Scholars urge Buddhism body to defrock ex-abbot

Dhammajayo stripped of title by HM King

Buddhist scholars are calling on the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) to initiate a process to have Phra Dhammajayo defrocked after the fugitive monk was stripped of his monastic title.

According to a Royal Gazette article published on March 5, His Majesty the King has agreed to the government's request to demote Phra Dhammajayo for evading charges filed against him.

The step of removing the monastic title, which took effect on March 4, comes after the former abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya repeatedly failed to appear before authorities to answer charges despite a two-week siege of the temple by thousands of state officials led by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).

Defrocking the former abbot would see him lose all ecclesiastical status.

Buddhism lecturer Mano Laohavanich, also a former disciple of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, said the NOB should set in motion a defrocking process by asking the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) to consider the issue.

The NOB, which serves as the secretariat to the SSC, should submit a letter written nearly 20 years ago by the late supreme patriarch who said Phra Dhammajayo should be defrocked for serious violations of the monastic code of conduct, said Mr Mano.

He said the late supreme patriarch's letter which was written in 1999 would see Phra Dhammajayo defrocked without having to detain him.

The late supreme patriarch's letter carried disapproving messages at the former abbot's possessing expensive assets, and was interpreted widely as an indirect order to purge him from monkhood.

In a letter dated April 26, 1999, the late supreme patriarch wrote that plots of land and assets worth 900 million baht, held by Phra Dhammajayo, belonged to the temple, not the monk.

The land ownership case caught prosecutors' attention and the former abbot later agreed to turn over the land and assets in 2006. Prosecutors withdrew lawsuits against him in August 2006.

According to Mr Mano, the government has done all it can and now the ball is in the SSC's court.

"The prime minister has done his part, but the SSC has yet to. The defrocking must be carried out by the clergy so it can proceed without confrontation with the temple's followers," he said.

He said the measure will shake the temple to its core.

Mr Mano also said state authorities will have to disperse the crowds gathering near the temple as soon as possible while issuing warrants for the arrests of monks who disobey orders. They would then be able to thoroughly search the temple.

Santisuk Sophonsiri, a Buddhism scholar, said that in addition to initiating the defrocking process the authorities should freeze the assets of those in charge of the financial management of the temple and the foundation.

He said the freeze targets personal assets, not the temple's assets which are considered the state's.

"It isn't the time to look for individuals because they're moving assets. The monks who are put in charge of finances must be removed and their personal assets must be examined," he said.

Pol Lt Col Pongporn Pramsaneh, the NOB's newly appointed director, said Monday the SSC will be informed of the removal of the monastic title when it meets this Friday.

However, he declined to say if the NOB will initiate a process to have the monk defrocked, saying the matter will be handled in accordance with procedures.

Phra Dhammajayo, then known as Luang Por Dhammajayo, founded the Dhammakaya movement in 1970 with mae ji (nun) Chandra Khonnokyoong.

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda expressed confidence the removal of the monastic title would help the authorities do their job easily.

He also said the enforcement of Section 44 also facilitated their handling of Wat Phra Dhammakaya dispute while urging human rights activists who slammed the enforcement to be impartial.

"Those calling for the scrapping [of the Section 44 order] should review their call. The government has done the right thing," he said.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya declined to comment on the removal of the ex-abbot's monastic title while calling on the government to revoke Section 44.

Phra Maha Nopporn Poonyachayo, assistant director of the temple's communications office, said the matter was highly sensitive.

"The government spent between 60-90 million baht on this operation to arrest Phra Dhammajayo whose charge carries a fine of 500 baht," he said.

Phra Palat Seksan Attathamo, a monk at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, said that the crowds gathering at Klong Luang central market near the temple appeared thinner Monday but he could not say why that was exactly.

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