Monday, September 25, 2017

Group targets ‘fake’ monks, religious swindlers

A Buddhist organisation in Ayeyarwady Region has launched a crackdown on religious fraudsters, while its leader has slammed the state sangha committee for failing to take proper action to protect the image of Buddhism.

The Sangha Gonesaung Yahantaw group has so far uncovered seven fake monks and 30 fundraisers in Maubin township who pretended to be associated with famous Buddhist leaders and monasteries to get donations from the public.

The head of organisation, Sayadaw U Weiseita, told The Myanmar Times the program was launched to protect the image of the monastic order.

He said those who dress as monks to “beg” on the streets were “shameful” for Buddhism.

“True Buddhist monks would never beg because they respect their robes and the Buddha,” he said.

“But some people have no respect for the Buddha ... and are not afraid to cheat using robes and the names of sangha associations. They have no fear of hell.”

He also accused the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, also known as the state sangha committee, of ignoring the issue.

“I have tried to stop this cheating for more than 15 years. I urged the head of the sangha association and other officials to take action but they ignored me. I have no idea why they are too busy but I couldn’t stand it any longer so I just did it myself,” he said.

Sangha Gonesaung Yahantaw was established on June 8 with the support of the township sangha association and 60 monasteries. It has about 50 members.

U Weiseita said the practice of beggars donning monks’ robes has only developed in the past four decades.

“The numbers increase each year, especially in cities. These cheaters wear robes during the daytime but then beg as laypeople in the nighttime. Some are just doing it on their own but in other cases they work in groups, including whole families,” he said.

There are also cases of groups of people asking for money under the pretence it is going towards religious activities, such as building a rest house or a hospital. These fake projects are normally conducted using the name of a famous sayadaw, U Weiseita said

He said when the organisation uncovers a fake monk it asks the person to remove their robes. They also sometimes send them to the police station but U Weiseita said the police always refuse to lay charges.

Sangha Gonesaung Yahantaw members will cooperate with members of other religious groups in nearby townships to identify more possible suspects.

“I will strengthen the networks within Ayeyarwady Region after Waso [on July 22],” he said.

He said laws for protecting Buddhism were generally weak and not properly enforced. “It is not official to found a Buddhist organisation except under the sangha association but many have emerged, including our own. We are not legal … but we have to do it because the authorities are not willing to do their job,” he said.