buddhist institution for support. Take his ripping rally at Wat Dhammakaya in Pathumthani last year, when he invited tens of thousands to take part in a wonder performance at this very controversial temple. Wise move, especially when this gaff claims to have a few hundred thousand followers. What the heck the monk committee was thinking when they allowed this political fiasco to be held in their ‘flying-saucer’ arena beats me! Or perhaps, they had come across something in some ancient scripture which no-one else had found, which reads “It is a duty of the holy one to afford a political leader the opportunity to voice his ambitions in the shadow of the The Lord Buddha”.
And thinking about Thaksin and his multi-million bucks money-making schemes, the land’s temples have been involved in reeking in wads a cash for decades. Now, one of the most classical holy ways of managing to fill ones revered bank book is the production and sales of supposedly miracle amulets. Have the monk say a prayer, spray on a bit of holy water and abracadabra gobble-me-knockers you instantly find out that a deceased relative you had never met has left you ten million in his will! Then, for any police officer or even gunman, he can visit some miracle monk and ask for an amulet so amazing that even if he is shot at point blank range, the amulet with its groovy powers will be sending the bullet back in the opposite direction. For such heavenly protection however, a nice donation of a few thousand baht to the monkly fund is deeply appreciated.
(Known for its amazing ‘get-rich-quick’ powers. The latest craze, the Jatukram amulet)
The recent sensational story of the miracle ‘get-rich-quick’ Jatukram amulet is a fine example of a highly successful holy business venture. Evolving in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat after the death of an old respected police officer aged a whopping 106, this amulet (not even Buddhist!) is being produced by the hundreds of thousands all over the country. This business conducted by temples has become so lucrative that just last week the Tax department decided to make investigations into whether or not to tax the holy producers and their billion baht industry!
Besides the production of amulets to stimulate the Buddhist economy, another great technique a lot of monks use to rake in stacks of cash is by predicting the lucky government lottery number of the fortnight. Pay a donation to some business-minded monks and hocus-pocus style with the use of some tea leaves, holy water and a magical Buddha Image they’ll be able to conjure up the winning number. Should you be successful, they’ll be expecting you back to give them part of the prize money. Some of these monks just can’t go wrong, predict a 2 digit number for 2-3 years and it’s almost guaranteed that he’s gonna fluke it once. Should the lucky number monk fluke it twice in a row, then he’s in for the jackpot after the villagers inform some national Thai language newspaper and scores of wanna-be winners arrive by the truck load from all over the country. Of course, such heavenly forecasting doesn’t come free and a donation of 20 baht from each player is much appreciated.
A lot of monks especially in rural areas really take advantage of some folks’ beliefs. While some families are poor enough as it, barely getting by, some temples are advising them to ‘give donations’ ‘make merit’ and so secure a better next-life. In fact, some folk believe monks so much that if they were told that meditating standing on their head made their skin whiter, they would do it. Let’s have a look at the folks’ belief in giving lots of alms to the monks. The people are taught that if they wish to have plenty to eat in their next life, then it is mandatory to give plenty of food to the monks in this. So, while the folk are busy dishing up steamed fish and roasted lobster for the monks, they themselves make do with a boiled egg on rice.
In fact, in the countryside many of the saffron ones don’t just eat better than the local villagers but they also earn more money. While a poor farmer has to slave away on his farm all day long for a measly one hundred baht, the local monk is getting paid two hundred for every wedding, funeral and new-house party he attends, chants and sleeps through. Actually not a bad job! After work in the morning, he is then free to sit around all day, play computer games, go window-shopping in town or read comic books, then in evening after a bout of chanting he can lay back and watch a couple of counterfeit DVD movies. Besides the absence of women, much of the monks’ daily routines aren’t really that much different from our weekend ones upcountry.
In the Thai press, it is guaranteed that there is at least one juicy story of some scandalous goings-on in one the nation’s temples each week, and last week was no exception. With evidence in the form of a handful of gory pics, it was found that a temple fair in Samut Sakhorn was the setting for some saucy striptease where the dancers whipped of their undergarments and exposed their privates. In fact, temple fairs have for ages, been putting on naughty shows of girls bopping away in three-inch skirts and see-through spaghetti tops. Made even morally worse when some of the girls are still in Junior High. The Culture Ministry throws a frenzy and the girls and event organizers get themselves in trouble. As for the head monks behind the scene however, they are let off scot-free and left to happily count the profits made.
The current state of organized religion in Thailand is pretty much in shambles and these protesting holy ones are just making it worse. What is needed, is a complete revamp from top to bottom. The education authorities have to take the first step and introduce the young to the essence of Pristine Buddhism and not say… boring tales of Buddhist legends which sends the kids to sleep. Next, monks found to be corrupt, ought to be immediately dismissed from the monkhood and brought to justice. As for temples which have been caught scamming their followers, they need to be closed down just like any old dodgy back-alley company.
“There are different kinds of monks here. Some are serious about being a monk. Others are here because they cannot do anything else. If you stay in the right temple, it can be quite a comfortable life. Good food and good money. I think most monks make about 10,000 baht a month. There are of course some bad monks. I know that the ones in the kuti next door to mine take drugs. They order the drugs by mobile phone and it is delivered to their door by motorcycle taxi in the evening. Talking about delivery. Guess what I had for lunch today? My aunt ordered pizza for me!” “Gor” Panrit