Journalist Nattha Thepbamrung has a new investigative report on Thailand’s Wat Dhammakaya, the hugely successful but also controversial Buddhist organization, at the Spectrum section of the Bangkok Post this week.
Since it came out with its esoteric teachings on Buddhism in 1970, the secretive Dhammakaya temple and its adherents have been rumoured to be involved in illegal actions which are at odds with the traditional monkhood.
Its critics say it is little more than a commercial venture, preying on the vulnerable who are fooled into believing they can literally buy a better place in their next life.
The temple’s one and only master, Phra Chaiboon Dhammachayo, has made millions of baht from his faithful followers both in Thailand and overseas. Dhammakaya temple’s global reach extends to 40 branches across the world with two satellite television stations that broadcast in four different languages.
The temple itself stands on the fringes of the metropolis north of Don Mueang airport, the UFO-shaped memorial hall cutting a striking figure on Khlong Luang Road in Pathum Thani. The hall and its symmetrical ponds and carefully arranged gardens give way to a much larger structure, called the great assembly hall. This leads to the temple proper, and an even larger spaceship-style chedi that stands in stark contrast to the tall, golden spires that have come to represent Thai Buddhism.
But the design is not all that has attracted criticism. The headquarters of the Dhammakaya movement has been the scene of controversy on a number of occasions in its 44-year history, particularly concerning the emphasis on making merit through donating money. It still has a reputation for being supported by powerful politicians and billionaires.
The dome is said to have been designed to last 1,000 years and house a million Buddha images, of which 300,000 are on display, that are akin to a place in heaven. These were for sale, and those who purchased a Buddha image were given amulets in return. There were three kinds available, for different prices, that each promised an increase in wealth or accumulation of property.
The faithful speak of miracles, while the disillusioned call it a cult. Spectrum spoke to both in an attempt to understand Dhammakaya’s place in Thai Buddhism today. Dhammakaya temple declined to comment for this story, saying they had received too much negative media coverage in the past.
Read the rest here.