Buddhism in Thailand: The missing monk
The junta feuds with an influential sect.
SOME people think he has fled abroad.
Others say he may have died.
For more than a year the authorities in Thailand have been trying to get hold of PhraDhammachayo, the reclusive former leader of a controversial Buddhist sect who is wanted for questioning in a fraud case.
On February 16th a group of officers finally gained access to the vast religious complex which is Dhammakaya movement maintains on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Instead of locating the septuagenarian monk—often pictured in signature sunglasses—they found an empty bed stuffed with pillows.
By February 22nd more than 4,000 police and soldiers were lingering outside the Dhammakaya compound—waiting to complete a full sweep of the massive site but apparently hindered by monks and devotees who had blocked its dozen entrances.
A spokesman for the sect claimed that 30,000 people were still inside the property, having ignored orders to leave; there have been scuffles at its gates.
Apiradee, a retired civil servant helping to feed Dhammakaya followers who had gathered in support outside the police cordon, said she has never seen anything like it.
Founded in the 1970s, the Dhammakaya movement claims about 3m followers around the world.
It is by far the most influential temple in Thailand.
It bears a loose resemblance to the evangelical mega-churches that increasingly beguile the world's Christians.
Dhammakaya's mostly middle-class adherents complain that older Buddhist temples have grown complacent and materialistic.
They insist, rather grandly, that the Bangkok compound, with its vast stadium, is meant to become a kind of Buddhist Vatican.