May 30, 2020
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Zen Of Making Money

Acrimonious Buddhist monks squabble over foreign funds

Zen Of Making Money

IT may have facilitated the Buddha's tryst with enlightenment, out of which grew Buddhism and its message of global peace. But today peace is the last thing that preoccupies Bodh Gaya and its yellow-robed inhabitants.

The bone of contention, ironically enough, is that great shrine of peace and tranquillity - the Mahabodhi Mahavihar temple. The path of renunciation, it seems, has not brought these monks closer to nirvana but has made them into even more hardboiled worshippers of Mammon, foreign grants for the temple to be precise. "Every year the Mahabodhi Society of India (msi), which is primarily dominated by Sri Lankan monks, collects crores of rupees - Rs 40 crore only from Japan - in the name of the Mahabodhi temple. But they pocket all the money as they have not spent even a single paisa on the renovation of the shrine till date," charges Bhante Anand, general secretary of the All India Mahabodhi Mahavihar Action Committee (aimmac) and member of the Buddha Temple Management Committee (btmc). According to Anand, the startling revelation came when chief monk and btmc secretary Bhante Prajnasheel visited Japan in July this year to seek donations for the renovation project of the temple prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India. Says Prajnasheel: "Initially, my appeal for donations surprised and shocked the Japanese who revealed that their country alone had been contributing more than Rs 40 crore every year to the msi which, they had been told, was fully authorised to collect donations and look after the renovation of the temple. But when I informed them that only the btmc (under the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949) was authorised to look after it they felt cheated."

Prajnasheel, who had also recently been to Taiwan, Japan and Thailand to collect donations, says that the msi has its branches all over the world and its members are engaged in collecting funds in the name of the centuries-old Mahabodhi Mahavihar temple. This money never reaches the temple committee and as a result the Mahabodhi is in a ramshackled and dilapidated condition.

Anand, meanwhile, has demanded a high-level inquiry into the activities of the foreign monks, particularly those from Sri Lanka. He recently announced that he would immolate himself on September 15. But thankfully, an inquiry has been instituted and Anand has postponed his self-immolation plans for a month. The monk has also sent a letter to the Union home minister, copies of which were also faxed to the president, the prime minister and the chief minister of Bihar, apprising them of the "nefarious activities" of the Sri Lankan monks. Anand alleges: "The msi is following the isi precedent in destabilising the country and destroying peace at the holy shrine. The msi branches in the country are all being headed by the Sri Lankans who are collecting huge funds in the name of Buddha and diverting the money to their country to fight the Hindu Tamilians there."

To prove his charges Anand shows a letter which was sent to msi secretary Wimalasara Thera recently by a Lankan Buddhist, A. Weeraman, addressing him as the incharge of the management committee of the Bodh Gaya Temple. It fell into the hands of Bhante Prajnasheel, who is actually the person so designated. Prajnasheel has slapped a legal notice on Thera contending that the latter had tried to 'misuse and abuse' the name of the btmc. The msi secretary responded by sending a legal notice to Prajnasheel, asking him under what capacity he opened the letter if it was delivered at the wrong address. The fight for supremacy has started hotting up at the holy shrine in right earnest.

Wimalasara Thera has also filed a defamation suit against Anand in the Gaya civil court and has also put this matter before the governing body of the msi headquarters in Calcutta for action against Anand.

Anand, meanwhile, alleges that it's not just the Sri Lankans but almost all the other foreign monasteries in Bodh Gaya which are engaged in illegal activities - from anti-national manoeuvres to, he claims, outright prostitution. Says he: "Six years ago a Thai monk, Paian Ram, was caught raping a local girl. Some Thai monks were also found watching a blue film in Gaya. It all needs to be investigated by the competent government authorities so that the truth comes out."

Then why is the government not investigating the matter the way it should be? Anand sees it as a gameplan of the bjp-led Union government. Says he: "The bjp is trying to win the confidence of the Buddhist countries of the world to strike an alliance to counter the Muslim and Christian dominance in various world fora. It's a part of the party's design to appease the Buddhist countries and that is why leaders like L.K. Advani, Uma Bharati and vhp's Ashok Singhal are members of the Mahabodhi Society." Wimalasara, however, is not too perturbed by the charges made against him and his society. Says he: "It's all for personal gains that Bhante Anand is making such a hue and cry. If he has anything against us, let him prove it in the court." The Sri Lankan monk hits out against Anand by saying that the latter "has been expelled from the All India Bhikshu Sangh for his mischievous activities some four years ago".

The cbi has, however, already registered a case against the msi this year. One of its former members and legal advisor Raj Pal Rana had charged msi chief secretary Rewath Thera of Sri Lanka with defalcation of foreign funds collected in the name of Buddhism. Wimalasara hopes that the report will give the society a clean chit.

The state tourism minister, Suresh Paswan, who had written to the chief secretary of the state to inquire into the matter raised by Anand, told Outlook that "I've written to the chief secretary and until the report comes in I'll not be able to comment on it". The district magistrate of Gaya, who is also the ex-officio chairman of the btmc, repeated the same thing while adding that it's not new that the monks are fighting each other for dominance over the Mahabodhi Mahavihar temple, the most imprtant Buddhist shrines of all. The Dharma Chakra, it seems, has had its full pravartan (revolution.) Buddha is dead. Long live Buddha!

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