Abbot defends 'theme park' image

The abbot of the venerable Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai said he had no idea the photo of him on a roller coaster ride at a California theme park would cause a negative reaction.

The picture, which began to circulate on the internet last week, showed five Buddhists monks riding on what appeared to be the “Revenge of the Mummy” coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

A monk seated in the front row, sandwiched by two other monks, was Phra Thep Worasitthajarn, the Wat Doi Suthep abbot.

The photo was dated June 21, 2012, but it generated widespread criticism from internet users after it came to light. Some commentators said a theme park was no place for Buddhist monks to visit, let alone take a roller coaster ride.

Thai Rath newspaper on Monday quoted Narong Song-arom, director of the Chiang Mai Office of Buddhism, as saying that he had contacted Phra Thep Worasitthajarn, and confirmed he was the monk in the controversial photo. 

According to Mr Narong, the monk was invited by disciples to preside over the ceremony to lay a foundation stone for Wat Doi Suthep’s branch temple in California. After the ceremony, the disciples took him and his entourage sightseeing, including to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

Phra Thep Worasitthajarn said the host wanted him and others in the group to relax and so invited them to ride the “Revenge of the Mummy”. He did not want to “refuse their good intentions", he said, and believed the ride would not likely cause damaging consequences.

Mr Narong described the place in the photo as “rommaneeya satarn” meaning "permitted for all to visit". It was not considered by Buddhist as a place of ill repute. 

Besides, the abbot did not want to reject his followers’ warm hospitality and so he visited the theme park, he said. “He did not violate religious rule and he is a very senior monk who knows well how to behave,” Mr Narong said.

Wanlop Narmwongprom, who is on Wat Doi Suthep’s committee on public relations, said the photo had been a subject of controversy once before, the Daily News reported. He said Phra Thep Worasitthajarn did not comment on nor worry about the matter. He added the abbot had not behaved badly. 

The incident followed former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s visit last Wednesday to Wat Doi Suthep, one of the most sacred sites in Thailand, for a ritual to dispel bad fortune. The ceremony was chaired by Phra Thep Worasitthajarn.  

Mr Wanlop said provincial governor Wichien Putthiwinyu had asked the temple to hold the ceremony on short notice, and said he would invite Ms Yingluck to participate. 

It was possible that the exposure of the abbot’s roller coaster ride photo was politically motivated, he added.

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