Why Phra Dhammajayo does not turn himself in.

The Theravādan Buddhist temple of Wat Phra Dhammakaya has been under siege by the junta of Thailand. The former Abbot, less respectfully referred to now as “Phra Dhammajayo”, has been accused of involvement in moneylaundering and encroachment upon Thai national land.

Multiple searches throughout the temple’s vast compounds by the military, with full cooperation from Wat Phra Dhammakaya, over the months of February and March 2017 have resulted in Luang Por Dhammajayo being missing in action. A big question at this point is, “Why doesn’t he just turn himself in?”

Such an enquiry necessitate a framework and background to put it in perspective.

Socially, Thailand is fuelled by “face-value” – the perception of who holds power pervades. Throughout Thailand’s history, power frequently changed hands among the ruling royal elite of various domestic, indigenous kingdoms. Thus, there is a social need for whoever holds the power to remind the people.

The first arrest warrant related to these charges was issued for Luang Por Dhammajayo – a more respectful title – on May 17th of 2106 due to him not presenting himself to the authorities to hear the charges against him. The temple had previously sent multiple official requests to have the charges read at the temple due to the former Abbot’s severe and ailing health. Nevertheless, after multiple failed attempts to enter the temple compound since the arrest warrant was issued due to devotees blocking the entrances, Article 44 was enacted by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and a full-on military siege was brought upon the temple at 3am of February 16, 2017.

Article 44 of the current Thai Constitution states that the Prime Minister may dictate any area of the Kingdom of Thailand a “special control zone” and under martial law. Herein the government also removes itself of any responsibility or liability to an autonomous judicial court.

Is Wat Phra Dhammakaya or Phra Dhammajayo a threat to national security or identity?

Wat Phra Dhammakaya has been under scrutiny and persecuting limelight from the Thai and International press since the late ‘90s. The temple is dubbed a sect of Buddhism, i.e. not ‘real’ Buddhism. Worse, it has been labeled a cult and we all know there is no coming back from that ominous title.

Any spotlight on the temple highlights a sense of it being stained and blemished. The mainstream press continues to beat the horse that Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a “controversial” temple with a dark past. Moreover, it has supposed affiliation with the Red-Shirt party including political ties with ousted former Thai Prime Minister Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra.

All this is conspiracy. Neither the temple nor its Abbot Emeritus Luang Por Dhammajayo has ever been convicted of any crime, even to this day.

The fact is, this predicament is not about Luang Por Dhammajayo wanting to turn himself in or not. Frankly, the devotees will not allow Luang Por Dhammajayo to turn himself in!

In reality, there is no proof or promise that Luang Por Dhammajayo will receive a fair trial. Recent arrests using the Computer Crime Act of Thai citizens who questioned or criticized the junta, and the March 2017 United Nations meeting in Geneva where Thai officials failed to address international concerns about the junta’s obligation to uphold civil and political rights, cause grave concern and doubt. Why would there then be an honest, altruistic system of justice in Thailand? This isn’t Kansas, Dorothy.

People have died and been abused. Anawat Thanacharoennat committed self-immolation outside the temple to raise public awareness against Article 44. A volunteer nurse, Pattana Chiangraeng, died due to the military barricades not permitting an oxygen tank and medicine to pass to save her from a simple asthma attack. Women, men, and monks who created a human shield to nonviolently protest against the siege were sent to ICUs for injuries inflicted during a confrontation wherein Thai military soldiers and police abused them.

Disciples of Wat Phra Dhammakaya feel the junta is stepping out of line with ulterior agendas, without proper evidence, using the hunt for Luang Por Dhammajayo as a smoke and dagger. It should be noted that the Thai junta spent over 100 million Baht of national funds in putting Wat Phra Dhammakaya under siege.

The devotees further believe there will not be sufficient medical care for Luang Por Dhammajayo’s dire medical condition of severe deep-vein thrombosis in the left leg, chronic venous insufficiency, diabetes, venous stasis ulcers, hyperlipidemia, sensitivity to light, allergies, hypertension, and vertigo. Books like The King Never Smiles by Paul M Handley or Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin showcase Thailand’s political and court systems as not known for their pleasant, or humane history. There is a very real possibility that “Phra Dhammajayo” will receive nether proper medical attention nor fair treatment while in custody. The fact that he is a 72 year-old man, and still a Buddhist monk, does not seem to interfere with the junta’s conviction to make an example out of him.

The international, and especially western world, need to understand a code that true Buddhist practitioners live by – honour, and seeing to the care of one’s teachers, most especially one’s “gurus” ครบาจารย. The act of gratitude and giving back is a well-known, fundamental, and cardinal virtue instilled in disciples and practitioners of BuddhaDharma, of not just Thailand but all of Asia and the world.

The media and press undervalue the profound depths of this last truth. Why would temple followers willingly expose Luang Por Dhammajayo, their teacher, to potential – and probable – unfair treatment, humiliation, and improper medical attention? All of which may even result in death? Most especially when they believe and know him to be innocent.

That is why Luang Por Dhammajayo is not being turned in.

Joshua spent three years as a fully ordained Buddhist monk from 2007-2010 at Wat Phra Dhammakaya. Studying Theravāda & Vajrayāna traditions, Joshua assisted as a translator, researcher, and scribe. For more information visit: www.joshuajayintoh.com