It’s nothing new or even unique for people to give a little piece of what they earn to anything associated with the man upstairs. The act of “tithing” is mentioned in both the Old and New Testament; and many people give their church or synagogue 10% of their income. Thailand and different Buddhist temples have their own version of this and you’ll find that many Thai’s do give something. The first year or two that I lived in Thailand, I thought this was a wonderful example of why the average Thai was more philanthropic than the average American. But I’m changing my mind about that slowly but surely, and now I actually think there are a decent amount of people here who are literally just trying to buy their way into Heaven, bliss, or a better next life. And every few months I get an email from a foreign man who is steaming after his wife gave a temple of wad of his money!
I don’t know a lot about Buddhism and I won’t pretend to. What I do know is that there is a temple in Thailand that has promoted the “Dhammakaya Movement” for more than 40 years. This temple has a reputation for recruiting middle class Thai’s and convincing them that their worth is defined by how much they give. There was a huge scandal about the temple earlier this century, but because the temple is backed by people of major wealth and influence, in the end they got a free pass. Meanwhile, very little of the money they collect goes to social services. That’s not to say that this temple is representative of all Temples in Thailand, obviously it’s not. And a lot of this isn’t about the temples, but about the people who actually think they’re investing in some sort of better wellness (for themselves), by consistently giving money to whatever temple they happen to be near. It would just be a lot better if that money was actually going to the right place, but in a lot of cases it’s not. It’s worth noting that there was a scandal earlier this year where a couple of Thai Monks were spotted sporting Louis Vuitton luggage on a private jet. Again, that’s not representative of all Monks, many of them are totally selfless. But it’s not a stretch to say that more money collected by the Temples should go to social services.
One thing I don’t understand is why so many prostitutes give money to the temples. And I’m not talking about 20 baht, I’m talking about a few thousand baht per month. Maybe someone can explain this to me? I mean, wouldn’t Buddha rather the girls “S” or “F” a couple less “C’s” per month and not make any donations? How is that contribution not tainted? Wouldn’t it be better off going directly to a social service organization?
And it’s certainly not uncommon for a Thai wife to take some of her foreign husband’s money to give to her Temple. I’m all for freedom of religion; and I actually think Buddhism is a great practice. I let my girlfriend do her thing with it all the way, until it involves my money. That’s where I draw the line! She once tried to convince me that I would be lucky if I gave money to a Temple we visited. Since when is Buddhism about luck? When I want to give money, I give it directly to charities that have a good reputation for providing for people in need. I’m not going to say I do it often, I don’t. But in the rare occasions when I am feeling charitable, it’s nice to know that my money is actually helping someone and not getting embezzled or spent on a Monk’s Iphone.
Some monks and temples are outstanding, some not so much. Some people give for the right reasons and others do it to feel better about themselves. As I mentioned before, this goes on all over the world in one form or another. I guess the thing to take away from this, is that Thailand is certainly not “advanced” when it comes to charity and philanthropy, even if it seems so on the surface.