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November 30, 2000

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Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

SEPTEMBER 17, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 37

'I Will Never Be Disrobed'
A Thai abbot answers charges against him



Abbot Dhammachayo Yvan Cohen for Asiaweek
Chaiyaboon Sithipol began teaching meditation while studying economics at Kasetsart University in the 1960s. While others were caught up in student activism, he built a Buddhist temple outside Bangkok in 1969. Now known as Abbot Dhammachayo by hundreds of thousands of followers, the 55-year-old monk has become Thailand's most controversial religious figure. Critics say he is propagating wrong Buddhist teachings. Since arresting him (the abbot is free on bail), the police have been wrapping up their probe into allegations of fraud, embezzlement and corruption. Dhammachayo spoke with Asiaweek's Julian Gearing.

People criticize the temple for raising so much money.
The one who donates never criticizes, the one that never donates criticizes (laughs). All these things you see in this temple, the big facilities, food, accommodation, parking area, transportation, that is only to facilitate the main purpose--to make people better persons.

    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
Thailand
A controversial monk awaits temporal justice - and sparks calls for reform of Thai Buddhism

What about the allegations against you?
We feel that Buddhist matters should be handled by monks. [On temporal issues], they should be [handled] outside the monastic community. But what's happening now is that the media are behaving like the accuser and the judge. They have already made their judgment.

As an abbot, can you own land? Don't you need to transfer the pieces of property in your name to the temple?
A monk having land, it is not against the law at all. The criminal charge is that I have been taking [advantage] of people who want to give land to the temple, not to me. But I don't know about these things because all these have been handled by my deputy. When the hard facts are discovered by the people, the truth will be there. I don't worry at all.

Did the Supreme Patriarch, who heads the Sangha Council that governs Thai monks, order you to be disrobed?
I don't understand that. The letter written by the Supreme Patriarch never reached me. It was mentioned only in the newspapers. The judgment by the Sangha Council has already been made. They gave four recommendations [to return the temple to the traditional path], and I have already signed. But the media are very unhappy. This is why they insist the Sangha Council is out of date and old-fashioned.

Are you forming a cult?
We teach you to be a better person, how to meditate and how to conduct your life as a human being. The teaching of Buddhism, that is what we teach here. When you [listen to] the teachings, there is nothing to suggest it is a cult. People find happiness and they just go out and tell other people. Maybe we are lacking good public relations, that is all.

If you are disrobed, will the temple continue on its present path?
To disrobe me is impossible. It will never, never happen. But if I die, the system here has already been put in place. If I pass away, the temple can carry on with its mission. Nobody worries about that. Tell the people not to worry about me.


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