What to do with monks who misbehave?

Sunday marked the day of Visakha Bucha which is the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha. Buddhism is the largest religion in Thailand, but we cannot deny that faith in Buddhism has declined due to inappropriate behavior and misconduct by some monks.

Over the past few months, the media has reported news of many monastic members, including high-ranking monks – such as abbots – engaging in sexual and other misconduct. A recent monk scandal concerns the case of Phra Kato, 23, at Wat Pen Yat in Chawang district, Nakhon Si Thammarat, who had sex with a 37-year-old woman. For this reason, Phra Kato, or Pongsakorn Chankaew, was forced to leave monastic life.

Phra Kato was well known for his humorous preaching videos on social media. After leaving Aconite, Pongsakorn became even more well known. When he appeared in public, people wanted to take pictures with him or were excited to see him. The media reported that he earned more than when he was a monk. Pongsakorn earned 30,000 baht for a monastic event. Currently, he can earn between 30,000 and 60,000 baht for a 30-minute appearance and a singing performance of four or five songs.

People who support Pongsakorn usually mention his background and that he has a good heart. When Pongsakorn was 13, he made his living doing shadow puppet shows. He had dreamed of being a singer and one day became a participant in a televised singing contest, Mic Thongkam (Golden microphone). Viewers felt sympathy towards him because he said on the show that his mother had lung cancer and needed medicine which cost 700 baht a day. Due to her mother’s illness, Pongsakorn dropped out of college to care for her. He became a monk because of a promise made to his late mother.

Pongsakorn Chankaew’s Facebook account has over 500,000 followers. Pongsakorn Chankaew Facebook Account

Pongsakorn’s followers were touched that he was a good son who devoted himself to his late mother and believed he had a good heart and was innocent. They accused the 37-year-old of being a seductress who tempted Pongsakorn, which is ridiculous. They are both equally guilty. Obviously, Pongsakorn was a good son, but he was not a good monk. A good monk would never spend time alone with a woman and would never ask a woman to massage him. He knew the precepts of Buddhism very well and therefore had to take responsibility for his actions.

Besides sexual misconduct, Pongsakorn agreed to withdraw 600,000 baht from Wat Pen Yat’s bank account to cover up his sex scandal. The former monk knew it wasn’t his money, so his followers can’t claim he’s innocent.

It is rare to see people admiring immoral public figures, although Pongsakorn is not the first case.

In 2017, when Preeyanuch Nonwangchai was accused of killing and dismembering another woman, people were wowed by her beauty. The police took pictures with her. On social media, people expressed their admiration and formed fan clubs. While some admitted these “clubs” were just a joke, it was still in bad taste. It seems frightening to admire a cold-blooded thief or murderer simply because of his physical appearance.

One good thing that came out of the Phra Kato sex scandal is that the Katoon Dam in Nakhon Si Thammarat has become a popular tourist destination. The reservoir was where the former monk spent time with his lover. On May 3, Katoon Dam was the most sought-after spot for unseen tourist destinations in Thailand. Many Thais posted on their social media accounts to show they had visited the infamous dam. Although the dam attracted tourists due to an immoral incident, it had positive consequences. Tourists reported that they were pleased with the sight and atmosphere of the dam. Local merchants and vendors were pleased with the increased traffic.

After numerous scandals, the House Panel on Religion discussed changing the law to punish monks and women who have sex. The amendment will include one to five years imprisonment, or up to 100,000 baht fine, or both. Hopefully, the punishment will make monks think twice about misbehaving and may prevent women from approaching them.

However, I think a sexual relationship is something personal. He should not be punished with imprisonment or a fine. Monks who commit sexual misconduct must leave monastic life. Moreover, monks and women involved in sex scandals should not be admired or become celebrities after breaking the precepts of Buddhism. Being ignored or rejected by society can be more effective than being punished by law.

Suwitcha Chaiyong

Writer for the Life section

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