KyaemonMay 30, 20106min620

Media : A Monk in a Mess is the Talk of All Thailand : A Buddhist abbot says he paid $200,000 to a woman who said he was the father of her unborn baby. He is Southeast Asia’s answer to Jim Bakker. – Los Angeles Times


BANGKOK, Thailand — Like a faint echo of the Jim Bakker story in the United States, the Thai news media have been held spellbound for the past month by a sex scandal involving a prominent Buddhist monk.

The scandal has been front-page news since the monk, Phra Nikorn Dhammavadi, the abbot of a temple in the northern city of Chiang Mai, complained to the police that he was forced to pay $200,000 to a woman in an extortion case.

The woman, Ornpraweena Bootkhuntong, a 23-year-old law student, caused a sensation when she replied that she was four months pregnant and that the monk was the father of her child.

Like their Roman Catholic counterparts, Buddhist monks take vows of celibacy and poverty. Thus, Phra Nikorn, one of the most revered spiritual leaders of northern Thailand, stood doubly under suspicion: He was accused of breaking his celibacy vow–a charge he vehemently denied–and disturbing questions were raised about how the supposedly impoverished head of a monastery could have enough money to nevertheless pay off the lady involved.

“It is important to ask how a monk, who according to the vinaya (monastic code) cannot even touch money, let alone own it, could write a check for as much as 5 million baht ($200,000) to pay off what he calls blackmail,” a Buddhist scholar, Suewanna Satha-anand, said in one newspaper.

The monk scandal not only has an obvious titillation factor, but it is causing many Thais to reflect on the moral values of their society as it changes from a largely agrarian country to an industrial power.

As Sanitsuda Ekachai of the Bangkok Post observed, the revelations about the monk just added “to the slow erosion of their image as the spiritual leaders of society.”

While Thailand may be known abroad as a place for tourists to come and cavort licentiously, it has remained a paradoxically conservative society where Playboy magazines are not widely available for sale and films are heavily censored.

More than 95% of the population are followers of Buddhism, a fact that helps define Thai society. It is still common to see people offering a wai– a hands-pressed obeisance–as they pass in front of a Buddhist shrine, even while driving a car.