By A. Jansen
Thai newspapers have been reporting negative opinions about Venerable Dhammajayo, the Abbot of the Dhammakaya Temple (Wat Phra Dhammakaya). Whether the reader is new to Thailand, or just curious, it's good to listen to more than one view of the situation, so that we can develop a more accurate picture of what's going on. As a foreigner who has closely followed the workings of the temple for almost 10 years, I would like to share my opinion on some of these issues.
You may know that Ven. Dhammajayo is well respected by the Buddhist public, and the Sangha, not just in Thailand but also in India, Sri Lanka, the rest of Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, as well as people around the world. His work concerns the wellbeing of everyone and is not limited to one province, or even Thailand. Apart from the Buddhist work of propagating the Buddha’s teachings and teaching Dhammakaya Meditation, his projects also involve fostering good international relations through humanitarian work and morality revival projects, all to help bring about sustainable world peace.
There has been a court case against Ven. Dhammajayo. It resulted from the actions of one layman who donated a large sum of money to the temple, which is not unusual for many wealthy lay supporters at the temple. This layman had borrowed money from his cooperative and subsequently repaid it. He was alleged to have embezzled funds from the cooperative by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).
This case is still under investigation. Later, when Ven. Dhammajayo’s supporters raised funds in the amount originally donated, and gave it to the cooperative, all charges against Ven. Dhammajayo were dropped by the cooperative before trial. However, for an unknown reason, the DSI is still attempting to bring Ven. Dhammajayo to court using the evidence that both the Court and the attorney general’s investigators have declared as unusable and insufficient, or even invalid. Nevertheless, DSI has persistently attempted to summon Ven. Dhammajayo several times - the third time will be May 16th despite his verified poor health. His health problems are real and chronic, and have already been confirmed by a DSI inspection. I have seen that he is physically unwell for many years. He can only walk very slowly and has often had to cancel his appearance at ceremonies, much to the followers' regret.
Aside from DSI, some members of Thai society have criticized Ven. Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya Temple for materialism and deviating from the Buddha's teachings. Although those might be honest opinions, they are also opinions which are based on one-sided, passed-along-information. The Dhammakaya Temple certainly draws a lot of attention because of the ways it differs from traditional Thai temples. The main differences, it turns out, are simply a natural result of the large scale of good work the temple is doing. I will discuss the main points next.
From my own experience, the temple teaches real Buddhist Dhamma, in both original and adapted versions to allow modern people to understand the Dhamma. The goal of the temple can be summed up in one phrase: to create world peace through inner peace. Inner peace is achieved through meditation, which is free and can be practiced by anyone. Dhammakaya Meditation is a genuine middle-way meditation taught by the Buddha that creates inner peace and wisdom. Buddhist scholars and great meditation master Phramongkolthepmuni (Sodh Candasaro) – Luang Pu Wat Paknam, have located the concept of ‘Dhammakaya’ in the Pali canon, the most original scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. Mentions of Dhammakaya – the ‘Enlightened Inner Self of the Buddha’ or the ‘Body of Enlightenment’ appear in many places in the old Buddhist scriptures in Thailand and abroad, as far away as ancient Gandhara.
Sharing the knowledge of meditation all over the world is no easy task, however. I would say it’s clever how Dhammakaya Temple uses modern technology to teach Dhamma and meditation to draw people’s attention to meditation and applying Dhamma in their daily lives. Around the temple's meditation hall, you will find some large screens live-broadcasting Ven. Dhammajayo's guided meditation to thousands. Dhamma Media Channel (DMC) is broadcast internationally, and features Dhamma lessons in various formats including songs and cartoons that appeal to children and adults alike. And the temple has a solid web presence as well, where we can find Dhamma media and news on current and upcoming events. Is technology necessary in Buddhism? In a world where information technology is used by anyone and everyone for good or bad, we need to have more people use this technology for good. Dhammakaya Temple is doing just that.
The large size of the temple is necessary because of the very large congregation. The temple aims to welcome and accommodate people not only from Thailand but all over the world to come to experience inner peace through Dhammakaya Meditation, hence the large meditation stadium. The temple started off very modestly but grew in size exponentially due to the excellent Dhamma and meditation teaching provided by its founder, Master Nun Chand Khonnokyoong – who was Ven. Dhammajayo’s meditation instructor - and later, by Ven. Dhammajayo himself. The durable structures of the temple required a great sum of money to build, of course, and these funds all came voluntarily by donations from joyful laypeople who wanted to see the temple prosper and help other fellow people of the world. This is the way it has always been in Buddhism. Without the support of lay people since ancient times, Buddhism wouldn't exist.
Overall, the Dhammakaya Temple is a genuine yet modern temple that has grown to such a size so that it can make a big positive difference to the world, and this would not have been possible without Ven. Dhammajayo's vision and guidance. Biased and misguided press has never deterred him. As the Buddha said, praise and blame are a fact of life. Even so, a reputation built upon good will and truth will always eventually prevail. Before I finish my writing, I would like to add that, with all my knowledge of Dhammakaya Temple, if anyone in the world deserves justice and admiration for the good things done for the world, it is Ven. Dhammajayo, the abbot of Dhammakaya Temple.