March 29, 2011

Fake Monks and Buddha Thievery

Has anybody read the Bangkok Post lately? Seems like the paper is absolutely determined to expose all Buddhist fraud and thievery these days. First, in "Bogus Monks exploit Buddhism," we learn of foreign monks immigrating to Thailand in order to illegally ordain as monks and beg residents for alms. The Post reports:

Thailand's reputation as a haven for Buddhist studies had opened the way for gangs to enter the country under the guise of being foreign monks, said the NBB [National Buddhism Bureau] director.

A source said Singapore and Malaysia had also grappled with problems of bogus monks begging for money.

Mr. Nopparat said the NBB could not control foreign monks who had not registered with his agency.

Bogus monks had entered the country using tourist visas.

Which one is real? Neither! Monk on the left is an impressive/disturbing realistic wax model.

Can you believe these bogus monks? Trying to score Buddhist wisdom and compassion illegally… Although, on the other hand, at least they're living by the precepts. They could be doing worse than begging for alms; they could be stealing Buddhist goods, like statues. In "Ancient Buddha statue theft" the Post reports that 36 registered ancient Buddha statues have been stolen from Thai temples since 1996. This doesn't include the 531 unregistered Buddhas stolen during the same period. Since 1996, only 3 registered and 5 unregistered Buddha statues have been recovered. In "Ancient Buddha statue theft" we hear one of the few successful recovery stories:

Pol Col Napanwut suspected the same thieves targeted Wat Bua and Wat Makok Simaram, because the stolen Buddha statues and other assets in both instances were from the same Lanna period, and the burglaries in both cases were carried out by the robbers entering the temples by making a hole in the roof.

Next, the team called for witnesses who might have seen the robbers at Wat Makok Simaram to come forward.

Nobody admitted seeing the robbery take place, Pol Col Napanwut said, but one person told police they had seen three suspects making merit at the temple a few days earlier.

The witness told police that the three men were very interested in Luang Phor Chiang Saen.

From the witness's account, Pol Col Napanwut's team were able to make sketches of two of the suspects as well as collect details of the pickup truck they were seen travelling in.

The investigators then started their search for the suspects.

They compared the sketches with photos of criminals in the police database, while Pol Col Napanwut asked police agents, familiar with the illegal trade in ancient Buddha images to help him find more clues.

Read how the mystery gets resolved here.

Thank goodness this Buddha was found, although, one hopes that in the future temple authorities will listen to Pol Col Napanwut's advice to prevent Buddha thievery, and employ security professionals or volunteers to guard their assets at night. As he points out, in the case of Luang Phor Chiang Saen, "temple dogs and alarm bells were not sufficient."

Image 1: "Buddha Statues in Ayutthaya" from the photostream of AndieArbeit

Image 2: "wax & gold" from the photostream of rubber bullets

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