In late March 2016 Australian media had two prominent stories about corruption in adjacent South East Asian nations. One, concerning the Malaysian prime minister, was horrifying. It involved vast amounts of money (closer to A$1 billion than A$100 million), ghastly murders, Saudi sources and generalised fear among civil society.
Four Corners concludes: "In any other country, a prime minister linked to so many allegations of corruption would have been impeached by now. What is it going to take in Malaysia?" CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN: I think that Malaysia is waiting for foreign action. I think they feel, um, disempowered; um, helpless.
Less well publicised, but more encouragingly, there were radio and TV reports concerning the unseemly acquisitiveness of some Thai Buddhist monks, and a sect called Dhammakaya. The scandal includes the acting supreme patriarch - Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn (Somdet Chuang) who has acquired, among other things, a very fancy vintage car. Dhammakaya celebrates material wealth. Let me confess that I like wealth and security, but the poverty and suffering of others greatly disturbs me.. The Buddha encouraged a middle way. Some wealth might be ok, from a Buddhist perspective, but too much personal wealth cannot be good for others, particularly for ordained people, who are setting an example. I also find the extreme wealth of the Thai royal family problematic, especially given that there are well-documented cases of slavery still present in Thailand today, for example in its fishing industry.
However, compared to Malaysia, I found it very encouraging in that there is a government-led attempt to investigate corruption.
Here are some highlights:
LIAM COCHRANE: Some say the scandal is linked to Somdet Chuang's association to a wildly popular but controversial branch of Thai Buddhism known as Dhammakaya.
BODHI's advisor (since 1994) Sulak Sivaraksa is interviewed. His comments include:
SULAK SIVARAKSA: Dhammakaya teaching people that to be powerful is good, to have money is good, the more you spend money on the Dhammakaya you can even see the Buddha - and you can even live forever.
SULAK SIVARAKSA: Well Thaksin supports the new demonic religion - he'll do anything to make money and Dhammakaya do anything to make money, so they're all together.
LIAM COCHRANE: The military government has made fighting corruption one of its main goals.
But despite the luxury cars and scandals, social commentator Sulak Sivaraksa says there's still little oversight for the finances of Thailand's religious institutions.
SULAK SIVARAKSA: If you wear yellow robes, it covers everything.
BODHI friend and supporter, John Allan, writes:
A very dodgy business; dhammakaya also is supportive of the thugish pseudo monks in Burma who are active right wing ultra-nationalists preaching race hatred. The picture the ABC is using has to be over 20 years old. Chung is 90 and doesn't look like that anymore. The former administrative 'head of the sangha' was a teacher of mine in the 1970's. I was sceptical that he didn't step down in advanced old age; he died at 100.
BUT when one sees who is lining up for the top job ...I am more sympathetic to his decision to die in office.. Very poor candidates indeed and unfortunately the old guard is just that...very old and not really up to the complexities of rapid social change. The arch conservativism so many represent mean that over the course of recent history, so called 'radical monks', essentially progressives standing up for social justice and environmental protection have been the ones disrobed as 'political' whilst corrupt money hungry clowns with a taste for right wing agendas have been protected and supported...And these are the ones who are helping to destroy the true dhamma . of course these 'worthies' are no fans of full ordination of women. Though local people support these women mainly because they are good practitioners' and not hungry for money and royal titles.
More on Sulak here, the blog of Rev Danny Fisher.
There is much on the web about the discrimination against Thai women practitioners, including the excommunication of Ven Ajahn Brahm for his activism in this area.
When Buddhism becomes just another set of mental conditionings to wear like a suit of clothes, relying on attachment to past history, it no longer follows the real meaning of Buddha's original words.
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