The New York Times has a new piece today about the scourge of panhandlers dressed as Buddhist monks and Taoist nuns in New York City. These fake monks and nuns have been a problem in Los Angeles as well — I’ve even seen one or two hovering around a coffee shop between my neighborhood and University of the West here in the San Gabriel Valley.
The article does a good job of highlighting the particular trouble here in terms of how these grifters are affecting popular perceptions about Buddhist clergy:
They are mostly men of Chinese descent, with shaved heads, beatific smiles and flowing robes of orange, but sometimes brown or gray. They follow a similar script: Offering wishes of peace and a shiny amulet, they solicit donations from passers-by, often reinforcing their pitch by showing a picture of a temple for which the money seems to be intended. Then they open a notebook filled with the names of previous donors and the amounts given…
This year, the police have arrested at least nine people who have presented themselves as monks, mostly on charges of aggressive begging or unlicensed vending.
But merely begging in the streets is not against the law. The police have largely left these men alone, to the consternation of Buddhist leaders in New York’s Chinese neighborhoods, who portray them as nothing more than beggars who undermine Buddhists’ credibility.
The article also points out the Facebook page Fake Monks in New York City, which might help keep you from getting scammed.