Buddhist monks behaving badly

Some Buddhist monks in Thailand, where Buddhism is the majority religion, clearly seem to think that evangelical Christians in the US with their fancy mega-churches that provide them with luxury homes, cars, and private jets should not have all the fun. They too have decided to get on that gravy train and are living the high life from money they get from their followers.

It was a jarring image; a group of Buddhist monks, with shaven heads and orange robes, sitting back in the soft-leather seats of an executive jet, passing luxury accessories among themselves.

The video of the monk, now known by his pre-monk name, Wirapol Sukphol, went viral after being posted on YouTube in 2013.

Wirapol had built a mansion in southern California, owned a large and gaudily-decorated house in his home town of Ubon Ratchathani, and had also constructed a giant replica of the famous Emerald Buddha statue in Bangkok’s royal palace, which he claimed – falsely, as it turned out – contained nine tonnes of gold.

There was evidence, too, the DSI said, of sexual relationships with a number of women. One woman claimed he had fathered a child with her when she was only 15 years old, a claim the DSI says is supported by DNA analysis.

Monks behaving badly are nothing new in Thailand. The temptations of modern life have thrown up many examples of monks with unseemly wealth, monks taking drugs, dancing, enjoying sexual relations with men, women, girls and boys.

After a succession of scandals, people are openly talking about a crisis of Buddhism in Thailand. Numbers of ordained monks have been falling steeply in recent years, and many smaller village temples are unable to support themselves financially.

Yep, give undue deference to religion and you invariably end up with the religious leaders taking advantage and engaging in corrupt practices. It seems to be a common pattern with every religion in every country where they are the majority.

The ascetic life advocated by the Buddha as a means of eliminating attachments to worldly things is clearly seen by monks like these as optional and quaintly old-fashioned.


  1. Matt G says

    I was kinda hoping that Buddhism would be different….

    Let’s see how this crisis is handled. Buddhism is not so hierarchical, is it?

  2. Johnny Vector says

    I highly recommend watching “The Funeral” (お葬式 ) by Jūzō Itami. It’s available with English subtitles (which is good, since my Japanese is nowhere near good enough to follow it.) Amongst all its commentary on hypocrisy, the Buddhist monks in the movie fit right in. It came out in 1984, so (at least in Japan) this sort of thing has been going on for some time. Personally, I assume it’s been going on since about 6 months after the founding of Buddhism.

    Actually, anything by Itami is worth watching, but this one in particular bears on the gold-plated Buddhist issue.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Thanks Johnny, I’ll check this out. I am always grateful for recommendations for films, especially foreign ones that I am unlikely to stumble across by myself.

    In looking it up, I came across another film by Itami called Tampopo that I had heard about but not seen and have queued that up as well.

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