Tag Archives: Buddhist Monks

Rumble at the Temple

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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Prayut with his favourite fascist monk

Following the appointment of Umporn Prasattapong, Abbot of Wat Ratchabopit as the new Supreme Patriarch, the cog-wheels of the military junta are turning in unison with those of the fascist monk “Putta-Isara”. The military have now launched a full scale attack on the Dammakeye Buddhist sect.

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Umporn was appointed by Generalissimo Prayut, although according to procedure, he was officially appointed by King Wachiralongkorn. We all know how much Wachiralongkorn knows about or follows Buddhist teachings!

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Previously the guy in line for the top monk job was Chuang Sudprasert, the abbot of Wat Pak Nam and acting Supreme Patriarch, but he was accused by the Department of Special Investigation of forging documents over the importation of old classic cars in order to avoid tax. Previously Chuang had praised Prayut’s military junta in July 2014, hoping to become Supreme Patriarch. Chuang was believed to be close to the monks from the Dammakeye (Dhammakaya) sect.

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Dammakeye is a huge sect with a massive flying saucer shaped temple just north of Bangkok. It is steeped in scandal and accusations of accumulating untold riches. Urban middle class followers believe that the more you donate, the more merit you acquire. They also believe that people are poor because they sinned in their past life. Rich and powerful people have supported this sect for in the past.

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Chaiboon Sittipon or “Tammachayo”, abbot of Dammakeye, is currently trying to avoid arrest on corruption charges. Prayut used his dictatorial “Article 44” to order the police to invade the Dammakeye compound in a failed attempt to arrest him. Hundreds of Dammakeye monks and followers had a number of confrontations with the police. One man has tragically taken his own life in protest against this crack-down. Many are rightly questioning whether “Tammachayo”, or anyone else for that matter, can ever get a fair trial in the junta controlled courts.

The military dictatorship has also used Article 44 to place a police general in the post of director of the national office of Buddhism.

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We must condemn the military junta for using its illegitimate power to try to crush Dammakeye. People should be free to believe or not to believe in any religion of their choosing.

We must also condemn any Buddhist monks, including supporters of Dammakeye, who incite hatred towards Muslims. The extremist anti-Muslim Burmese monk “Wirathu” has come out in support of Dammakeye.

Make no mistake, the side-lining of the abbot of Wat Pak Nam for the top monk job and the invasion of Dammakeye is totally about politics and little to do with corruption or Buddhist morals. After all, the junta has remained very quiet about the corruption of Generalissimo Prayut’s relatives and the fact that top generals and their allies are getting paid for their various jobs, even though they never turn up to do any work or attend meetings.

The abbot of Wat Pak Nam was deemed unacceptable to the junta because Prayut’s favourite fascist monk, Putta-Isara, and the yellow shirts, did not want the Pak Nam and Dammakeye factions to be in a position of power.

We should never forget that fascist monk Putta-Isara helped to wreck the February 2014 elections alongside Sutep’s mob. Putta-Isara’s followers used fire arms to intimidate those wishing to vote. Because he is Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite monk, he was recently allowed a free hand to demonstrate in the streets while others were prohibited. He has also accused Dammakeye of wanting to “overthrow the monarchy”, a standard charge against one’s opponents in Thailand. After Prayut’s strong-arm tactics against Dammakeye, Putta-Isara publically thanked him.

An anti-government protester shoots his rifle, hidden it inside a sack, toward pro-government protesters during clashes in Bangkok February 1, 2014. Dozens of gunshots and at least two explosions raised tension amid anti-government protests in Thailand's capital on Saturday, a day ahead of a general election seen as incapable of restoring stability in the deeply polarised country. REUTERS/Nir Elias (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

All this fighting between Buddhist sects and the involvement of the military junta, merely strengthen the argument that religion should be totally separated from the state and that religious hierarchies and top positions like the Supreme Patriarch, should be abolished.

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Monk Trouble

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently Thai monks have been grumbling and fighting. The most recent incident involved hundreds of monks and their supporters resisting the military in order to gather at Puttamonton to protest against the actions of fascist monk Putta-Isara.

I cannot help feeling pleased at the sight of monks rocking a military vehicle and scuffling with soldiers who were sent by the junta to prohibit the gathering. But what is really behind this monk trouble?

According to Somparn Promta from Chulalongkorn University, even monks are not immune from the red-yellow conflict in Thai society.

Loosely on the red side are the monks who gathered at Puttamonton. They support Pramaha Rachamungkalajarn’s bid to become Supreme Patriarch. He is the abbot of Pak Nam temple and is acting Patriarch. Right now this faction holds the upper hand in the official ecclesiastical committee.  Also on the red side are the monks from the Dammakeye (Dhammakaya) sect.

On the yellow side is fascist monk Putta-Isara who helped to wreck the February 2014 elections alongside Sutep’s mob. Putta-Isara’s followers used fire arms to intimidate those wishing to vote. He is Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite monk and is allowed a free hand to demonstrate in the streets while others are prohibited. He is violently opposed to the abbot of Pak Nam temple becoming Supreme Patriarch, maybe coveting the position himself. He has also accused Dammakeye of wanting to “overthrow the monarchy”, a standard charge against one’s opponents in Thailand.

On the yellow side is also the Santi-Asoke faction close to Chamlong Simuang who was a leading light in the mis-named Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy. Both Putta-Isara and Chamlong supported the military overthrow of Taksin’s elected government.

But the red side are hardly angels. The abbot of Pak Nam has just been condemned by the Department of Special Investigation for forging documents over the importation of old classic cars. This was to avoid tax. He also praised Prayut’s military junta in July 2014, hoping to become Supreme Patriarch soon. What is also worrying is that the monks who protested at Puttamonton also called for Buddhism to be enshrined as the national religion in the new constitution, thus disenfranchising and excluding other faiths, especially Islam. Not only is this thoroughly reactionary, but it would increase the repression of Malay Muslims in Patani.

At the same time a number of reactionary Buddhist groups in the north, led by the Buddhism Protection Society of Chiang Mai, have come out against building a Halal production centre. This stinks of the kind of Islamophobia expressed by Burmese fascist monks. The north of Thailand has a distinct Muslim population of Chinese descent who were part of ancient trading routes.

As for Dammakeye, it is a sect steeped in scandal and accusations of accumulating untold riches. Urban middle class followers believe that the more you donate, the more merit you acquire. They also believe that people are poor because they sinned in their past life. Rich and powerful people have supported this sect for decades.

There used to be a mistaken belief that Thai Buddhist monks were not involved in politics and shouldn’t be involved in politics. The reality has always been different and this myth was merely an attempt by military rulers in the 1950s to control monks under a centralised authority.

There is no point in arguing about which faction represents “true Buddhism” because, as Karl Marx once wrote, religion is how people practice it and not what is written in holy texts. The monks can fight it out among themselves for all I care, so long as they don’t threaten freedom and democracy. As an atheist I believe that religion or any philosophy should be personal matter, nothing to do with the state.

The Thai State is wrong to involve Buddhist monks with soldiers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The bomb attack on Buddhist monks in Sai Bury in the South is a terrible act. So is the Thai State’s use of death squads, police and soldiers, to kill local Muslim Malay activists who seek independence from Thailand. The use of armed force by Thailand to enforce colonial rule in Patani for hundreds of years is also something which we must condemn.

When considering the details of the recent Sai Bury attack on Buddhist monks, who were “being protected” by soldiers, it is worth remembering that the policy of involving monks with soldiers was harshly criticised by Ajarn Chaiwat Satha-Anand a few years ago. He warned that it amounted to the militarisation of Buddhist monks in an area where Thai soldiers were regarded as oppressors. What made matters worse was that the army tried to encourage soldiers to become monks in Patani. It seems that the chickens have now come home to roost.

Instead of hiding behind soldiers, Buddhist monks who wish to perform their religious duties should join up with Muslim religious leaders and walk with them in the community. The conflict in Patani is not a religious conflict between people of different ethnic traditions. It is a struggle for freedom by the Muslim Malays against the Thai State.

The chorus of condemnation of the Sai Bury bombing by so-called “Human Rights” and various religious organisations will not result in any solution since they call on the armed forces of the oppressive Thai State to “protect” the population. Remember that these same security forces, under the command of General Prayut and others, are responsible for killing pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok and also for destroying freedom and democracy by staging military coups.

The Thai State and its armed forces are the real source of the conflict in Patani, not the solution. If peace, freedom and security are to be established the troops must be withdrawn and the local people of all ethnicity or religion should determine their own future. There should be no conditions attached to such discussions. The centralised, unitary Thai State must be scrapped. People should be free to choose independence, autonomy or to remain with Thailand.

The military junta is an obstacle to peace in Patani because of its insistence on using military might rather than democratic politics in order to “solve” the rebellion. Without overthrowing the junta we cannot begin to establish peace.

As for the rebels who have taken up arms against the Thai State, we should sympathise with them. They have suffered oppression and violence at the hands of the military for years. Yet the armed struggle is a dead-end. Not only does it risk undermining legitimacy when civilians are killed, but it also has no hope of beating the Thai military. The answer lies in building a mass movement of local people to struggle for freedom. This is what local students in Patani have been trying to do for some time.