Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a colossal 1,000 acre temple in Thailand, is still much of an enigma to most people in the world. Most outsiders who have heard of the temple hardly know anything about it, except that it is massive in size and often associated with controversy. But what exactly makes this temple so controversial in the first place?
Vastly different in belief and practice, two new Buddhist religious movements in Thailand, namely the Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke emerged in Thailand in the 1970s at a time of political uncertainty, social change and increasing dissatisfaction with the Thai Sangha and its leadership.
Examining these movements, which represent two distinctive trends within contemporary Buddhism in Thailand, this book explains why they have come into being, what they have reacted against and what they offer to their members. Both movements have a wide membership outside of Thailand, with temples in the UK, Europe, USA, Japan and Australia. New Buddhist Movements in Thailand will appeal to those interested in Buddhism’s confrontation with modernity, and its responses to evolving social issues in Thailand, as well as to those interested in new religions in the broader context of religious studies.
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“Meetings With A Dhamma Master was written over a two year period and includes twenty talks I have had with Luang Por Dattajeevo, the Vice Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Bangkok, Thailand. We have talked about everything from The Nature of the Mind, to Core Values and how Habits relate to those values, to the definitions of words like Kamma and Samadhi and Kilesa. But most of all, of course, we talk about meditation: The What? Why? And How? of the Dhammakaya Meditation Technique. I have included all of these talks, as well as the general instructions on the Seven Bases of the Mind, as taught by the re-discoverer of the technique, Luang Pu Sodh Wat PakNam.
Luang Por Dattajeevo is the consummate teacher.
My hope is that your ears, eyes and mind are open, and that I have written these teachings in such a way that you understand their significance and apply them to your own life. I think these teachings are a gift he gave to me and I would like to give them as a gift to you.” Suzanne Jeffrey
Even with the temple’s immense size and large following, Dhammakaya has stayed largely under the radar throughout its less than 50 year history. The exceptions being the media scrutiny it faced in 1999 and in 2002 over alleged scandals. The temple was later cleared of these charges and some Thai media outlets even apologized for slander afterwards. Dhammakaya made headlines once again in a heated legal case that started in 2015.
Even without the random turbulence the temple has gone through, it has faced criticism over the years regardless over its unique approach to Buddhism.
Other than the much more common accusation of commercialism, which I addressed in a previous article, Dhammakaya does have a few other controversies surrounding it.
Dhammakaya is unquestionably an organization that the media loves to hate, and tabloids just can’t get enough of the scandalous stories about it. The accusations against the temple range from concerns over its size, to bizarre theories about the temple trying to take over the world. One prominent Dhammakaya critic, Dr. Mano Laohavanich, accuses the temple of having ties to the Nazis. A somewhat cliché accusation for a critic to say the least.
I’ve even heard some Thais accuse the temple of using magic spells (really people?) to bewitch its huge number of followers into attending.
Wacko conspiracy theories aside, Dhammakaya’s unique approach to Buddhism has drawn some legitimate criticisms, and mainstream accusations are generally less ridiculous. So what makes the world’s largest Buddhist temple so controversial?
A common criticism of Dhammakaya has to do with its sheer size and massive following. Dhammakaya is famous for its colossal ceremonies featuring attendance in the hundreds of thousands to sometimes over a million people. An impressive feat considering the temple is less than 50 years old and started with just a few thousands followers.
So why is this controversial at all? After all, the temple can’t help it if a lot of people wish to attend, and it seems odd to be criticizing something simply for having a lot of followers.
Disregarding conspiracy theories about Dhammakaya trying to take over the world by sitting it into submission, many critics do have legitimate concerns over the temple’s size.
A common criticism of the temple’s massive ceremonies is that such events promote Buddhism as an organized religion, rather than a way of life, a notion that is especially popular in the West. This is something that is debatable of course, but somebody who clings to that notion could understandably have some disagreements with Dhammakaya. Dhammakaya critic Sulak Sivaraksa makes this very argument against the temple in fact.