Dispute between Buddhist temple’s board and its congregation leaves monks out in the streets.

Source – lbpost.com

An internal dispute between worshipers and the board of directors of a Cambodian Buddhist temple has spilled out into the streets of West Long Beach.

Since Oct. 16, three monks have been sleeping in their cars parked adjacent to the Khemara Buddhikarama Temple at 2100 W. Willow St., known by many congregants as Wat Willow.They are never alone though.

With the support of many congregants—some of whom have acted as bodyguards until early into the morning—the monks have received food, water and anything else they need.

A handful of canopies are set up along the sidewalk’s grassy area, along with tents, tables, chairs and coolers filled with water.

A makeshift altar with a statue of Buddha sits on top of a rug, allowing for daily meditation to continue.

Handmade signs read in part: “no monks no monastery” and “all Cambodian people fight for justice!!”

Construction controversy

Conflict began over a year ago when the temple’s head monk for over 11 years, the Venerable Thet Sim, withdrew his support for the construction of a new temple to replace the current building, which resembles a multi-purpose hall.

In light of the monk’s change of heart, he was removed from the subcommittee overseeing the construction project, and when voting time came around last August he was not re-elected chairman of the board of directors, according to Kalmine Ly, who is the board’s treasurer.

As such, Sim’s name was then removed from the bank account where both regular temple funds and construction funds are deposited.“Then the problems started,” Ly said.

Longtime congregant Suzanne Keo, who has been supporting the monks, said Sim withdrew his support for the construction project after the board of directors refused to share updates or be transparent with him or the congregation that has been providing the funds.

“Congregants were asking how the money was being dispersed,” Keo said.

Tension grew last winter as the head monk gained supporters. Soon after, congregants began donating directly to the monk instead of the board.

Ly said the situation became hostile toward the board, claiming the monk began to incite rebellion among some congregants who refused to let board members meet in private.The congregants said they just wanted answers to their questions.

Then, this spring, Ly said, the board decided to evict the head monk and one other monk. But they refused to leave.

During a civil trial in September, a judge sided with the board after learning that they had given the two monks 30- and 60-day eviction notices, in accordance with their time at the monastery.

The monks’ attorney Andrew Cooledge maintains the evictions were retaliatory after the tenants brought up maintenance issues such as a leaking roof.

Keo and others believe the trial also didn’t take into account religious and cultural practices and pointed to a bylaw amended in 2012, the year after the temple’s founder and head monk died.

In the original bylaw, a monk cannot be removed by the board—a standard custom in other Buddhist temples. A monk can only be removed by fellow monks or the congregation itself. And while the amended bylaw states a board can remove a monk, it can only do so after a public hearing, which never took place for the two monks.

Temporary temple closure

While the judge upheld the eviction of Sim and Tith Bun, both congregants and the two remaining monks were surprised to find out on Oct. 16 that the temple was going to close temporarily while the board assesses the safety of the building, changes the locks, adds security cameras and other minor repairs. Sheriff’s deputies even appeared to help enforce the court-approved permit.

Sarun Caea, one of the monks who was temporarily displaced, said he wasn’t aware of the temporary closure until the day it happened.

Through an interpreter, he said he felt depressed and is still in a state of shock. He feels his safety and privacy is compromised after learning that cameras are also being installed inside the building.

Ly said the board reached out to a Buddhist temple in Santa Ana that agreed to provide temporary housing for the two remaining monks.

But, as supporters noted, everything the monks know is in Long Beach, including their congregation they are supposed to lead.

In addition, congregants said that on the day that the two monks were ordered out, the board refused to let one of them go in to get his medicine; he was instead told to go to the hospital.

Ly said it was because the board feared he would stay in his room and refuse to leave.

Now Bun and the two remaining monks are under the care of congregants, while they in turn lead prayers on the sidewalk.

Earlier this week, congregants were left on the street to celebrate one of Buddhism’s biggest holidays, Kathina, which is a time for giving thanks to monks.

Ly said the board had rescheduled it to the beginning of November but congregants said they were not told.

The temple is supposed to reopen on Oct. 28, both both sides are unsure if there can be any peace or unity. Trust has already been compromised.

Both congregants and the remaining monks are calling for a special election to refill the board of director seats, especially those filled by 12 new members who were elected in 2012 when the bylaws were changed.

“We want the 12 [new] board of directors out,” Keo said. “There’s no way the people will trust them again.”

86 Tigers Rescued from Thailand’s “Tiger Temple” Reported to Have Died

source: buddhistdoor.net

Thai wildlife officials reported on Saturday that more than half of 147 tigers seized in 2016 from an infamous Buddhist temple in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province* have died from disease.

According to local media reports, Thai officials said that 54 of 85 rescued tigers had died at Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Sanctuary, while 32 of 62 tigers had died at Khao Son Wildlife Sanctuary, both in neighboring Ratchaburi Province, over a three-year period since being moved to the sanctuaries, despite being receiving treatment from veterinarians. 

Officials said that the big cats may have died from the canine distemper virus, or from laryngeal paralysis, which causes an obstruction to the upper airway, as they had had exhibited symptoms before arriving at the sanctuaries. An unidentified source cited by the Thai PBS World news website source said that most of the confiscated tigers were captive-bred Siberian tigers and therefore lacked natural immunity, rendering them susceptible to diseases.

The director-general of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Thanya Netithammakun, said that officials were investigating the cause of the deaths and the results should be known by next week.

Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno, popularly known as the “Tiger Temple,” a Buddhist monastery to the west of the capital Bangkok, promoted itself as a wildlife sanctuary. The temple received its first tiger cub from local villagers in 1999, but it died soon afterward. The monastery subsequently received several tiger cubs to care for, which were allowed to breed. As the number of tigers living at the temple grew, the monastery became a popular tourist attraction, charging admission to visitors who could pay to have their photographs taken with the temple’s resident tigers and bottle feed their cubs as a means of raising funds to care for the animals.

Prakit Vongsrivattanakul, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, was quoted as saying that the big cats were particularly susceptible to the canine distemper virus. 

“When we took the tigers in, we noted that they had no immune system due to inbreeding,” he said. “We treated them as symptoms came up.” (Independent)

The Buddhist temple, founded in 1994, ran its tiger park for more than 10 years, despite concerns about alleged involvement in the illegal wildlife trade and the possible mistreatment of tigers for commercial gain voiced by animal welfare groups. Suspicions were confirmed when animals parts and carcasses were found. Since some tigers parts are commonly used in traditional Chinese remedies and command significant prices on the black market, some personnel at the temple were believed to be participating in a wildlife trafficking ring. The activities were exposed in an investigative report published by National Geographic.

In late May 2016, following a dramatic raid led by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, the authorities began an operation to seize and relocate the tigers housed at the monastery. Some of the confiscated tigers were found to have physical deformities allegedly caused by inbreeding. In addition to live tigers, officials reportedly found the frozen bodies of some 40 cubs, as well as body parts from other animals.

A day after the initial raid, another 30 tiger cub carcasses were found in containers with English-language labels, suggesting that they might have been destined for sale. The abbot’s secretary was subsequently stopped while attempting to leave the temple with two whole tiger skins, 10 tiger teeth, and some 1,000 amulets containing small pieces of tiger skin.

The Buddhist temple was closed to the public at the beginning of the raid. The monastery’s abbot, Phra Wisutthi Sarathera, known locally as Luang Ta Chan, and temple representatives has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Phra Wisutthi Sarathera was reported by the Khaosod English news website to have called on officials to return the remaining tigers to his care. 

“It’s karma for tigers. When the tigers were here, everyone took great care of them. No one intended to harm them, while villagers were able to make a living,” the monk said. “If the department can’t nurture them, then bring them back and I’ll take care of them at the temple. I also want to probe into the carcasses to ensure they don’t end up on the black market.” (Khaosod English)

According to a report in July this year by The Nation newspaper, the population of wild tigers living in Thailand has risen to some 250 individuals in 10 forest complexes across 31 sanctuaries nationwide, due in part to conservation efforts by the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani and Tak Provinces. World Animal Protection put the number of tigers living in captivity in Thailand at around 830, as of 2016.

Thailand is predominantly a Theravada Buddhist country, with 94.5 per cent of the kingdom’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to census data for 2015. The next most prominent religion is Islam, representing 4.29 per cent.

Borobodur in Indonesia has the Potential to Epitomise Religious Tolerance in Asia


SINGAPORE IDN) – Thousands of Indonesian Buddhists went on a 4 km procession from Mendut monastery to the historic Borobodur temple in Central Java to pay homage to the Buddha on Vesak day. The procession on May 18 passed a number of mosques with streets lined up with hundreds of local Muslims.

Vesak, marks the triple anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. It is a public holiday in Indonesia that has the world’s largest Muslim population and this year the Vesak holiday came right in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan.

Tension between Muslim and Buddhist communities across Asia, such as in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, has been rising in recent times. Last October, two Muslim terror suspects were gunned down by the police in northern Sumatra, who were planning to bomb Indonesia’s Buddhist temples. Thus, there was much concern if the two festivals could co-exist peacefully.

Attending the religious ceremonies and a colourful cultural show with a Buddhist theme was Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin. Addressing the audience that included Buddhist pilgrims from neighbouring Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia, he encouraged Indonesians to maintain religious tolerance, saying diversity served as the glue that held the nation together. “Diversity is (our) strength, bolstered by democracy,” he said, adding that the core of all religious teaching was love, not hatred.

Indonesia is not officially an Islamic state though according to 2010 census 87 percent of Indonesia’s 270 million population are Muslims, while Buddhists account for only 0.72 percent. However, many Muslims, especially in Central Java, see Borobodur – which many say should be the eighth wonder of the world – as part of their heritage and are proud of the accomplishments of their ancestors.

Since the ancient temple was restored with UNESCO assistance in the 1970s, the Indonesian government has declared it as a national monument – not a Buddhist shrine – and Buddhists were allowed to use it as a religious shrine only on Vesak day. But, since President Joko Widodo came to power in 2014, this policy has changed and he has told Buddhists that they can use Borobodur for religious purposes anytime as long as they apply and get approval from the government.  

On May 18, after the official ceremonies, hundreds of Buddhist monks and devotees remained all night to chant from various Buddhists texts and this would happen more regularly here, now that President Widodo has been re-elected. His government is keen to develop Borobodur as a major Buddhist pilgrim site.

“Anytime the Buddhist community want to use Borobodur temple (President) Jokowi’s policy is to give us permission. With Jokowi the Buddhist community has felt easier to develop activities here,” Venerable Sri Pannyavaro, Abbot of Mendut monastery in Borobodur told Lotus News. He adds that a grand Esala Full Moon (marking Buddha’s first sermon) festival will be held there on July 14. “We expect to have about 20,000 pilgrims and we will chant from the Tripitaka (Buddhist cannon)” he says.

After President Widodo changed government policy on Borobodur temple, in 2015, Governor of Central Java Rizal Ramli has said that Borobodur could become a pilgrim site for Buddhists comparable to Mecca for Muslims. Perhaps he was pushing it too far as Borobodur temple is not a functioning Buddhist temple, with monks nor they have a Buddhist community in the vicinity to support a monastery. It is also not directly connected to the life of the Buddha, such as Buddhist pilgrim sites of Bodhgaya, Saranath and Kushinagar in India, a country where its Buddhist population is also below 1 percent.

A new Mahayana Buddhist temple and another Burmese temple have been built in Borobodur, which hardly have any local Buddhists. Many Asian Buddhists have criticized India’s attempts to expand Buddhist tourism by allowing foreign monasteries to establish temples around the shrines. They argue it does not create the required atmosphere and culture without an indigenous Buddhist community.

Borobodur temple complex is a large landscaped park protected by tall steel fences and armed guards. In recent years, local Muslim residents have added ‘homestay’ rooms to their houses and many small hotels have been constructed to offer accommodation to growing international tourists. There are many new restaurants catering to tourists. A meditation centre is being developed within the Borobodur complex.

According to official statistics Borobodur recorded 3.7 million tourist arrivals in 2017 and it is expected to exceed 4.5 million this year.

Buddhism thrived across much of Java and Sumatra between 6th to the 14th century, when the area was ruled by Srivijaya and Majapahit empires. These islands were major centres of Buddhist scholarship and learning, where pilgrims travelling between China and India spend months and years learning about Buddhism.

It was at this time that the Borobodur temple was built – in the 8th to 9th centuries during the reign of the Syailendra Dynasty. The main temple is a stupa constructed on three-tiered layers decorated with walls of rock carvings depicting Buddhist themes covering a total surface area of over 2500 square meters. Around each tier of circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas each containing a rock statue of the Buddha inside.

It is not clear how the Borobodur temple was lost to the world for centuries until in the 19th century an European Governor of Java rediscovered it. It is believed that the temple was covered by a lava flow from a close by volcanic eruption after which many saw it as just another mountain in this hilly region.

The great civilization that built Borobodur started to decline with the Majapahit kingdom when Buddhism became a Hindu Shiva cult according to Venerable Pannyavaro, and monks got involved in black magic. “Buddhist sangha  (monks) behaved like Brahmin priests and people resented such attitude,” he told Lotus News, adding,”(at the time) when Muslim traders arrived and they said in Islam in front of God everyone is equal, it attracted the ordinary people to Islam”.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned here for Buddhists today. In Buddhist countries, especially Thailand and Sri Lanka, there have been many reports in recent years of monks indulging in black magic and commercial activity contrary to Buddhist teachings.

Today, the Indonesian Buddhists numbering about 1.7 million are largely a wealthy business community of Chinese descent and for two days just before the Vesak celebrations here, they provided a medical clinic for the local Muslim population. They have been doing this for over 20 years and this year – on May 14 and May 15 – 184 doctors and 294 nurses provided the services to over 8000 people. They offered free of charge general polyclinic medical treatment, as well as specialist services such as cataract and dental surgery.

The services are organized by Walubi an umbrella organization uniting Indonesian Buddhists. “We do these activities all over Indonesia every two months,” Dr Rusli, a senior member of Walubi told Lotus News.

Right now, in Sri Lanka – where the roles are reversed with the Muslim minority being the richest community in the country – there are lessons to be learned for the island nation’s Muslims  from the way Indonesian Buddhists are interacting with the majority community. Sri Lankan Buddhists have accused the Muslim of flaunting their wealth to proselytize among the majority Buddhists and not helping the poor – who are mainly Buddhists.

“We don’t say we are Buddhist (because) Buddhists in Indonesia don’t want to proselytize. We want to improve the overall Indonesian society,” he added.” We want to give Indonesians a good life not flaunt our wealth”.