Early 1995 saw the culmination of something that had been shaking the Buddhism of S.E. Asia for several years: a prominent Thai monk, accused of sexual misconduct, was forced by the Sangha Council of Thailand to disrobe, although he still maintained that he was innocent of what he had been accused. The case received wide media coverage both in Thailand and abroad.

I do not intend to go into the details of this case, but feel something should be said in an attempt to correct some of the damage done—if possible—as the faith of many Buddhists has been badly shaken thereby, and because there are people ever ready to exploit such situations for their own ends. Christian missionaries in Thailand and elsewhere must be elated!

As in the recent sensational trial of O. J. Simpson in the U.S., some people consider the monk in question to be guilty, and point to his repeated refusal to undergo a DNA test as tantamount to a confession; there are, on the other hand, people who consider him innocent and feel he was framed, from motives of jealousy. (Well, some years ago, I became the target of someone whose mind was so full of jealousy that he even found fault with me for taking morning walks or organizing blood donations, so I have had some direct experience of what jealousy can do). I am not going to take sides in this, but will try to turn it around and use it to illustrate some Dharma.

I first heard of this monk (I will refrain from naming him as I abhor using names) in 1991, when he was already well-known as charismatic and handsome. His books contained photos of him posing like a movie star, obviously aware of his good looks and the effects he had upon others. I remember thinking then that he was too handsome for his own good.

He had large followings in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and other countries, and I heard of him being regarded and received as an arahant—saint—in many places—including the Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre in Penang—and white cloths spread before him to walk on and consecrate; some people then took these cloths home and treated them as objects of veneration, like holy relics; he was rapidly becoming a cult-figure, and did nothing to discourage this unhealthy trend; in fact, by not discouraging it, he tacitly encouraged it and caused people to become dependent upon him. It is this that I regard as his biggest mistake; he allowed people to worship him, and now many people are confused and have lost their faith. Of course, they lost their faith because it was misplaced, but he, in his position, should have used his influence to correct this and teach that the faith of a Buddhist must be in the Dharma, so that nothing can shake it. He should have explained that personality is insubstantial, hollow and empty, and will only let us down; like sand, it is not a good foundation, and will crumble when troubles arise. Instead of doing this, however, he allowed people to become addicted to him—quite the opposite of the Buddhist Way.

Sadly, this kind of thing is not uncommon today; there are numerous teachers and gurus who are more concerned with promoting themselves than with helping people to understand Dharma; in reality, they are not teachers but cheaters!

I have seen, often, how the excessive respect paid by lay-Buddhists to monks and nuns has a corruptive effect; it becomes more intoxicating than whiskey, and one must be on guard against it. It happens, in the case of the laity, when there is more faith than wisdom, and in the case of the monks, when there is more self-esteem than wisdom; in both cases it happens because the central place of the Dharma is neglected or forgotten. Consequently, when scandals like this arise, many people lose everything, whereas if their faith had been solidly rooted in the Dharma, they would not have been so shaken, and would still have been able to carry on.

Long ago, I abandoned the personality-cult of Christianity, and now, freed from the belief in Jesus as a savior, regard him as a teacher. I do not mind that he was not fully enlightened or free from imperfections; a person doesn’t need to be perfect in order for me to learn from him something useful to me in my own life; in fact, it is perhaps better that I see his imperfections, as it is easier to relate to him than it would be to someone perfect. Christians are not allowed, or refuse to see, the imperfections of Jesus; the Church has glossed over and explained them away, and made him into an unrealistic figure. The image it has given of him is of someone so far beyond us as to be impossible of emulation; this is what comes of deification, of regarding a person as divine instead of human; rather than being an elevation, it is really a degradation, and renders meaningless the attempts of a teacher to lead people to higher things than they have hitherto been aware of, and to indicate the potential of being human.

Milarepa, Tibet’s most famous and respected yogi, was once requested by the people of a certain village to stay with them as their guru. He gratefully declined, however, saying that if he were to stay with them, there would soon come a time when they would focus critically on his manners and behavior, and would no longer listen to him when he explained the Dharma, and that would be to their detriment. It would be far better, he said, if he kept himself at a distance. What was he saying? That the Dharma is the most important thing, and should not be confused with personality. If only we would realize and remember this, it would be so much easier for us to understand the Dharma.

All is not lost unless we allow it to be lost.
The Dharma is always as it is.

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