BANGKOK — While police blockaded thousands of monks and followers in Wat Dhammakaya under the harsh, early summer sun for a fifth day, the online war of words was equally heated.
Those against the temple and Dhammachayo, the former abbott accused of money laundering and more, argue that the fugitive monk is brainwashing his followers and should turn himself in to the authorities to fight the charges. Across the deepening fault line that is the temple saga are its supporters, who see villainy and tyranny of a power-hungry state.
On Twitter, @Tigeryellowlive wrote Sunday that for a monk to attack women showed symptoms of “a group of people being brainwashed.” The user was referring to a photo of a monk appearing to physically thwart a female officer from the Department of Special Investigation, or DSI, from taking photos on Sunday.
ภาพลักษ์ศาสนา ธรรมกายเดินหน้าตบผู้หญิง มันแย่มากผู้ชายรังแกผู้หญิงหนักแล้วนะ นี่ห่มเหลือง เหมือนอาการของกลุ่มคนที่ถูกล้างสมอง
— Thong D Thong K (@tigeryellowlive) February 19, 2017
Regarding the longtime abbot who was recently refashioned as “honorary abbot,” one opponent had this to say:
“If [he’s] not truly selfish he would have turned himself over to fight charges. Those disciples who claimed he’s afraid to die or to be framed didn’t truly study Buddhism. A true man wouldn’t be fearful like this,” @Actions34 tweeted.
Apparently upset with the temple’s refusal to cooperate with the authorities, @Wispybaby tweeted: “Dhammakaya is based in Thailand. If it’s in Thailand it must respect the laws of this land. If they want to do whatever they like and not be guilty, they should form a new country.”
Others preferred name-calling.
“Followers of Tammy are stupid. Let me say just that,”@Monkolei tweeted, referring to Dammachayo by a derisive monicker.
— Kornchanok (@mongkolei) February 19, 2017
Meanwhile, defenders of the temple denounced as excessive the tactics used by the DSI and police under the absolute junta power of Article 44. Chiang Mai University anthropologist Pinkaew Luangaramsri focused on the thirst of the temple’s opponents in wanting to see more draconian measures employed by the “mafia state.”
“We not only see the power of mafia state expanding its wings into even the religious domain but witness mafia consciousness among Thais spreading. … This is the result of the coup at the level of consciousness and is very depressing,” Pinkaew wrote on Monday.
Facebook user Attachai Anantamaek speculated on the “real” reason for evicting people from the temple to search for the ex-abbot.
“It’s so they could plant whatever [false evidence] they want [to framed the temple]… Same old habit… Only evil is afraid of light,” Attachai wrote.
Both sides cast the issue in moral absolutes.
Twitter user @Sansani23 claimed Dhammakaya followers automatically brand nonbelievers such has her un-Buddhist. “To what religion do I profess then?” she asked.
The list of what some people find unacceptable ranges from the discovery that the 2,300-rai temple property contains a gym and comfortable monk accommodations to the infamous perception that Dhammakaya’s main interest is extracting more and more donations from its followers.
“Dhammakaya is obsessed with good merit and sin. Donate a lot and you get a lot of good merit. … But they don’t say anything about appropriateness or what’s right at all,” tweeted @Nutyoyo.
Old Wounds Fester
The temple’s orange robes have become the latest proxy war between Thailand’s Red and Yellow political divide, due in no small part to Dhammakaya’s perceived links to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Ning SandSmile wrote on Facebook that the crackdown on Dhammakaya shows national reconciliation is impossible because a major temple is being treated unfairly, with no major Buddhist organizations lending help.
Airing similar sentiment on the fault line between perceived backing for the temple by Redshirt supporters of Thaksin was Facebook user Veera Siriprasert. Veera said a number of mass media outlets are mounting anti-Dhammakaya campaigns hand in hand with those on social media similar to those mounted against Thaksin before his 2006 ouster.
Opponents cast their criticism of the temple in familiar terms about corruption and graft by those who exploit their followers.
“How much tea money do you need to pay to become a monk at this temple?” tweeted @Rasa_sina with pictures of what appeared to be a nice living compound for monks.
User @Irichmillion questioned whether social media mobilization for temple followers “to sacrifice their lives” for the temple came from people not taking any risks themselves.
— RASA (@rasa_sina) February 18, 2017