Leelavadee speaks out on Dhammakaya

Temple devotee confident in former abbot's innocence, calls on PM to lift S44 order

While most prominent Dhammakaya sect followers are taking a low-profile position for now, Pheu Thai Party ex-MP Leelavadee Vajropala is at the forefront of resistance to the government's siege and searches. (FB/Leelavadee Vajropala)

Several prominent figures known to be supporters of Wat Phra Dhammakaya appear to be keeping a low profile these days following a string of allegations against the temple and its embattled ex-abbot Phra Dhammajayo. But not actress-turned politician Leelavadee Vajropala.

The former Pheu Thai Party MP led a group of the temple's followers to file a petition at Government House on March 9, calling on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to revoke an order under Section 44 of the interim charter, which declares Wat Phra Dhammakaya and its surrounding area a restricted zone.

The order, which has been in force since Feb 16, was rolled out to allow security officers to search the temple for Phra Dhammajayo, wanted on charges of money laundering and receiving stolen assets in connection with the multi-billion-baht embezzlement at Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative ( KCUC) and forest encroachment by branches of the temple in several provinces.

Even though the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) called off the search on March 10, saying the 73-year-old monk could not be located in the temple, the order remains in place.

INQUIRYLINES, published bi-weekly on Mondays is a Bangkok Post column to present in-depth details of a range of issues from politics and social interest to eye-catching everyday lives.

Ms Leelavadee, 50, a staunch supporter of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, said she first got to know the temple through a magazine featuring the supernatural powers of prominent monks from various temples, including Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

She entered the temple for the first time when she was 15, thinking she would just pay respects to Buddha images and learn about her future through fortune telling chi-chi sticks.

However, she found the temple had no chi-chi sticks nor was there someone telling fortunes. Bu the temple was clean and well-organised, and full of polite people, she said.

Ms Leelavadee said that following that experience, she started going to meditate with her family at the temple on Sundays, when a major merit-making ceremony would be held.

She said her family came back filled with happiness every time they visited the temple.

The moment when her faith in the temple was elevated was when her father fell ill and became unconscious.

To seek blessings for her father, she said she decided to observe the precepts at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and within seven days, her father recovered and was able to leave the hospital.

The ex-actress decided to pursue her routines at the temple for another seven days and prayed for a chance to get back into the entertainment business.

After 14 days, she said she was contacted to work for a music TV programme and then was offered roles in dramas.

"This made me feel that Wat Phra Dhammakaya was a place where we could go when we are in grief," said Ms Leelavadee.

She had also witnessed several grief-stricken people who had changed in a positive way after coming to make merit at the temple, which strengthened her belief in the place.

Responding to the critics who cast doubts on Wat Phra Dhammakaya's teachings, Ms Leelavadee said temple merit-makers have passed through a similar process of initial scepticism, which eventually changes to firm belief.

Phra Dhammajayo has invited people to make merit at the temple for personal and professional success and well-being, which Ms Leelavadee says is no different to what the Tripitaka encourages: people who want to be rich must make donations, those who want to have good looks must observe the precepts and those who want to be smart must practice meditation, according to Ms Leelavadee.

Making donations is the easiest way to make merit, she said, adding some people may feel it would be harder to make merit by observing the precepts or meditation.

She said the temple teaches people to make merit in different ways, including donations without money.

People are taught to practise meditation first, and then move on to observe precepts before making donations. But outsiders only focus on the last part.

She said people must understand the temple is not financially supported by the government and it needs to seek money.

Phra Dhammajayo teaches his followers that merit would be fostered before, in the middle and after the donations and it would yield a substantial result if donated goods are acquired through lawful means.

People who make donations to senior monks will receive more merit than those who donate to ordinary people or animals, according to Ms Leelavadee.

"The more we donate, the more we obtain, which means that when we provide more, we will end up very happy,'' she said.

People who make donations at the temple always bring back happiness with them, and their family back home end up feeling the same way, she said.

Also, their businesses become more successful after making merit which in turn allows them to make more money.

The former actress dismissed social media reports that she would kill herself if Phra Dhammajayo is found guilty, saying this has been fabricated by those who want to damage the temple.

She said the former abbot always teaches that suicide is the heaviest sin.

"I joined the temple in 1982 and I have proved my faith and now I have no doubt about it," said Ms Leelavadee, adding no one can damage the good image she holds of the temple.

"No matter how they distort it, I still believe in what I have experienced myself from when I was 15, and I am 50 now."

Ms Leelavadee said she is convinced Phra Dhammajayo is not guilty.

Responding to why the ex-abbot does not enter the justice process, she said the monk would risk being defrocked if he is denied bail, adding that defrocking is tantamount to capital punishment in the monkhood.

She said the bigger issue now is why Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha is going after the temple. She insisted the temple's followers would not allow this to happen as they have worked together to build the temple for 47 years.

She disagreed with the authorities' laying siege to the temple as this hindered the daily rituals of the temple's monks. and followers.

Followers are worried the authorities will take advantage of the situation to seize the temple's property.

If authorities want Phra Dhammajayo to come forward, they must ensure the former abbot will not be defrocked, Ms Leelavadee said.

If the monk is guilty, he should not have a place to stand in society, but if not, those who are behind the network abusing the temple must be punished, she added.

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