More on Buddhist politics

As we stated in an earlier post, PPT is not following the grand wrangle over Buddhism all that closely. We did note that yellow shirts and the military junta hate Wat Dhammakaya because they associate it with Thaksin Shinawatra. And, we noted the Wat’s huge wealth. That wealth may be both a reason for criticism and a cause for some greed.

The Dhammakaya monks and their take on Buddhism have been contentious from the beginning. Really only founded in the late 1970s, by the boom times of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was attacked for distorting and commercializing Buddhism. There have been several scandals involving the group since then, with the origin of the events not always transparent.

Readers of the Bangkok Post will have noticed that the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has pushed through an amendment to the “1992 Sangha Act to restore an old tradition in which the King reserves the right to name the supreme patriarch.” We think this is incorrect. First, the Act referred to is the 1962 Act, as amended in 1992, and we are not sure how much of a “tradition” exists.

As we understand it, the Sangha in Thailand has been subject to the regulations of the first Sangha Act (1902), the second (1941), and the current Sangha Act, enacted in 1962 and amended in 1992 (and now amended in 2016 by the military junta). The dates all have some political significance. The 1902 Act came when King Chulalongkorn was centralizing administration and creating a more absolutist monarchy. In 1941, war was approaching and Thailand was under a military regime. In 1962, General Sarit Thanarat was military despot and he reordered the Sangha to arrange it to parallel the military dictatorship. Sarit also wanted to ensure who became Supreme Patriarch, keeping out Phra Phimol Tham.

As an academic account has it:

Each of these Acts created a state-imposed organizational structure for the Sangha that paralleled the current forms of government: in 1902, Siam (Thailand) was still a monarchy, and the hierarchical, centralized Sangha as headed by a Supreme Patriach (Phra Maha David Yasasi 2006). In 1941, a decentralized structure was established that paralleled the democratic, Constitutional Monarchy in place [sic.] and in 1962, a top-down structure was reintroduced to match the autocratic government of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat (Sudhamani 980:74).

In 1992, following the 1991 coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon, the amendment was enacted to settle the power struggle over the appointment of a Supreme Patriarch. Some readers may recall the dispute over the use of this amended section when Thaksin sought to appoint an Acting Supreme Patriarch for the aged and ill Supreme Patriarch.

Now that section has been amended again, with an eye to Thaksin’s use of the amended section and to prevent the appointment of a new Supreme Patriarch considered too close to the hated Dhammakaya.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha was able to delay the appointment of Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, known as Somdet Chuang, after he was nominated by the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), but he could not nominate his own Supreme Patriarch. The standoff had gone on for a year, and the junta managed to mount a range of investigations that have uncovered all kinds of alleged corruption to prevent the nomination going to the king.

"Voting" in the puppet NLA

“Voting” in the puppet NLA

As a way out, The Dictator decided to change the Act. The change means “the King selects and appoints a supreme patriarch while the prime minister countersigns the appointment.”

Clearly, The Dictator wants all of his nation, religion and monarchy ducks in a line.

Dutifully, and as reported in the Bangkok Post, the NLA puppets obeyed their master and “passed in three straight readings Thursday a bill to amend the 1992 Sangha Act…”. Reportedly, the NLA needed only 58 minutes to consider the changes and it “sailed through with 182 votes in favour and six abstentions.” The Post described the “shock passage of the amended law lifts conditions positioning … Somdet Chuang, as the sole candidate [for Supreme Patriarch].”

The monk said it is possible the amendment is intended to block Somdet Chuang from assuming the supreme patriarch’s post and warned the NLA to take responsibility for any complications that might follow.

Readers can find an academic’s attempt to understand some of this here. Yet the intent is crystalk clear and continues the “tradition” of military interference with the Sangha to ensure it knows its place as a loyal supporter of conservative politics and subservient to the military-monarchy state.

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