This file picture taken on March 22, 2012 shows Thai buddhist monks looking at discounted notebooks displayed at the Commart Thailand in Bangkok. The behaviour of Thailand’s Buddhist clergy has been thrust under the spotlight after footage emerged of monks settling into a flight on a private jet, sporting sunglasses and iPods while one apparently carried on a luxury bag. — FILE PHOTO: AFP –
The case against Thai monk Luang Pu Nenkham Chattigo gets more jaw-dropping by the day.
Last month, the 33-year-old Buddhist monk hit the headlines when a video showing him sporting aviator shades and sitting in a private jet with a Louis Vuitton bag by his side made its rounds on YouTube.
Last week, the country’s anti-money laundering office highlighted suspicious activity in his bank accounts.
A few days later, another set of allegations surfaced that he had been intimate with several women, including a then underaged girl.
Now there are even suspicions of drug trafficking.
Thailand, with more than 50 million Buddhists and more than 290,000 monks, is no stranger to monastic scandals.
The National Office of Buddhism reprimanded about 300 monks and novices last year for misconduct like drinking alcohol and having sex, according to an Associated Press report. Some have been caught with drugs and pornography.
Officially, monks have to uphold 227 precepts. These include not receiving money or buying or selling anything with money. In reality, though, the relationship between its most charismatic monks and money can be ambiguous, given the sizeable trade in amulets and the other religious artefacts in the country.
This is popular Buddhism as practised by everyday people – less oriented towards scripture and spiritual growth and more interested in mortal concerns like health, wealth and physical safety.
In his book Mediums, Monks and Amulets, the late anthropologist Pattana Kitiarsa described it as “a large scale, cross-social spectrum of beliefs and practices – incorporating the supernatural powers of spirit, deity, and magic – that have emerged out of the interplay between animism, supernaturalism, folk Brahmanism and the worship of Chinese deities, and state sponsored Theravada Buddhism”.
It is common, for example, to see buyers of new cars rush to get them blessed by monks.
Buddhist soldiers on dangerous assignments wear amulets bearing the likeness of popular monks to protect them from harm.
There are stampedes for particularly “powerful” amulets. In one, five years ago in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, a woman died.
Inevitably, a lot of money changes hands, in the forms of donations or payments for amulets blessed by popular monks to raise funds for their monasteries and other causes. The value of these amulets rise in secondary markets overseas, especially when the media runs articles on the good fortune or fortunate encounters by people who wear them.
The special Chatukham-Rammathep amulets that caused a stampede in 2007 were estimated to have generated a 40 billion baht industry in that year alone.
A large portion of these tax free baht go towards good causes. One of Thailand’s most iconic monks, Luang Phor Khun Parisutto, reportedly donated millions of baht towards health services and schools.
Unsurprisingly though, the large sums of money also attract the attention of less than righteous characters.
When Luang Pu Nenkham’s private jet video first caused an outcry last month, the National Office of Buddhism’s director-general Nopparat Benjawatananun called the monk’s behaviour inappropriate but indicated that modernity had made it harder for monks to draw the line between necessity and extravagance.
He told the AP then: “When Lord Buddha was alive, there wasn’t anything like this. There were no cars, smartphones or cameras, so the rules were much simpler.” As more and more people seek monks out for luck, fame and fortune, this is a demarcation that will be increasingly difficult to make.
Interesting article which proves Christianity does not have a monopoly on abuse. However ,this is nothing new in Buddhism as the monasteries of old Tibet were well known for child abuse
Buddhist monks arrested over Thai child sex abuse claims
Two Buddhist monks who allegedly organised acts of child sexual abuse have been arrested by Thai police, the latest controversy to hit a clergy struggling with challenges to its clean-living image.
Police in Chang Mai, in northern Thailand, said they had detained two monks for procuring a 14-year-old boy to perform sexual acts with an abbot. The alleged perpetrator was to be arrested as soon as a warrant was obtained, they said.
The pair, who deny any knowledge of the alleged abuse, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, Police Colonel Wirachon Bunthawi told AFP from the northern city of Chiang Mai.
The police said the arrests were made on the basis of accounts from a driver and the victim himself, who claimed the two monks had taken him to see the abbot at the temple in Chiang Dao district several times since February.
“The abbot is still at the temple and we’re waiting for an arrest warrant for him,” Col. Wirachon said.
Buddhist monks rapped over private jet 17 Jun 2013
Tibetan monks to play Glastonbury 12 Jun 2013
Burma ethnic tensions rise after mosque and orphanage torched 29 May 2013
Dalai Lama doubts effect of Tibetan self-immolations 13 Jun 2013
The arrests of the two monks – aged 20 and 23 – comes as the Thai Buddhist clergy grapples with scandals that have damaged its reputation of morality and austerity.
The video, which quickly went viral, prompted debate in the Thai Kingdom over monks’ compliance with Buddhism’s strict lifestyle code. Monks are required to live as ascetics, shun worldly possessions aside from a few robes and receive their sole sustenance from local residents, rules that are increasingly challenging in the modern world.
The clergy in Thailand has recently been scandalised by a series of cases reported in local media, involving drug-taking, drinking, gambling and the use of prostitutes by monks.
The Irony of this story is that most of the drug trade is controlled by state officials
YANGON – Myanmar has delayed by five years its deadline to eliminate drug production within its borders, a senior official said Monday, as the impoverished nation struggles to stem a growing narcotics crisis.
Authorities are “very concerned” about a rebound in poppy cultivation over the last six years in Myanmar, the world’s second-largest opium producer, while amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are also surging, said deputy police chief Zaw Win.
Due to “threats posed by ATS” and to achieve a reduction in poppy cultivation, Myanmar’s narcotic control board has “extended its drug elimination to 2019”, he said at the opening of six nation talks in Yangon. The previous target was 2014.
He added that Myanmar’s authorities were “doing our best” to help stem the flow of drugs in the region.
Officials from China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have gathered in Myanmar for days of talks on a worsening drugs crisis, which the United Nations has warned poses a threat to public security.
A ministerial-level meeting in the capital Nya Pyi Taw on Thursday is expected to produce a regional declaration on the issue.
Zaw Win told delegates that it was “crystal clear that (the) methamphetamine problem is growing rapidly”, adding that “more and more international drug syndicates are becoming involved”.
“Illicit drug production and trafficking are closely linked to instability, human security and insurgency at the border areas, which creates serious challenges to the ability of law enforcement agencies,” he said.
The drugs trade is closely linked to Myanmar’s long-running insurgencies in remote areas bordering Thailand, Laos and China – known as the golden triangle – with ethnic minority rebels widely thought to use drug profits to fund operations.
As part of its reform drive, Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has reached tentative peace deals with most major armed ethnic groups.
But Gary Lewis, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in December said the ease of production of methamphetamine in small laboratories, along with distrust between the rebels and authorities meant that some groups could decide to “hedge their bets”.
Around 5.9 million methamphetamine pills were seized in Myanmar in 2011, almost double the figure for the previous year, the UN said in a December report, although seizures are likely to represent only a fraction of the amount produced.
Myanmar was once the world’s largest producer of illicit opium until it was replaced by Afghanistan in 1991. But after years of decline, poppy cultivation again began to rise in 2007.
I suspect it is the biggest parade in the far East. All monies raised go to local charities.
See video below.
Some photos from the event.
A lady from Brazil
Young George from the Tara Court
Sheila lives in Luang Prabang, Laos. She runs a shop, and has a little dog that is fiercely protective when strangers come around. But the little dog has nothing on Sheila. “Don’t get me started,” Sheila warns. Then she starts.
“The government organizations; the UN organizations; the NGOs — they come to Laos, piss millions of dollars against a wall. They bring their families, they have their four-wheel drive vehicles, and they drive around visiting Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand and have a wonderful time. Then they go home. And they’re useless.
Countries are starting to tell them to stay away. These organizations are now paying countries to let them in so they can do their great work. Now they’re all leaving Laos for Myanmar — that’s their next big project.
“NGOs send kids over here, lots of good intentions, but without any of the skills or talents that might be of some use. My friend Jane calls them ‘blancmanges.’ They’re just bland, ordinary kids with none of the abilities they require to make a difference — especially in a country like this one that has essentially jumped from the 16th century to the 21st. And the kids don’t last — they’re gone in a hurry.”
Sheila is a 50-ish Australian ex-pat who has lived in Luang Prabang for 15 years. Upon learning that she was conversing with a Canadian writer, she asks not to be identified. “I have to live here,” she says. And she has plenty to say about some of her imported neighbours. “All of these businesses started up by ex-pats that promise to ‘give back’ to the community,” she snorts. “Please. Almost nobody gives back. There are perhaps a couple of good organizations here and the rest are lining their pockets. Like those ‘Western guilt‘ tours, where people pay money to come and paint an orphanage. Does the orphanage get the money? No. The tour company pockets the money. And I talk to the orphanage workers — they say, ‘How many new coats of paint do we need?’ They ask for money to feed the kids instead. But no. They get more fresh paint. And the tour company gets paid.”
Penciled in progress
Ryan Young is not quite so dyspeptic. Young manages Joma Bakery Cafe, one of the few Luang Prabang joints that offers travelers a real espresso and an English language newspaper. The cafe, co-owned by former Vancouver residents Michael Harder and Jonathan Blair, is active in supporting a local charity called Pencils of Promise. And he says they do give back. “One per cent of our sales goes to Pencils of Promise and one per cent goes to Hagar International, which helps women escape from sexual slavery. We also hire those women. And we participate in a lot of projects with Pencils of Promise. This week our staff members, who are from the local community, were out helping kids find healthier ways to prepare some favourite local dishes.”
Young, who came to Luang Prabang from Portland, Oregon, about 18 months ago, does not discount Sheila’s points. “If there’s no commitment after the project,” he says, “if it’s just about having a picture of yourself posing with a brown kid to put on the fridge at home, well, that’s always a red flag.”
“When Pencils of Promise goes into a community to build a school we ask for 25 per cent contribution from the community, whether that’s labour or cement or whatever. We make sure the building is one that they want and one that fits into the community, whether it looks good in a photo or not. We make sure there is a teacher in place and ongoing program support, or we don’t do it. Since the ‘Three Cups of Tea’ controversy there’s more awareness and more scrutiny — you need to make sure there’s going to be a school functioning after the builders leave.”
That contrasts with Sheila’s description of one international aid project. “We asked the EU people to come and build a new three-room high school at the orphanage so kids wouldn’t have to leave at age 14 or so. The orphanage people told me, ‘Sheila, come see our new school.’ So I did. I asked, ‘Where’s the furniture? Where’s the electricity? Where are the blackboards?’ Well, the EU people didn’t do that. They get kudos for four walls and a ceiling and that’s the end of it. The orphanage had to raise another $8,000 to get equipment. Same thing when the hospital got built — no equipment. They don’t care. They do their little bit and take off.”
Sheila does mention an organization that she believes does good work in Luang Prabang — Lao Kids, a group that raises money for local schools, orphanages, and hospitals, with all members working for free.
Not every local do-gooder group is volunteer run. Big Brother Mouse is a self-described non-profit that publishes children’s books and promotes reading parties at local schools to help Laotian kids develop reading skills. They sell their books directly to the public, and also ask for donations to fund the reading parties at a cost of $300-$400. They’ve received plenty of great publicity. But when hearing about their work it’s easy to miss the fact that they are not a charity.
“To be fair,” Young says, “Big Brother Mouse never claims to be a charity. And really, the responsibility is on the giver. If you’re not just trying to make yourself feel good — if you want your money to be used effectively — it’s up to you to check out the financial statements of an organization.”
Young is also more forgiving of big NGOs in Laos. Groups like Save the Children and World Vision have to deal with the Laotian government. “I’m told there are 16 different government departments and they don’t recognize each other,” Young says. “There are turf wars — they all want to sign off on the project. They send government representatives out to supervise, and they all have to be paid per diems by the NGO. After a school gets built I’m told that sometimes the costs of hosting government officials is greater than the cost of building the school.”
One of Sheila’s stories seems certain to inspire a mix of anger and pride in a Canadian listener. “There was a Canadian government operation back in the early part of this century — maybe 24 or 28 young Canadians came over here. They were going to promote waste reduction and recycling in Laotian schools. The kids spent the first few months learning the language, and then they were sent off to the provinces. It was supposed to be a two-year program. By the end of, I think, a year, there were only three of the Canadians left in Laos. The others had all run home.
“But those three were wonderful. They had each of them figured out that this program was never going to work. So they decided to figure out what they could do to actually help. One guy asked the locals, ‘What do you need?’ And they said, ‘Water supply systems.’ So he put together a program that not only helped the village water supply but eventually had them making money by selling water systems to other villages. It was great. But all the while he was sending these bullshit emails back to the Canadian government people, saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m executing the program, it’s going great.’ And meanwhile he was doing something completely different, but useful.”
Sheila can’t remember the name of the Canadian woman who had been assigned to Luang Prabang. But this young Canadian too figured out that the plan wasn’t working. “She was supposed to be teaching the kids to gather paper waste,” Sheila says. “But then what? There was no place for it. They actually ended up burning the stuff because they didn’t know what else to do.”
‘Can I just vent?’
The Canadian realized that recycling facilities were needed and began lobbying the government. Eventually a plant was built and contracts signed with China and Vietnam, so that today there is some recycling going on, with local women being paid to collect plastic containers.
Little credit for that goes to our government. “At one point they sent over a bunch of consultants to speak to the Laotians,” Sheila recalls. “The Canadian girl told me, ‘Sheila, I have a master’s degree in this stuff. But I couldn’t understand what these people were saying. And they were talking to the Laotians this way — nobody understood a word.’ Then the consultants got back on their plane — probably had a nice vacation as well — and they went home. The Canadian government must have spent a lot of money to send them — more money pissed against a wall. If I was a Canadian taxpayer I’d be pretty angry.
“That young woman used to get so mad at the Canadian government. She would come in here and say, ‘Can I just stand here and vent?’
“That’s the kind of person you need to get something done here,” Sheila says. “Not these wimpy kids they keep sending.”
If the mysterious Canadian ever does return she’ll be pleased about one thing — Joma Cafe has Nanaimo bars.
For the past 35 years, the world’s largest financial institutions and most Western governments have worked to strip away all obstacles to the free flow of money from country to country,” and the results have been disastrous, the New Economics Foundation reports.
“Neoliberalism has come to dominate economic policy in the modern world,” the foundation says in a short film on the subject. “As the wisdom goes, removing restrictions on the flow of capital will ensure that investment naturally makes its way from rich countries to poorer ones. But this doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Economist columnist Philip Coggan says in the film that “We’ve had 40 years of money being freely available, of no real restrictions on exchange rates in the developed world to move. The result of all that has been a whole series of asset bubbles and a huge expansion of debt relative to GDP. It’s very hard to see how that’s sustainable.
“How to put the genie back in the bottle?” he asks. “One answer would be to have capital controls,” ways to monitor and regulate the flow of money in and out of economies. Critics in the business and especially at the top level of the global financial community say such regulation would reduce investment in countries that need it by inhibiting competition. (This same class of people tells us that competition is the most important factor in the health of an economy.)
But Peter Chowla, a coordinator of global finance watchdog Bretton Woods Project who also appears in the film, says that “[t]heories which predict that you might have some costs from regulating capital flows actually don’t bear any relation to reality as we experience it.”
Examples of the harmful effects of unregulated money flows are numerous. “A classic example perhaps was Thailand in the 1990s,” reports Coggan. “They had this huge bubble and boom. As money went into the economy, it all went into building new office blocks and other speculative property investments. And then all the money went out again. So it was as if you had this massive storm which went all through the sewers at one moment. A lot of stuff flowed out of the sewers as a result, not all of which … smelling very pleasant and Thailand went through a very deep recession after they were forced to devalue their currency in the late 1990s.”
Chowla says, “I think the evidence has been that countries that have done this haven’t experienced any drop in the kind of investment that they want. On the contrary actually, as you put in these kind of regulations, you make your economy more stable, you make things more predictable, you make your exchange rate more stable, and then investors actually have a better prospect for investing in the longer term.
“We should also remember that this is not the way it always is,” he says. “This is not the natural state of affairs. In the past we actually had quite strict rules about where money could move and how. Originally, back in 1945, the IMF actually believed very strongly in using capital controls and they believe that for the first 30 years of their existence.”
Examples of the benefits of regulating capital flows are also numerous. “Brazil … has implemented a financial transaction tax, otherwise known as a ‘Robin Hood’ tax,” the New Economics Foundation’s Lydia Prieg notes in the film. “And this is explicitly to try to penalize and thus reduce speculation. Other examples include countries like China, which have enjoyed extraordinary levels of growth recently. China has strict limitations on what non-residents can invest in with regards to shares and bonds. And then you’ve got countries like India which effectively banned foreign investment in Indian banks.
“Joseph Stiglitz … a Nobel Prize-winning economist and the former chief economist at the World Bank, did lots of studies into the Asian financial crisis,” she continues. “And he found that countries that implemented capital controls … had much shorter and much shallower downturns than countries that didn’t.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.