Thailand’s Buddhist Monks Criticised for Worldly Lifestyle

Thai Buddhist monks offer prayers celebrating Magha Puja day at Wat Dhammakaya.
Athit Perawongmetha | Getty Images
Thai Buddhist monks offer prayers celebrating Magha Puja day at Wat Dhammakaya.

Thailand's Buddhism body said it is monitoring monks nationwide for any inappropriate behavior after a video showed some of them using luxurious personal items while flying on a private jet.

The YouTube video showed one of the monks wearing stylish aviator sunglasses, carrying a luxury brand travel bag and sporting a pair of modern-looking wireless headphones. It attracted criticism from Buddhists nationwide.

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Nopparat Benjawatananun, director-general of the Office of National Buddhism, said on Monday that the agency saw the video early this year and had warned the monks from a monastery in Thailand's northeast not to repeat the lavish behavior.

A country with the world's largest Buddhist population, Thailand has attempted to help Buddha's 2,600-year-old doctrine stand the test of time through a variety of means, including banning the sale of alcohol on religious holidays. The efforts, however, are sometimes tainted by the Buddhist monks themselves.

Last year, about 300 out of 61,416 Buddhist monks and novices in Thailand were reprimanded – and several were removed from the monkhood – because of misconduct ranging from alcohol consumption to having sex with women to extortion. The office also received complaints about monks driving cars, and scams and false claims of black magic.

Mr Nopparat said the Buddhist monks in the video were acting "inappropriately, not composed and not adhering to Buddha's teachings of simplicity and self-restraint''.

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Monruedee Bantoengsuk, an administrative officer at Khantitham Temple in Sisaket province, confirmed to The Associated Press that the monks on the private plane lived at the temple but refused to give details about the trip.

"We can explain this, but not now,'' she said, adding that the abbot, who appeared in the video, is currently on a religious tour in France.

The images from the video contrasted with the abbot's message on the temple's homepage that read: "The true core of those who preach Buddha's teachings is to not own any objects at all."

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"When Lord Buddha was alive, there wasn't anything like this. There were no cars, smartphones or cameras, so the rules were much simpler," said Mr Nopparat. "While the monks need to keep themselves abreast of new knowledge, current events and technology, they are restrained to choose the appropriate tools."

He said one way to prevent the monks from misbehaving is for followers not to spoil them with valuable objects or vices. "In many cases, it was the followers who gave the monks the luxury. Some bought them sports cars. This is by no means necessary."