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Dhammakaya in the news

Foreign Policy magazine just did a photo-essay entitled “Close Encounters of the Buddhist Kind“, with the subtitle, “An exclusive look inside a booming multibillion-dollar, evangelical, global Thai cult.”

That’s not a fair way to introduce to their readers a “movement…little known to Thailand’s general public, and certainly to the rest of the world.” Buddhism has always had an evangelical element ever since the Buddha’s decision to teach and spread the dharma, with the same motivation powering Christianity (or any other religion’s) spread of its gospel, compassion. Dhammakaya is certainly global, but to say it is little known to Thailand’s general public is a misstatement, later corrected in the essay. And it’s okay if the rest of the world does not know about it, there’s a lot that the rest of the world doesn’t know about. Most religious groups do not have the global celebrity power of the Dalai Lama.

The most egregious assault by Foreign Policy is in the way the photo-essay labels Dhammakaya as a cult. With little explanation of the context within Thai culture, the photo-essay shows pictures of massive rallies with adherents all dressed white and standing in lines. What are most people to make of these pictures without the proper context? Afterall, Dhammakaya is “certainly” unknown to the rest of the world. Could it be that the massiveness of the rallies is fed by the Thai culture’s expectations that men be ordained at least once in their life? This is suggested by the fifth picture but there are no indications of this being a family or community event. Instead, we only see a sea of uniformity.

It would be easy to post up a group of pictures and include short commentary. The Internets does this all the time! In fact, we could invite our readers to do the same for the pictures below. Use your imaginations, sky’s the limit.

But in all seriousness, there is one troubling aspect shown by these pictures: lots of money and it’s use. Where does all the money for the Memorial Hall come from and how did they receive it? Was it necessary to enclose it with dome consisting of thousands of gold-plated Buddha statues? Why are we creating another idol? I will admit to having a suspicious bias against ostentatious displays, be it of wealth, compassion or most other things.

I am interested in hearing from Dhammakaya followers or anyone who knows more about these practitioners. What is the meditation practice like? Their website suggests imagining nimitas. Why’s that? How is the organization able to collect so much money? Since there is a local meditation center, I may just have to check them out.

  • http://jodoshinshubuddhism.wordpress.com Kyōshin

    A long time ago I had some correspondence with a chap named Paul Trafford whose mother was a Dhammakaya practitioner for much of her life. He has a website and blog – you might be able to glean some information from them:

    http://www.chezpaul.org.uk/buddhism/dhamkaya.htm
    http://paultrafford.blogspot.com/

  • http://achemnitz.blogspot.com Allan Chemnitz

    I’ve learned to meditate in Dhammakaya Denmark and been in Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand several times. Generally I have only good experiences, and I have
    several cases defended them publicly when they were accused of being a cult. I have only met with openness and friendliness among monks and laymen. There is never anyone who has tried to limit me in my study of other Buddhist traditions. I believe that one can not avoid being evangelical when you recommend people to meditate and when you teach the Dhamma. Both elements help humans to live in balance with the inner peace. This is the essence of the message with Dhammakaya. The message is brought through the DMC which is their television station as can be seen worldwide via satellite. Unlike more traditional Buddhist traditions Dhammakaya not afraid to use technological means, which means that more people hear about their message. Phra Nicholas Thanissaro says very correctly in an interview to People Peschardt as a BBC program that you can say about Buddhism, the message is good, but lousy marketing. Buddhism has much good to offer modern society and peace-loving people throughout the world.

  • http://egopeeler.blog.com brianallenray

    Actually, Dhammakaya is viewed by many local Thai BKKers, who are aware of it, as a cult for being so radically modern, and that is the end of it. I lived in BKK/Thailand for 8 years investigating and studying Thai Buddhism in its few forms. The technique they use is not unique to their Temple/Organization. As a matter of fact there is a small temple Wat Paknam –

    http://www.dhammathai.org/e/meditation/page8.php

    with ancient roots to the technique which is categorized as one of the legitimate forms of Thai Theravadin Buddhism. It is also taught by Wat Luang Phor Sodh Dhammakayaram –

    http://www.buddhistravel.com/index.php?id=113,209,0,0,1,0

    The Dhamma Center for Buddhist Studies – which is Buddhist Meditation Insititute (BMI) ‘s modern development of the previous mentioned temple’s teachings –

    http://www.dhammacenter.org/dhammakaya_meditation_online/dhammakaya_meditation

    The Dhamma Center link is the best introduction to the the practice.

    In my opinion it has nothing to do with the technique- which IS “traditional” though hadn’t been widely practiced. As it is, you’d be hard pressed to find an average monk who practices any meditation whatsoever in Thailand. With such role models you wouldn’t be surprised not to find an average Thai who practices any real meditation other than simpel breath calming – let alone even understand antything other than the teachings on moral behavior (which are loosely followed). They tell me it’s too hard, it’s too complicated. This is an overriding cultural stance there. Thai’s are “religious” with strong ties to ancient animism- very superstitious. But for sure, you dont mess with “tradition” in any course. It’s built in to their social stratification on every level. So, I think the modern temple, internet, masses just don’t look like the Buddhism they have been brought up with. And it scares them!

    My investigation found that Wat Dhammakaya has a very straight forward approach. They dispense with the traces of animism, spiritualism, and superstition found at most average Thai temples. Those involved are “into” making Buddhism and its presentation beautiful (which most temple ground are awfully dirty/dilapidated and laden with dying dogs) and modern, which they feel is needed to re-liven the spirit of truly living and practicing Dhamma in Thailand.