Super-size Religion:Comparing Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok ChurchNote: This was written in 2005 before the spli...
CONTENTSINTRODUCTION                                1TEMPLE VS CHURCH                            2The Provider            ...
Figure 1 Maha Dhammakaya Cetiya.Figure 2 Hope of Bangkok Church                                   3
INTRODUCTION   One is the biggest temple in Thailand while the other is the biggest church inThailand. On an average Sunda...
This paper also posits that the huge following of the two religious centres is notonly due to their inherent attractions. ...
meditations on Sundays and the nightly dhamma teachings. The memorial hallhouses a solid gold image of Phramonkolthepmuni,...
districts of Thailand. Another 40 churches have been established internationally in 19countries, including the US, Canada,...
recognised as a church by the Department of Religious Affairs. And Hope ofBangkok came under the Evangelical Fellowship of...
The Founder    The Dhammakaya movement grew out of a unique meditation technique“discovered” by Luang Por Sot of Wat Pak N...
Pentecostal churches1. While still an undergraduate, he felt a vision to plant churchesin his homeland. Returning to 1981 ...
religious leader. A voracious reader, skilled speaker and organiser, a creative thinkerwith an eye for detail, and a hard-...
and remained the abbot of the temple, Kriengsak stepped down in the late 1990s aftera personal scandal tainted his reputat...
completely denied all miracles and supernatural powers, Wat Dhammakaya hascontinuously promoted them in order to draw more...
was averaging 20 to 30 first-time decisions per week (Zehner 1987:75). At the sametime, people who were suffering from ill...
Given the strong personalities of Dhammajayo and Kriengsak, it is not surprisingthat they rule their roosts like priest ki...
have to dress in white when going to the temple. At Hope of Bangkok Church, therewas an assumption that it is a strength t...
While most of the students would return to university, complete their studies andget a job in the secular world, some retu...
siblings tell her all their family and work problems,” he said. “Besides, while mybrothers give her money, I actually give...
At Hope of Bangkok, lay members are organised in a tiered system. The smallestcomponent is the care group. People are divi...
Other than the lay members, there is an interesting membership category calledlay personnel or lay people. They are quite ...
course of rebirths, will bring one to better states of life, then to the different levels ofheaven, and gradually closer t...
short, merit-making has become a well-packaged and ready-made good which can beeasily acquired and “consumed” (Apinya 1993...
the church income and budget. The senior pastor himself does not handle money,however, to avoid any possible accusations. ...
programs in rural development7. Such programmes featured the Buddhist sangha asan arm of government national integration s...
disruption, value disorientation and social anomie brought on by the economic, socialand cultural disruptions. In this sec...
Buddhism appeared to provide establishment Buddhist sanction for an unprecedentedBuddhist legitimation of political violen...
Thanom’s donning of the yellow robes of a member of the sangha was clearlydesigned to signify that he had turned his back ...
Elder Council with its work. It has also attempted to enhance its secular and religiousconnections by inviting monks award...
times was a big attraction to the converts. Coupled with the church’s persistentfollow-up system, it is not surprising tha...
interests rather than shoring up the position of the establishment. For this reasonmany intellectual Buddhists desire Budd...
Western ’yuppies’ (Jackson 1989:205). These ‘yuppies’ were both a product of therapid growth in the Thai economy in the 19...
short-circuits the seeking out of spiritual power from forest monks by relocating thatpower within the lay followers thems...
Figure 3: The bot is a stylised version of the one at the Marble Temple.Figure 4: Inside the bot.                         ...
Likewise, Hope of Bangkok Church presents a very modern image. Upon arrivingfor the Sunday worship service, there are well...
While both Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church cater to the middleclass in similar patterns, there are two additiona...
maintains that the temple set out with the undisguised goal of making money and hadinvested in ventures as pharmaceuticals...
techniques while preserving traditional hierarchical rules relating to the conduct ofinterpersonal relationships. Their em...
REFERENCESApinya Fuengfusakul (1993). Empire of crystal and utopian commune: Two types of   contemporary Theravada reform ...
Stewart, Robb (1999). Defending the faith(s): Buddhism and religious freedom in   Thailand. In Buddhism, Cults and Popular...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5
×

Super-size religion: Comparing Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church

4,866 views

Published on

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the biggest temple in Thailand and the Hope of Bangkok Church was the biggest church in the country. While Hope of Bangkok church has splintered into smaller groups, I believe this essay continues to be relevant in exploring the phenomenal expansion behind these two institutions and the role of the middle class in their growth.

Published in: Spiritual
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
4,866
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
4
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
0
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Super-size religion: Comparing Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church

  1. 1. Super-size Religion:Comparing Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok ChurchNote: This was written in 2005 before the splintering of the Hope ofBangkok Church. Please contact xingledout<at>gmail.com if you wish touse any information from this paper. 1
  2. 2. CONTENTSINTRODUCTION 1TEMPLE VS CHURCH 2The Provider 2The Founder 6The Product 9Hierarchy and Conformity 11Recruitment and Membership Patterns 13Expression of lay religiosity 17REASONS FOR PHENOMENAL GROWTH 20Disenchantment with established Buddhism 22Catering to the Middle Class 26CONCLUSION 33REFERENCES 35 2
  3. 3. Figure 1 Maha Dhammakaya Cetiya.Figure 2 Hope of Bangkok Church 3
  4. 4. INTRODUCTION One is the biggest temple in Thailand while the other is the biggest church inThailand. On an average Sunday, both places of worship draw roughly the samenumber of people to their religious centre. Wat Phra Dhammakaya attracts 10,000 to15,000 Buddhists to the regular Sunday meditation at Pathum Thani while some10,000 Christians throng the Hope of Bangkok Church for the worship services atKhlong Toey. Both places had also been dogged by controversies in their respectivereligious circles yet both had survived to remain the big players in the religious scenein contemporary Thailand. Much has been written about Wat Phra Dhammakaya (seeApinya 1993; Jackson 1989; Suwanna 1990; Zehner 1990) but no one has compared itwith Hope of Bangkok Church. Both temple and church rose to ascendancy in the1980s and experienced some of their highest growth rates in that period. In order to do research for this paper, I visited Wat Phra Dhammakaya on August27 and was taken on a tour of the premises. I also had an extensive interview withone of the monks there, whose passage into full-time ordination would be described inthis paper. I then went to a Christian concert attended by some 6,000 people stagedby Hope of God Church at Bec Tero Hall on the following day. I also attended theirSunday worship service on September 4. This paper aims to compare the two by looking at factors such as their history,their founder, the recruitment process, and the hierarchical organisation. I will not beincluding Santi Asoke in this discussion although it is also seen as a prominentBuddhist reform movement in the country. While it might be stridently political, itsfollowing is nowhere near the tens of thousands of Wat Phra Dhammakaya. 1
  5. 5. This paper also posits that the huge following of the two religious centres is notonly due to their inherent attractions. The fact that both the temple and the churchgrew so phenomenally in the 1980s indicates that external factors should also beconsidered. This paper concludes by exploring how the burgeoning middle class andThai society’s disenchantment with establishment Buddhism have contributed to thesuper-size religion practiced in Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church.TEMPLE VS CHURCHThe Provider “The Catholics have their Vatican, the Moslems their Mecca, we Buddhiststherefore await our World Dhammakaya Centre.” Thus spoke Dattajeevo, theassistant abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya during its 20th anniversary celebrations in1990. This proud self-confident and ambitious assertion reveals the Dhammakayaleaders’ commitment to expanding their organisational structure so that theirorganisation might one day become a Buddhist centre of national or internationalrepute and influence (Apinya 1993:155). The World Dhammakaya Centre sits on1,000 acres and comprises the Maha Dhammakaya Centre, the Great DhammakayaAssembly Hall and the Phramonkolthepmuni Memorial Hall. The Cetiya, which isbeing built at an estimated cost of US$1 billion, is a dome stupa with a one-kilometre-square area. When completed in 2007, it is supposed to accommodate one millionpeople. The top of the stupa (Fig. 1) is not painted gold; it is actually made up of300,000 gold Buddha statuettes. Another 700,000 of the 18-inch-high images willadorn the rest of the stupa. The assembly hall can sit up to 300,000 people and issupposed to be the world’s largest single-roofed hall. This is used for the regular 2
  6. 6. meditations on Sundays and the nightly dhamma teachings. The memorial hallhouses a solid gold image of Phramonkolthepmuni, the founder of the Dhammakayameditation technique, and will be later opened up as a museum. The entire compoundis like a self-contained village, including accommodation for the 1,000 monks, 300novices and 1,000 lay people, a school, a retreat area. Even the trams used fortransporting visitors and the clothes worn by the lay-people are manufactured withinthe compound. It is believed that the temple needs to receive at least 15 million baht amonth in contributions for maintaining overheads (Taylor 1990:141). When compared to the sprawling compound of the temple, the Hope of BangkokChurch seems very modest. Tucked away in a corner in Khlong Toey, the church hasa two-storey auditorium, which can sit about 1,500 to 2,000 people. It holds fourservices on Sunday, three in Thai and one in Mandarin to cater to its largecongregation. It was quite difficult getting information from the church because theleaders were quite touchy about revealing numbers, such as the size of thecongregation and the number of pastors. One of the senior pastors hinted that thegovernment gets nervous when any religious group gets too big, hence theirreluctance to reveal or confirm any numbers (personal interview with Arjan PrayuthSariman on August 24). Moreover, after the 1987 split from the other churches,which would be discussed later, Hope of Bangkok withdrew all literature about thechurch from the libraries of the bible seminaries here. Because of the limited area in the Khlong Toey site, Hope of Bangkok Church hasgrown by setting up replica churches around Bangkok, Thailand and the world. Thereare now eight Hope of Bangkok churches in the capital, including the one at KhlongToey. In 1997, more than 800 Hope churches have been planted, covering most 3
  7. 7. districts of Thailand. Another 40 churches have been established internationally in 19countries, including the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and most of the countries inSoutheast Asia. (Wongsak 1998:271). All the churches carry the Hope brand, so thereis Hope of Chiang Mai, Hope of Buriram, Hope of Singapore, Hope of London, Hopeof Vancouver and so on. Administratively, they are coordinated by a central office toensure that they are all moving in the same spiritual direction. On the other hand, WatDhammakaya has only one super-temple. It has 23 affiliated meditation centres inThailand and another 26 branches in 13 countries but they do not operate as temples.They only offer teaching on the Dhammakaya meditation. Despite royal patronage in the early days – Princess Sirinthorn laid the foundationstone for the bot in 1977 – Wat Dhammakaya has come under pressure for itsunorthodox teachings, citation of miracles in order to solicit donations, and theconnection of its abbot to business and land deals. In the 1980s, some villagers, upsetabout the loss of their lands to both the main temple complex and a branch in northernThailand, damaged a Buddha image belonging to the movement, threatened to set fireto the temple and attacked the monks (Jackson 1989:215). In late 1998, the templeonce again became the focus of public attention and media scrutiny because of itsdogged solicitation for donations to build the Cetiya regardless of economic downturn.The Sangha Council announced a nine-issue allegation against abbot Dhammachayowhich included “threatening national security, violating religious principles andundermining the monarchy” (Rungrawee 1999:14). In 1999, Dhammachayo wascharged with embezzling 96 million baht. Hope of Bangkok Church, too, was no stranger to controversy. In Thailand, achurch has to come under one of five Christian umbrella organisations before it can be 4
  8. 8. recognised as a church by the Department of Religious Affairs. And Hope ofBangkok came under the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT). By 1984, thechurch was being accused of seeking to grow at the expense of other churches. Therewas public criticism, organisational opposition, pressure on individual members andeven attempts to block or hinder their work. By 1986, churches were preventing theirmembers from attending Christian meetings where Hope of Bangkok’s founderKriengsak Charoenwongsak was speaking, for fear that they would move over to hischurch. By January 1987, it was publicly announced that the church had beensuspended from membership in the EFT. The published conditions for reinstatementincluded requiring the prior approval of local pastors before Hope of Bangkok couldbegin a new church; a public statement forbidding members to invite other Christiansto any of Hope of Bangkok’s activities; prior approval of an individual’s formerpastor before he would be permitted to transfer membership to Hope of Bangkok; anda public apology to the other church leaders (Zehner 1987:78) To this day, Hope ofBangkok has not acquiesced to the conditions and it remains suspended. So legally, itis not a church although it functions as one. Instead it operates under the name of itsfoundation – Hope Place. Perhaps because the controversy surrounding Hope ofBangkok did not revolve around the money politics and doctrinal accusations thatdogged Wat Dhammakaya, Hope of Bangkok continued to receive rave reviews frominternational Christian magazines and Kriengsak remained a highly sought-afterspeaker overseas despite of problems on the home front. 5
  9. 9. The Founder The Dhammakaya movement grew out of a unique meditation technique“discovered” by Luang Por Sot of Wat Pak Nam. After his death, several instructorsloosely associated with Wat Pak Nam continued to teach Dhammakaya meditation.One of these teachers, Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong (also known as Khun YayChan), attracted a circle of disciples which included the group of Kasetsart Universitystudents who would form the leadership of the future Wat Dhammakaya. Born in1944, future abbot Chaiboon Sitthitphon became the first in that circle to be ordainedin 1969 and took on the monastic name of Dhammajayo. In 1970, the group obtaineda donation of land in Pathum Thani and started construction of the Buddhist Centrefor Practising Dhamma on the 75 acres of land. In 1978, Wat Phra Dhammakaya wasgranted official registration. Born in 1954, Kriengsak, a former AFS student and Colombo Scholarship holder,converted to Christianity during his first year of his undergraduate studies at MonashUniversity in Melbourne. Thoroughly dedicated, he became an assistant pastor andleader of the Asian ministry at a church in Melbourne, started a Christian club amonguniversity students on campus, studied Greek and took courses at four different bibletraining institutes (one at graduate level), while managing to complete his doctorate ineconomics on schedule (Zehner 1987:69). While still a student in Australia,Kriengsak was being given access to church and conference platforms in Australia,New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. His detailed grasp of scripture and biblicalteaching issues was said by church leaders to be unusual for an Asian. He also becameespecially popular in speaking engagements in businessmen’s fellowship and 6
  10. 10. Pentecostal churches1. While still an undergraduate, he felt a vision to plant churchesin his homeland. Returning to 1981 with his PhD and subsequently becoming aneconomics lecturer at Kasetsart University, he thought of joining in the work of theexisting churches but was put off by their weak state. So in that same year, he startedHope of Bangkok Church with just five people on the ninth floor of a hospitalbuilding. In the next few years, the church grew so quickly that it moved from thesmall meeting room, to a hotel ballroom, then Oscar Theatre and finally to its presentpremise. The profiles of both Dhammajayo and Kriengsak are startlingly similar despitetheir 10-year age gap. Both are well-educated – Dhammajayo was also an economicsgraduate, but from Kasetsart University. Their mutual link to Kasetsart University isof course an interesting coincidence. Both started their respective temple and churchin their late 20s. As far as the followers were concerned, both possessed the essencewhich Max Weber termed “charisma” akin to the Thai concept of บารมี. A governmentofficial in the Ministry of Education wrote of her first glimpse of Dhammajayo in1986: His carriage was magnificent, his complexion clear, clean and radiantly glowing beneath the yellow robe. The attractiveness of his appearance…. Filled me with such joy that tears flowed without my realising it. That picture will surely remain firmly in my heart and mind as long as I live. It is because Luang Phor has amassed such great merit that his complexion appears more radiant than that of any other (Zehner 1990:412)Kriengsak was also regarded as a man of unusual personal ability. His detailedknowledge of scripture and his ability to express his views more articulately thanalmost anyone else in terms relevant to the hearer gave him a great advantage as a1 The Pentecostal movement pays special attention to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are believed tobe given to Christians and include abilities to prophesy, heal people, do miracles and cast out demons. 7
  11. 11. religious leader. A voracious reader, skilled speaker and organiser, a creative thinkerwith an eye for detail, and a hard-driving worker determined to win souls and producechurch-planters, he and his church pointed the way to a new era of progress for theThai church as a whole. Moreover, both men were believed to be imbued with supernatural power. Thenarrative style of Dhammajayo’s biography resembled that found in traditionaldepictions of historical heroes or Buddhist saints, with their frequent references toauspicious omens. It mentioned for example his mother’s auspicious dream beforehis birth and discussed the signs during his childhood of possessing a faculty ofpremonition (Apinya 1993:166). Dhammajayo himself claimed to be able to usehigh-level meditation to cure members who were ill or to help them avert bad luck(Bowers 1996:20). As for Kriengsak, whenever people came to him with a requestfor prayer, they expected an answer with confidence. Although he preached endlesslythat anyone with faith would see God answer prayer, the answers just seemed to comea bit faster when he was the one doing the praying (Zehner 1987:84). Both men were dedicated to renewing Thai Buddhism and Thai Christianity withtheir aggressively evangelistic movements. By forbidding monks to participate innon-normative practices such as fortune-telling and dispensing lottery numbers,Dhammajayo aimed to provide an alternative to Buddhism that had been perceived asstultified by hierarchy and ceremonial ritual. Kriengsak, who had been nicknamed the“Apostle of Hope”, wanted his church to challenge traditional Thai concepts thatChristianity is Western-owned because unlike many churches which were a branch ofa foreign denomination, Hope of Bangkok was started by a Thai and was indigenous.Yet, while Dhammajayo had managed to come through all the allegations and charges 8
  12. 12. and remained the abbot of the temple, Kriengsak stepped down in the late 1990s aftera personal scandal tainted his reputation. He is now a party-list parliamentarian underthe Democrat Party.The Product The Dhammakaya movement is in the Mahanikay tradition and has the support ofsome of the most senior Mahanikay administrative monks, including Somdet PhraPhutthakohsajan, abbot of Wat Benjamabophit. Dhammakaya is a discipline teachingthat within the human body there exist different layers of bodies, the most refined ofwhich is the ninth body in the form of a pure white lotus-shaped Buddha image thatwill lead the person into nibbana. This ninth body shines with a cool bright light andis called Dhammakaya. It is claimed that all meditative practices lead to theDhammakaya and there is no other way to nibbana except this way (Suwanna1990:401). Despite the doctrinal controversy that arose from equating theDhammakaya with the way to enlightenment, practitioners were not bothered by it,they seemed more intent on the promised realisation of a happy state of mind. Thisgave rise to critics questioning whether the temple was offering spirituality of“religious pleasure” comparable to that of recreation clubs and fishing parks (Keyes1999:33). On Sundays, devotees would meditate together at the same time –transforming a previously personal pursuit into a corporate activity – by imagining aclear, crystal ball in the centre of their body, two inches above their navel. Manyhave claimed the benefits from their meditation, such as increased inner peace,improved concentration and greater success in studies (Zehner 1990:415). So whileother progressive religious movements such as Suan Mokh and Santi Asoke have 9
  13. 13. completely denied all miracles and supernatural powers, Wat Dhammakaya hascontinuously promoted them in order to draw more followers. On top of the Sunday meditation, the temple offers nightly dhamma teachingwhich is beamed live to some 50,000 viewers and listeners over satellite TV and thetemple’s website (personal interview with Venerable Burin Thitakusalo, August 27).This is now taught largely by Dhammajayo, who used to visit the temple only once amonth in the past. Burin made some very telling remarks: “In the past, the abbot would stay in Chiang Mai and do high-level meditation. He comes to Wat Dhammakaya maybe once a month. But when we started building [the Cetiya], he needed to do fund-raising. So he started coming weekly and now he comes daily to teach dhamma.”The temple also relies heavily on media and technology to get its message across tothe public as well as put up spectacular productions for special occasions. By themid-1980s, the Dhammakaya movement was also producing a growing volume ofpublications aimed at young, educated readers. Meanwhile, the three-hour worship services at Hope of Bangkok Church onSundays are very modern and contemporary affairs. The service starts with an hourof singing – the Christian songs are in the pop-rock style and are played by a talentedband, consisting of a drummer, two keyboardists, two guitarists, a bassist and sixsingers. Once in a while, there will also be a team of dancers. The second hour istaken up by the pastor who preaches a sermon from the bible and makes it applicableto daily life. In the final hour, the congregation is given time to respond to theevangelistic invitations. Whether through concentrated peer pressure, effectivewitness, or the effect of experiencing the corporate worship experience for the firsttime, many visitors decide to convert to be Christian on their first visit. The church 10
  14. 14. was averaging 20 to 30 first-time decisions per week (Zehner 1987:75). At the sametime, people who were suffering from illness or problems could request for prayerduring this response time. Hope of Bangkok Church is quite well-known for themiracles that take place there. Healings of people who were sick beyond medical aidwere documented regularly. There have also been documented cases of paralytics andcancer patients who were miraculously healed after prayer (Wongsak 1998:277). Ontop of the worship service, members can sign up for one-hour bible lessons. Theseare not merely sit-and-listen sessions. The members have to do supplementaryreading, memorise verses from the bible and take exams. To instil discipline, fineswere imposed for tardiness, absence and failure to recite the week’s memory verses ifcalled on. Hope of Bangkok Church is arguably the leader among churches in the use ofmedia and technology. When I attended the Christian concert that the church put upat Bec Tero Hall, I was impressed with the slickness of the entire production – themusic, the dancing, the laser beams, the dry-ice effect and not forgetting the wavingof light sticks by the congregation. It looked (and sounded) exactly like any rockconcert. The church churns out a lot of media resources such as TV soap operas withbiblical principles behind them. The musicians are prolific in writing their ownChristian songs and translating the latest ones from the US or Australia. Andironically, while Hope of Bangkok Church is considered on the fringe of the Christiancircle here, many churches are actually lapping up all these media resources.Hierarchy and Conformity 11
  15. 15. Given the strong personalities of Dhammajayo and Kriengsak, it is not surprisingthat they rule their roosts like priest kings. Decisions are made privately among a fewindividuals with no intent of revealing the details to line personnel. Lay followershave little freedom to decide on the ways in which different tasks are carried out.There is very little downward responsiveness to upward communications. Both menlooked upon themselves as benevolent superiors guiding or managing obedient andrespectful inferiors, taking a paternalistic stance towards the members. For example,when Dattajeevo preaches, he uses the term “ลูก” to address the lay followers.Kriengsak used to regard the members as sheep (แกะ) to be looked after. Apinya(1993) suggests that the paternalistic legacy in Wat Dhammakaya stemmed from thefact that both the abbot and assistant abbot graduated from Kasetsart University,which is well-known for its strict and strong “seniority tradition”. In the same way,Zehner (1987) proposes that Kriengsak, being the grandson of Chinese immigrantsand thus socialised in synthesis of Thai and Chinese cultural worlds, was thefunctional equivalent of the traditional Chinese patriarch atop the family business,especially when the core of his church leadership was composed mainly of young,acculturated Thai-Chinese and highly-educated elite and semi-elite Thai. Kriengsakwas the chief administrator and source and arbiter of all authority in church. The strict hierarchies went hand-in-hand with the conscious push for conformitywithin both the temple and the church. Wat Dhammakaya is primarily concernedwith personal morality, not about Pali or reinterpretations of scripture. Itspersonalistic view of the world is espoused in authoritarian language with a clear andsimple message – there is a correct way of religious practice, a correct way of acting,and that is the Dhammakaya way (Swearer 1991:665). This is also why members 12
  16. 16. have to dress in white when going to the temple. At Hope of Bangkok Church, therewas an assumption that it is a strength to have everybody “believe the same”(มีความเชื่อเหมือนกัน), in having all the replica churches to teach the same lessons exactlythe same way, in having church administrations run on the same patterns. A lot ofpaperwork is churned out each week just to keep everybody on the same track.Recruitment and Membership Patterns Both the temple and the church have a very strict recruitment process for itsclerical members. As a result at least 80 per cent of the monks in the temple andpastors in the church possess a tertiary degree (interviews with Prayuth and Burin). Wat Dhammakaya selects most of its clerical members from among youthsparticipating in the Dhammadayada (“dhamma-heir”) Training and Hot Season MassOrdination for specially chosen university students. This annual three-month longtraining programme starts off with military physical training, which is seen as anecessary prerequisite for later components of the programme. In the second month,participants take part in intensive and strict meditation training which includes theobservance of the Eight Precepts and eight-hour-per-day meditation practice. Thosewho pass this month of Dhammadayada training are then selected to participate in amass ordination ceremony performed at Wat Benjamabophit by the abbot of thatmonastery. The students then remain monks for one month and return to theDhutanga Sathana or ascetic practices area at Wat Dhammakaya before disrobing tocontinue their studies at the beginning of the academic year in June. More than 1,000students go through this programme a year. 13
  17. 17. While most of the students would return to university, complete their studies andget a job in the secular world, some return to don the yellow robe for life. Contrary toThai monastic practice, Dhammakaya monks make a vow to ordain for life. Burin,aged 27, is one such example and has been a monk for the last six years. During thethird year of his studies in journalism and mass communication in ThammasatUniversity, he began to feel emptiness in his life. He wanted to fill the gap withinhim so he decided to learn meditation and enrolled in the Dhammadayada programme.But when it ended, he decided to stay on for another year as a monk to learn moreabout meditation. He did return to Thammasat to complete the final year of hisstudies. Upon graduation, he traded a Young Journalist Scholarship for the yellowrobes. Speaking in impeccable English, he said, “I decided that I wanted to be aDhammakaya journalist, to spread news of peace and use my English for Buddha. It’dbe better for my own happiness.”2 As the baby of the family, Burin’s parents becamequite concerned when he became very involved in Wat Dhammakaya during hisuniversity days, especially with all the rumours saying that the temple is a cult. Butthey were won over when they saw how his life had changed and they have sincebecome loyal temple devotees. “I was very hot-tempered in the past but meditatinghelped me to control my emotions,” he explained.3 Although it was difficult for hisparents to accept it when Burin decided to ordain for life, his entire family, includinghis four brothers and sisters, attended his ordination. “My mother is now quite happyto have a monk for a son because she says I only talk about good things while my2 The vocabulary and rhetoric used by Dhammakaya followers are similar to those found in Christianjargon. Their initiation into the meditation is like a conversion experience – once upon a time, therewas emptiness in their life, but after meditating, they are filled with joy. Burin’s goal to use his Englishskills for Buddha easily parallels the Christian who wants to use his talents for God.3 His words again parallel the life-change experience that new Christian converts always testify about. 14
  18. 18. siblings tell her all their family and work problems,” he said. “Besides, while mybrothers give her money, I actually give her merit.” Burin’s story is not uncommon inWat Dhammakaya and it shows how effective the temple had been in recruiting thecream of the crop from the universities while attracting their network of family,relatives and friends to the temple. While Hope of Bangkok Church does not have such a systematic recruitmentprocess, Kriengsak seemed to have been open from the start about his desires toattract as many good people as possible to help lead in accomplishing the vision. Hescreened prospective members, telling them, “If you’re not prepared to work hard,you would be better off attending somewhere else.” (Zehner 1987:72) Because the clerics at both the temple and church are well-educated, they havebeen able to attract a sizeable proportion of the middle to join them. Temple statisticsshow that 41 per cent of the members are students, and 22 per cent are privatebusiness owners (Suwanna 1990:407). At Hope of Bangkok, more than half themembers are made up of students and young professionals (interview with Prayuth).In fact, the main support base for both movements is tertiary students. This alsoindicates the open-ness of young people of that age group to spiritual matters,especially because it is a period of transition between childhood and adulthood forthem. At the last count in 1987 (because there were too many after that to be counted),Wat Dhammakaya controlled more than 50 Student Buddhist Clubs in Thailand.There are also Hope care groups in most of the major universities in Thailand, wherechurch members meet on campus, encourage one another in the midst of their studiesand evangelise to their classmates together. 15
  19. 19. At Hope of Bangkok, lay members are organised in a tiered system. The smallestcomponent is the care group. People are divided into groups ranging in size from 5 to10 individuals who are supervised by a leader. The grouping is done in ashomogeneous a manner as possible. For example, doctors and nurses are groupedtogether. Two or three care groups form a unit. One level higher, two or three unitsare grouped together and headed by another leader. This configuration extendsupward to the pastoral team, which is headed by a senior pastor. Within each caregroup, members are paired up so that a more mature Christian takes care of a youngerChristian. The pair meets every week to pray together, read the bible and chit chat(Wongsak 1988:273). The lives of members are monitored quite closely in thissystem. So, for example, if a member wants to date someone, he has to inform theperson he is accountable to (พี่เลี้ยง) who will then inform the leader of the care group,who will inform the leader of the unit. The leaders of the care groups and units arenot paid church staff; they have their own jobs. They are selected based on theirmaturity, knowledge of the bible and their track record in proselytizing. At Wat Dhammakaya, ordinary lay members are also strictly monitored and“regulated”. They are organised into small sub-groups of about 60 to 70 people each,each with its own leader who mediates with the central lay administration. Apartfrom carrying out the traditional function of supplying provisions for the temple, theyare also “mediators” who draw in further resources from the wider public throughtheir networks of personal relations. In view of this fund-raising function, sub-groupleaders are selected either by virtue of their influential social or economic status or onaccount of their own personal persuasive talent (Apinya 1993:159). 16
  20. 20. Other than the lay members, there is an interesting membership category calledlay personnel or lay people. They are quite unlike the traditional “temple boys”, whowere sent to live, serve and learn from monks. They also differ from the traditional“lay committee of the temple”, who are more free to shift between temple service andmundane life, and do not have to commit themselves to any special kind of strictmoral practices. But Wat Dhammakaya’s lay personnel are expected to stringentlyadhere to moral standards and conduct their everyday affairs in a proper and orderlyfashion. The way the lay people are recruited resembles that of a secular businessenterprise: it includes interviews, a written exam on general knowledge of Buddhism,a three-month training programme, and a three-month probation period. They have tostrictly observe the Eight Precepts (ordinary laymen are expected to observe only FivePrecepts), and practise oral and face-to-face persuasive techniques in the Dhammapropagating “knock-door programme” which takes them from house to house in allthe densely residential areas in Bangkok. The lowest educational requirement for itspersonnel is a college certificate. Most of them are 26-35 years of age, and all ofthem are single. They live inside the temple wall, receive a small salary (the templeoffers them some welfare services) and wear a white uniform.Expression of lay religiosity Merit-making or ทําบุญ is an indispensable part of every Buddhist ceremony and themost popular expression of lay religiosity although according to doctrine, the Buddhapraised worship through the practice of Dhamma (Pali: patipatti puja) more thanmaterial worship (Pali: amisa puja) or worship through the supply of material goodsto monks. Merit-making is seen as the act of accumulating good deeds which, in the 17
  21. 21. course of rebirths, will bring one to better states of life, then to the different levels ofheaven, and gradually closer to the ultimate target of nibbana. At the societal level,merit-making activities are a significant resource channel for temples. WatDhammakaya has not only sought to revitalise the traditional merit-making concept,but introduced a modern and systematic mechanism for fund-raising or resourcemobilisation. A handbook on merit-making written by the assistant abbot, asserts anabsolute faith in the existence of other worlds and the traditionally elaborated causalrelations attached to the merit act. This faith is seen as the necessary condition for thefull attainment of merit result in next lives. It also provides numerical elaborations ofthe “benefits” or “profits” to be gained from different merit acts4 (Dattajeevo 1989).The Dhammakaya movement stresses that merit-making provides individuals withtheir only chance to save their souls. This stress on merit-making is further heightened by the modern systematicarrangement and varied forms of merit activities. One interesting merit act involvesthe so-called “crystal ball of accumulated merit” which allows one to “bank” on merit.A transparent plastic ball is sold to lay members who, after filling it up with coins andbanknotes will present it to the monks to accrue merit. The temple has also takensteps to ensure comfort and convenience in merit-making. Buses to facilitate themerit-making are available every Sunday from different spots in Bangkok. At thetemple, a free lunch is distributed. Things needed for merit-making such as food,flowers, candles, and incense are sold in handy ready-to-use packages. Polite laypersonnel in clean white dress are ready at hand to give advice and information. In4 For example, it explains that if a rich man donates money for almsgiving but lets his servant deliverthe money, he will receive only 30 per cent of the “profits” of his act whereas his servant will receivethe remaining 70 per cent of the “profits” from the mere act of handing alms to monks. 18
  22. 22. short, merit-making has become a well-packaged and ready-made good which can beeasily acquired and “consumed” (Apinya 1993:168). At the heart of this well-oiled fund-raising machine are the lay sub-groups. Fund-raising reaches a high normally before the grand annual rituals, such as kathin inOctober and makha bucha in February. All its members are encouraged not only touse a direct, face-to-face approach which taps into family and working networks, butto also use the “knock-door” strategy with the wider public. In sub-group leadermeetings, techniques to encourage fund-raising are continuously discussed and smallcrystal Buddha images are given as rewards to those members who first raise a givenamount within a determined period. In 1988, the temple even won an award for itsmarket planning strategies from the Business Management Association of Thailand.While some Buddhists were embarrassed by the temple’s receipt of the award, themembers have taken pride in the award. For them, the survival of Buddhism requiresthat some of the logic of the market or ways of the “world” be adopted (Apinya1993:169). On the other hand, at Hope of Bangkok Church, the term บุญ is never mentionedexcept to deny its cosmic claims. The idea that one might gain divine favour throughofferings or good works is regularly rejected in teaching. The church emphasises theimportance of giving, especially the 10 per cent of one’s salary or allowance that issupposed to belong to God according to doctrine. However, the church’s offeringcollections (compared to Buddhist merit-making) are typically rushed, light-heartedaffairs, apparent afterthoughts tacked onto the end of the main ritual performances.The amounts given are rarely announced except as a collective total. The seniorpastor and leadership team make the decision about expenditures within the limits of 19
  23. 23. the church income and budget. The senior pastor himself does not handle money,however, to avoid any possible accusations. Counting the money is normally takencare of by a team to avoid embezzlement of funds (Wongsak 1998:278). At the church, a more common way of expressing lay religiosity is to bring familyand friends to church, as well as inviting them to evangelistic events. They are drivenmore by their enthusiasm to share their new faith with them than to accrue merit.However, the more people one brings to Christ (and to church), the more one’s staturein church grows. As mentioned earlier, the legitimacy of one’s leadership position isbased on the number of people one has converted. Hence, the church has a verypersistent follow-up system where lay leaders call up visitors and keep inviting themto go back to church.5REASONS FOR PHENOMENAL GROWTH King Vajiravudh blended the concepts of nation, religion, and king into agoverning ideology for modern Thailand and advocated a civil religion in Thailand, inwhich nation seemed to supersede religion (Buddhism). This notion of a civil religionwas reinforced under the military regimes of Phibunsongkram and Sarit Thanarat.Sarit in particular exploited the civil religion tradition as a way of legitimating his1957 coup d’état and of promoting national integration through the creation of thenational Dhammacarika mission to the hill tribes6 and the national Dhammadhutta5 I left my mobile number with one of the lay leaders I met at the concert the church put up. Two hoursafter the concert, she called and invited me to go to church the following day, although I had alreadymade it quite clear that I am a Christian and I am already settled in another church. For the followingweek, she called me every day. I stopped answering her calls and she reduced it to calling me everyother day.6 Monks were sent to hill tribes scattered in the northern border region to convert them to Buddhism, inthe face of the communists’ attempt at infiltration and the Christian missionary efforts at conversion. 20
  24. 24. programs in rural development7. Such programmes featured the Buddhist sangha asan arm of government national integration schemes. The National Sangha Act of 1962,for example, promulgated a highly centralised sangha with increased potential as apawn of the government for the promotion of the goals of a secular nation-state.Overt assertion of political control over the sangha between 1957 and 1973, whilemaintaining Buddhism as the established religion, also began to stimulate some in thegrowing middle class to begin questioning whether such a politically-controlledsangha could hold a monopoly on Buddhist charisma. This questioning would becomemore intense in the 1970s. Coupled with the post-World War II rise of a secular ethos of Thailand, especiallyin urban areas, the promotion of Buddhism as a civil religion provided the conditionsunder which fundamentalist sectarian trends emerged as an oppositional responsewithin the Thai religious spectrum. The push toward national integration has servedto undermine regional and local identities often rooted in religious traditions. Thechanges accompanying this form of political modernization have included rapidindustrialization and urbanization, dramatic increases in landless, wage-dependentpeasants, the expansion of higher learning throughout the country with an emphasison the acquisition of technical skills, and the development of a nouveau-richecommercial class accompanied by a new “class-ism” based primarily on wealth andeconomic power. Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church speak to a time ofreligious and cultural confusion, decline abetted by rampant modernization andsecularization. They are one type of response to the stress of cultural and religious7 Under the project, several hundred monks from Bangkok volunteered to spend a few months everyyear in the rural areas working with the local monks in activities organised to meet villagers’ needs, aspart of counter-insurgency operations, although it was cloaked under the manifest aim of bringing thedhamma to the people. 21
  25. 25. disruption, value disorientation and social anomie brought on by the economic, socialand cultural disruptions. In this section I will discuss how both the church and thetemple stepped in at the correct time to offer an alternative to the burgeoning middleclass as well as to a Thai society disillusioned with established Buddhism.Disenchantment with established Buddhism The state-promoted image of Thai Buddhism as a united national church,uniformly adhered to, uniformly understood, and acting as a unifying national force,is by and large a façade which has been created by the force of state domination andcontrol of the sangha administration. This façade of unity masks real divisions withinthe religion which in turn reflect the social and political divisions in Thai society.Keyes (1999) argues that the crisis that emerged in the 1970s radically underminedthe moral authority of the established sangha in the eyes of politically significantelements of the Thai populace, fragmenting Buddhism in Thailand into a number ofdistinctive Buddhisms, each claiming to embody moral authority. The political crisisin the 1970s was bracketed by two key dates, Sipsi Tula, referring to October 14, 1973when a student-led revolution succeeded, with the back of the King, in overthrowingthe military dictatorship of Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapas Charusathien, and HokTula, October 6, 1976, when military and police forces were used with unprecedentedbrutality to end student protests and overthrow the democratically elected government.In the midst of this turbulence, a highly respected senior monk, Kittivuddho Bhikku,emerged to provide Buddhist legitimation for the use of violence against the“enemies” of Thailand. The failure of the supreme sangha council, the Maha TheraSamakhom, to discipline Kittivuddho for his heterodox advocacy of a militant 22
  26. 26. Buddhism appeared to provide establishment Buddhist sanction for an unprecedentedBuddhist legitimation of political violence. In early 1976, Kittivuddho was conspicuous at a demonstration organised byright-wing Nawaphon to demand a military-led government to meet the growingcommunist threat. This action seemed directly in violation of laws forbidding monksto become involved in overt political actions. Liberal newspapers called on theSangha Council to discipline him. Despite the Sangharaja’s mild condemnation ofKittivuddho, the Council took no action against him (Keyes 1978:151). Instead ofrepenting for his political involvement, Kittivuddho began to advocate that “thekilling of communists is not demeritorious” in his interview and sermons. Offeringscriptural support for his position, he claimed the demerit from killing communists isoffset by the greater merit that comes from preserving the nation, religion andmonarchy. The Maha Thera Samakhom was strongly pressured by the press, studentactivities and social critics to take action against Kittivuddho. But it decided that noaction could be taken, on the grounds that the evidence was either ambiguous orinconclusive. This decision, Keyes argues, had the effect of convincing many that theCouncil had been too strongly subjected to political influence to be able to reach aconclusion that would have been more religiously appropriate in light ofKittivuddho’s clear disregard of basic Buddhist tenets. In other words, the establishedsangha was shown to be subordinate to politics. The undermining of the sangha’s authority continued later in September 1976when a Thammayut monk, who subsequently became the Sangharaja, together withother ranking monks were persuaded to allow former dictator Thanom to return fromexile in order to be ordained as a monk at the famous royal temple of Wat Bowoniwet. 23
  27. 27. Thanom’s donning of the yellow robes of a member of the sangha was clearlydesigned to signify that he had turned his back on his former role as military dictator.Far from being an action that provided moral legitimation for reconciliation, however,it proved to be a goad for protests by students. These protests would end in a violenttragedy that would forever colour the memories of the role the established sangha hadplayed in setting the stage for Hok Tula. The new government that came into power after Oct 6, 1976, seemed to be goingalong the lines of militant Buddhism. A year later, the same military junta that hadheaded the October 6 coup staged another coup and unequivocally rejected militantBuddhism and embraced moves to create an order that would allow space for citizensholding divergent views about the relationship between the state, society and religion.This openness allowed for the fragmentation of Buddhism and in the 1980s, foursignificant Buddhist movements – socially-engaged Buddhism (Buddhadasa Bhikku),heterodox Buddhism (Santi Asoke), Buddhist ecology (forest monks) and evangelicalBuddhism (Dhammakaya) – had all succeeded in gaining places that are clearlyindependent of the established sangha. Wat Dhammakaya has taken pains to present itself as a dynamic cutting edgereformist movement to make Buddhism meaningful to modern life. With the sanghabecoming inactive, noncommitted and uninformed, the Dhammakaya movementrepresents attempts to revive the role of the sangha on three fronts – doctrinaleducation, spiritual, and administration – all of which have lagged behind the secularworld and the daily lives of urban people (Suwanna 1990:406). Conscious that it isbeing watched by the state and the sangha authorities, the temple has abided by thesangha’s hierarchical rules of the game and sought to impress senior patrons in the 24
  28. 28. Elder Council with its work. It has also attempted to enhance its secular and religiousconnections by inviting monks awarded with important honour titles, members of theroyal monarchy, and high-ranking officials, both civic and military, to preside over itsreligious ceremonies. On top of seeking to promote a renewed sense of unity that was no longereffectively engendered by the tripartite symbol of nation, religion, and king, WatDhammakaya advocated a seriousness of religious practice for both monk and laity.Disillusioned with stories of monks getting drunk and caught in all kinds of scandals,the disciplined monks at Wat Dhammakaya were seemed to embody higher moralauthority. The strict recruitment process can be seen as attempts to restore to themonkhood its aura of holiness in the face of increasing evidence that monks areindulging more and more in worldly affairs. The temple’s policy on life-timeordination also further cemented its role as a source of moral regeneration. Thesewere all factors that drew devotees by the thousands to the temple. In the same way, I suggest that the weakening of established Buddhism hadcontributed to the growth of Hope of Bangkok Church. Thais who grew up asBuddhists and became disappointed by stories of wayward monks and the ineffectivesangha would be looking for alternatives. Some would flock to the new Buddhistreform movements while others would be more willing to try a new religion thanbefore. And Hope of Bangkok Church was opening its doors at the opportunemoment. Under the strong and charismatic leadership of Kriengsak, the churchprovided clear and sure answers to life’s problems and questions. Impressed by themiracles that were taking place in the church, former Buddhists thronged the churchbecause they felt it met their needs. The warm atmosphere of the corporate worship 25
  29. 29. times was a big attraction to the converts. Coupled with the church’s persistentfollow-up system, it is not surprising that the church grew so rapidly.Catering to the Middle Class In the past, the middle class was very small, consisting mostly of those working inthe government bureaucracy. With industrial development, many new jobs requiringeducation and skills have been created. And for many university and school graduates,working with modern privately-run companies now is as attractive as or even morethan working with the government in view of the higher pay scale and betteropportunities for creativity. A new and more independent middle class has beenformed consisting of both indigenous Thais and Thais of Chinese descent whoformerly felt aloof from Thai society. Together with the old middle class theyrepresent a liberal, democratic force in demanding changes in the status quo so thatthere will be more opportunities for upward social mobility for them. Assuming thatpersons engaged in professional, technical, administrative, executive, managerial,clerical and government occupations are considered as belonging to the middle class,the census figures clearly indicate its considerable expansion – from 2.57 per cent ofthe total working population in 1960 to 7.86 per cent in 1970 and 10.16 per cent in1980 (Prasert 1987:286). The Thai middle class, like the conservative establishment, regard Buddhism as akey institutional source of social and political legitimacy. However, given that theinterests and advancement of the new bourgeois are dependent upon socio-economicdevelopment and change, rather than upon maintenance of the status quo, they wish tosee a new interpretation of Buddhist doctrine and practice which supports their 26
  30. 30. interests rather than shoring up the position of the establishment. For this reasonmany intellectual Buddhists desire Buddhism to act as the ideological foundation of areligious and moral approach to socio-economic development, as a unique Thaialternative to both capitalism and communism. The twin demands being placed uponBuddhism by progressive lay Buddhists are, firstly, that it promote or at least supportsocio-economic development and modernisation and secondly, that its primaryemphasis be directed to the concerns of this world. But the middle class followers are often frustrated by the inactivity of traditionalclergy and their inability to come to terms with contemporary problems. Traditionally,the ecclesiastical authorities communicated with a simple two class division in Thaisociety, the elite ruling elements and the slave or peasantry. The new disjunctivebourgeoisie are seemingly ill-fitted to the persisting social and political order. Asover 90 per cent of the members of the sangha are from the rural uneducated populace,the sangha has drifted far away from the urban, relatively well-educated middle class.Most members of the sangha do offer ritualistic services and give occasional sermonsto the urban middle class but a wide gap still exists between the two groups (Suwanna1990:406). It is this gap that both Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Churchtry to fill. While the weakening of established Buddhism contributed to their growth,it was really the urban middle class that helped them expand so astronomically. Both Dhammajayo and Kriengsak were part of this burgeoning middle class, sothey knew firsthand what this strata of society wants and needs. Being well-educatedthemselves, they were able to attract the educated Thais to the temple and churchrespectively. Hence, in the 1980s, they began to attract significant followings amongthe urban middle classes and especially among the “conservative Thai equivalent of 27
  31. 31. Western ’yuppies’ (Jackson 1989:205). These ‘yuppies’ were both a product of therapid growth in the Thai economy in the 1980s and reaction to the political activismthat gave rise to the violence of the 1970s. These individuals, most of them educatedto the high school or university level or beyond, are accustomed to learning from thebook and the lecture, and even in religious matters they are more sensitive to thenorms of their age-group peers than they are to the traditions of their elders. BothWat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church cater to this style of learning byshaping their sermons along these lines, and as well as producing a veritable volumeof publications aimed at young educated readers. Educated Thais are also increasingly appropriating the traditional clerical form ofreligion and rejecting the traditionally more limited religious role of the layperson. Amiddle class disillusioned with the traditional ritualistic lay form of Thai Buddhismnow seeks “direct participation”. At Wat Dhammakaya, this comes in the form ofmeditation, which is now widely regarded as a legitimate and appropriate lay spiritualactivity leading to the attainment of a direct personal experience of or insight into theBuddha’s teachings on salvation. In the past, urban Thai Buddhists used to seek outmonks of the ascetic or dhutanga tradition living in remote mountain or forest retreats,who are regarded as possessing supernatural powers achieved through theirmeditation (usually samadhi) and as embodying the spiritual truths taught by theBuddha. However, by undertaking ascetic dhutanga practices in intensive meditationsessions and thereby attaining supernatural experiences, lay followers of WatDhammakaya internalise and appropriate for themselves the spiritual power andlegitimacy which has traditionally been attributed to forest monks. Thus the temple 28
  32. 32. short-circuits the seeking out of spiritual power from forest monks by relocating thatpower within the lay followers themselves (Jackson 1989:207). The same concept of “direct participation” is found in Hope of Bangkok Church.Christian doctrine teaches that there is a God who listens to and answers prayers. It istaught frequently in the church that anyone who prays in faith will get an answer tohis prayers. Because of the personal relationship that the Christian has with God, hecan go to God directly with his needs and prayers. There is no need for a mediator, noneed to make merit through a third party. Moreover, Hope of Bangkok Church doesnot separate believers into “laity” and “clergy” distinctions. It is taught that allbelievers should serve God to their fullest possible capacity. Kriengsak once said, “Infact, I see no room for allowing the people to simply attend church and watch theperformance of the ‘full-time’ chosen ones!” At least 75 per cent of the churchattendants are actively involved in ministry at church (Kriengsak 1990:33). Both Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church have also ensured that theirimage appeal to the sensibilities of the middle class. For example, Wat Dhammakayahas a clean, quiet, orderly appearance. In its starkly functionalist bot, there are nomoney trees, secondary figures, altar decorations, or flags (Fig. 3). Just a solitaryspotlighted Buddha image commands the viewer’s attention, a central modern image– an image lacking in any distinctively Thai characteristics. The carpeted roomprojects a sense of order and stability (Fig. 4). Temple regulations forbid loud talking,radios and advertising. It also never stages a traditional temple fair and an air ofserenity pervades the area. In contrast with the milling crowds of a traditional temple,Wat Dhammakaya’s orderliness is legendary – everyone sits, meditates, and evenleaves their shoes, all in orderly lines (Fig. 5). 29
  33. 33. Figure 3: The bot is a stylised version of the one at the Marble Temple.Figure 4: Inside the bot. Figure 5: Shoes have to be placed in the box. 30
  34. 34. Likewise, Hope of Bangkok Church presents a very modern image. Upon arrivingfor the Sunday worship service, there are well-dressed ushers at the entranceperforming a pretty wai at you (Fig. 6). While you walk past them to make your wayto the air-conditioned auditorium, there is a seven-piece ensemble playing classicalmusic along the hallway. The auditorium has a huge stage, stocked with modern bandinstruments (Fig. 7). There are also large screens on both sides of the stage. Thewhole atmosphere is akin to that of a concert (Fig. 8). Bedecked in suits, themusicians and pastors both look and sound professionally.Figure 6: Ushers give a Thai welcome. Figure 7: The stage is being readied for the session.Figure 8: Note the orderliness as people wait for the next worship session. 31
  35. 35. While both Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church cater to the middleclass in similar patterns, there are two additional aspects that the temple provides for.First its popularity among Bangkok university students reflects a growingconservatism among a section of the middle class. This group sees its socialadvancement in terms of developing an accord with the establishment and building afirm place for itself in the traditional power structure, rather than seeking to opposethe establishment and usurp its dominant political position, which was a prominenttrend among students in the 1970s. Wat Dhammakaya’s Dhammadayada trainingsystem instils obedience and loyalty to the traditional values of the Thai establishmentand promises selected students the reward of upward social mobility and entrance toelite jobs and positions. The training programme is also developing into a run or“class” or “year” system, a system of contacts and allegiances commonly foundamong graduates of the same course at Thai universities and military trainingacademies. The notion of run diaw-kan, being a “graduate of the same class”, isstrong in Thailand and provides the structuring principle of a large number of oldboys’ networks that continue to provide group solidarity, professional contact, andmoral support after graduation. Those students who complete the Dhammadayadatraining identify themselves by the year they undertook the programme, beginningwith run 1 in 1979. Hence, the training not only provides a meal ticket to better jobsbut also establishes contact with a network of peers who will also be undertakingprofessional careers and may be able to offer assistance or advice on business andother matters in the future (Jackson 1989:214). Secondly, Wat Dhammakaya operates under capitalist mentality and preaches “themore you donate, the more merit you receive” (Rungrawee 1999:11). Taylor (1990) 32
  36. 36. maintains that the temple set out with the undisguised goal of making money and hadinvested in ventures as pharmaceuticals, milk powder, publishing and printing.Although it has often been questioned whether the Dhammakaya movement is a truereligion or in fact a business transaction utilising the language of religion, byintegrating capitalism into its structure, it has become popular with contemporaryurban Thais who equate efficiency, orderliness, cleanliness, elegance, grandeur,spectacle, competition and material success with goodness. The concretization ofBuddhist ideals also corresponds with the concrete sensual satisfactions of a consumersociety. Although quite well-educated, members of the temple are not intellectuals.They seem to represent a segment of the emerging middle class that is keen onachieving both worldly pleasure and peace of mind in religious form. The typicalfollower is a lay person who combines spiritual retreat on the weekends with work orstudy in the everyday world during the rest of the week. For these people, themovement offers religious legitimation for inequalities in wealth since success in theworld is held to be a reward for spiritual attainment. After practising the meditationmethod taught by the monks who lead the movement, it is believed that “students willstudy better and people will be more successful in their businesses” (Jackson1990:213). In short, Wat Dhammakaya could be viewed as a capitalist version ofBuddhism aimed at urban Thais who are used to comfort, convenience, and the instantgratification found in consumer society.CONCLUSION Despite hailing from two very different religious traditions, both WatDhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church had adopted modern management 33
  37. 37. techniques while preserving traditional hierarchical rules relating to the conduct ofinterpersonal relationships. Their emphasis on meditation, order, discipline, and acentralised organisational structure have further contributed to its efficientmanagement of people and control over the organisation. Some of the similarities inorganisation are, however, skin-deep. For example both the temple and churchdivided their lay members into smaller groups. At the temple, these groups are usedfor fund-raising purposes while the groups in the church are used to build members upin their spirituality. Moreover, while Wat Dhammakaya has unabashedly built itself amammoth, super-sized temple at Pathum Thani, Hope of Bangkok Church haspreferred to keep a low profile. Although there is supposed to be religious freedom inThailand, Buddhism remains the dominant religion and any church that grows toolarge would be seen as a threat by right-wing elements. While both Wat Dhammakaya and Hope of Bangkok Church had gained from theweakening of established Buddhism in Thailand, it was really the discontent of themiddle class that spurred their growth. The high level of commitment demanded bythese two movements is perhaps a panacea needed by an insecure and disillusionedmiddle class. Their broad-based popular support stems from an astute packaging of afundamentalist form of religion that offers a way of embracing a secularized modernlifestyle while retaining the communal identity once offered by traditional Buddhism.Hence, the emergence and growth of these two movements illustrate on one hand thelimitations of state Buddhist ideology, and reflect on the other hand, changing socialrelations and cultural transformation. Urban middle-class groups will continue to feedinto such movements, as long as the Sangha Order fails to respond to their concerns,expectations and needs. 34
  38. 38. REFERENCESApinya Fuengfusakul (1993). Empire of crystal and utopian commune: Two types of contemporary Theravada reform in Thailand. Sojourn, 8(1), 153-183.Bowers, Jeffery (1996). Dhammakaya meditation in Thai society. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press.Dattajevo (1989). Kan Thambun Hai Than Thi Sombun Baeb [The full and complete way of making merit]. Bangkok: Ban Nu Kaew.Jackson, Peter. (1987). Buddhism as an ideology of social change: Buddhadasa and the Thai middle class. In International Conference on Thai Studies, Canberra.—. (1989). Buddhism, legitimation, and conflict: The political functions of urban Thai Buddhism. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.Keyes, Charles (1999). Buddhism fragmented: Thai Buddhism and political order since the 1970s. In Buddhism, Cults and Popular Culture, 7th International Conference on Thai Studies, Amsterdam.Kriengsak Charoenwongsak (1990). Hope of Bangkok: A visionary model of church growth and church planting. Urban Mission, 7(3), 25-35.Kritsadarat Wattanasuwan (1999). We are good Buddhists: The self and consumption experience of the teenage Dhammakaya Buddhists in Thailand. In Buddhism, Cults and Popular Culture, 7th International Conference on Thai Studies, Amsterdam.Prasert Yamklinfung (1987). Thailand: Reflections on changing social structure. In International Conference on Thai Studies, Canberra.—. (1990). Buddhist revival and modernization in Thailand. Area Studies Tsukuba, 8, 101-124.Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat (1999). Doing the business of faith: The capitalistic Dhammakaya movement and the spiritually-thirsty Thai middle class. In Buddhism, Cults and Popular Culture, 7th International Conference on Thai Studies, Amsterdam.Sanitsuda Ekachai (2000, March 22). Life after Dhammakaya. Bangkok Post, p. 1.Santikaro Bhikku (2000, March 22). Thai Sangha Crisis: The Wat Phra Dhammakaya case. Bangkok Post, p. 2. 35
  39. 39. Stewart, Robb (1999). Defending the faith(s): Buddhism and religious freedom in Thailand. In Buddhism, Cults and Popular Culture, 7th International Conference on Thai Studies, Amsterdam.Suwanna Satha-Anand (1990). Religious movements in contemporary Thailand: Buddhist struggles for modern relevance. Asian Survey, 30(4), 395-408.Swearer, Donald K. (1991). Fundamentalistic movements in Theravada Buddhism. In Marty, Martin E. and Appleby, R. Scott (Eds.). Fundamentalisms observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Taylor, J. L. (1990). New Buddhist movements in Thailand: An ‘individualistic revolution’, reform and political dissonance. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 21(1), 135-154.Wongsak, Joseph (1998). Hope of Bangkok Church. In Wagner, Peter (Ed.). The new apostolic churches. (pp. 271-279) .California: Regal.Zehner (1987). Church growth and culturally appropriate leadership: Three examples from the Thai church. Unpublished paper, School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary, California, U.S.—. (1990). Reform symbolism of a Thai middle-class sect: The growth and appeal of the Thammakai movement. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 21(2), 402-426.—. (1991). Merit, man and ministry: Traditional Thai hierarchies in a contemporary church. Social Compass, 38(2), 155-175. 36

×