Heralded as the world's largest temple, Bangkok's Wat Phra Dhammakaya can reportedly fit one million followers and has fostered a growing movement of Buddhist converts drawn by its size as well as its message.
"Once I’ve been here I think I learn much more than my academy education, master’s degree or PhD," one convert told Religion & Ethics Newsweekly's Lucky Severson. "I learned the truth in life, learned how to be with myself and happiness within."
Dhammakaya's website outlines the teachings, activities and history of the temple, as well as the movement at large. The website states:
Wat Phra Dhammakaya was built according to the four factors that contribute to the cultivation and development of virtues, that were taught by the Lord Buddha. These includes:
- Pleasant location,
- Pleasant food,
- Pleasant people and
- Pleasant Dhamma.
Some criticize the intensions of the temple whose massive size and scale, as well as the substantial donations collected for participation, seem to run counter to Buddhist values. "Critics question the intentions of the temple," Dhammakaya expert Rachelle Scott told Severson. "They think that the primary intention is to raise money to be big, to be global."
One article in the Manusya Journal of Humanities called the temple a "capitalistic" endeavor that preys on the "spiritually-thirsty" middle class.
Buddhist scholar Sulak Sivaraksa echoed these concerns in his interview with Severson.
The Buddha never wanted the people to become Buddhist. The Buddha would like people to become enlightened. The Buddha would like people to understand the danger of greed, hate, and delusion... What the Dhammakaya try to do, I feel, is a distortion of the message of the Buddha, because they want to be successful, and to be successful in this day and age you have to go along with capitalism and consumerism.
Critics aside, many adherents say they have profound experiences during meditations at the temple, Scott says.
There are stories of individuals being able to travel to the various realms of existence, to the heavens, to the hell realms while in a state of meditation. I have heard stories of individuals who are able to undergo operations while awake, and they feel no pain, individuals who are able to see things that are happening in different locations while they are in a state of meditation.
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly takes viewers on a tour of the temple, with commentary from experts, critics and converts. Take a look at the video above.