In contrast with the low profile of most of Thailand's traditional
Buddhist temples, the activity at Dhamma-kaya is more reminiscent of
Christian television evangelism.
Closed circuit monitors relay the image and voice of the temple's
leader, Phra Dhammachayo. At the edges of the prayer hall,
volunteers wait patiently behind cash registers at designated
donation points. And in the normally harmonious world of Thai
Buddhism, this unorthodox movement with several hundred thousand
followers here and around the world is causing something of an
Last week, after months of investigations and intense media
speculation, Thai authorities arrested Abbot Phra Dhammachayo, along
with his secular aide, on charges of abusing his authority and
embezzling temple funds. The soft-spoken, media-shy monk was later
released on bail of $54,000.
Guilty or not, Phra Dhammachayo and his movement are shaking the
religious foundations of this nation, where traditional Theravada
Buddhism is the nominal faith of 90 percent of the population of 60
Located on the outskirts of Bangkok, the Dhammakaya World
Meditation Centre, established 29 years ago by Phra Dhammachayo and a
small group of followers, is the epicenter of an unusual Buddhist
"Dhammakaya is a challenge to traditional Buddhism. Most temples
these days forget their main objective, which is to create good
people. We're stealing their market share," says devotee Manit
At its sprawling complex, spread over some 783 acres, workers are
putting the finishing touches on a vast flying saucer-shaped Chedi, a
monument built, says the temple, to last 1,000 years. Dhammakaya
hopes the Chedi, its dome studded with thousands of Buddha images,
will become a focus of worship for Buddhists around the globe.
On Sunday mornings, during weekly prayer and meditation sessions,
tens of thousands of followers of all ages and all walks of life come
to hear Phra Dhammachayo.
Dressed in white to symbolize purity, Dhammakaya's followers sit
cross-legged in silent contemplation. Their huge, open-sided hangar-
like hall can provide shelter for up to 200,000 devotees.
Advocates say Dhammakaya could be the face of Theravada Buddhism
for the new millennium. Wearing traditional saffron robes, the
temple's monks, at least half of whom are university graduates,
routinely carry mobile phones and use personal computers. …