A Buddhist nun cleans wax figures of venerable monks displayed in a temple outside Bangkok. (Photo: AFP)
The brutal murder of a pregnant woman by a monk has shocked Thais in the latest scandal involving Buddhist clergymen.
Phra Aum Deeruenrom, the 59-year-old abbot of Wat Ban Nong Bua in Buriram province in Thailand’s agricultural northeast, drove his minivan head-on into a pickup travelling from the opposite direction down a country road near a village on June 16, according to eyewitnesses.
The pickup was driven by a municipal official and his wife, Lampai, who was eight months pregnant. Lampai, 36, managed to get out of the badly damaged pickup and ran away, but the monk gave chase with a machete.
After catching up with the heavily pregnant woman, the Buddhist clergyman slashed her repeatedly in the head and on the right arm, according to police. Both Lampai and her unborn baby died on the scene. Her husband was injured in the accident.
The monk, who was arrested the same day at a relative’s house in the village, has confessed to killing Lampai but refused to provide a cause for it. Villagers told police that the abbot, who is presumed to be celibate as per his monastic vows, had been having an affair with Lampai, who had threatened to reveal their relationship unless he sent her money. He denied having had an affair with the pregnant woman.
Aum, who has since been defrocked, is facing several charges including premeditated murder.
The shocking crime comes on the heels of several recent scandals that have involved members of Thailand’s sangha, the community of Buddhist clergymen.
Several senior Buddhist monks have been accused of a variety of crimes from embezzlement of temple funds to sexual abuse and rape.
Last October the abbot of a temple in Kanchanaburi province was arrested over allegations that he had been sexually abusing a 13-year-old novice. After suffering several days of sexual abuse at the hands of the monk, the boy told his parents, who alerted police.
Across the Thai countryside, many parents entrust their sons to the care of monks in the hope that the boys will receive a free education and proper moral tutoring. Many boys, however, end up suffering routine abuse.
A video recoded with a mobile phone and available online shows a Buddhist monk in northern Thailand savagely beating a temple boy with a cane. The unidentified boy, who is around 12, suffered severe injuries to his back, based on pictures also posted online.
A principal tenet of Buddhism is the injunction not to inflict injuries on others, while murder is likewise prohibited by the religion. Yet Buddhist monks often ignore their faith’s proscriptions.
Observers say that the physical and sexual abuse of temple boys and some female worshipers has long been widespread in Thailand. Much of it goes unreported, however, in a predominantly Buddhist country where monks enjoy an exulted status.
Last September the 52-year-old abbot of a temple in Buriram was accused of having impregnated an 18-year-old girl whom he had allegedly been sexually abusing for years. He had reportedly offered to pay 150,000 baht (US$4,820) to the teenager’s poverty-stricken parents if they agreed to withdraw the allegations against him. He then fled to another province.
His victim told police that one day in 2015 when she was just 13 she was feeling unwell, so the senior monk gave her a bottle of water. The drink turned out to have been drugged because she lost consciousness. When she came to, she was naked and realized she had been raped.
For the next five years, the monk allegedly continued to rape the girl, saying that if she told anyone he would post clips of her naked and having sex online. The abuse finally came to light when the girls’ parents realized she was pregnant and she told them of her ordeal.
“The abbot performed deeds that are too cruel for Buddhists to accept,” the girl’s mother said in an interview with Thai media.
“News about monks’ sexual misconduct has become so frequent that it no longer shocks,” Sanitsuda Ekachai, a senior columnist for the Bangkok Post, observed in an op-ed last year.
“Yet most pedophile monks escape the law because they are protected by a culture of fear, secrecy and impunity in temples,” she added. “Despite the monks’ frequent sexual scandals, [clerical] authorities prefer to treat them as isolated crimes committed by a few rotten apples. They’re not.”
In April a monk was arrested for shooting a man who lived at the same temple in Samut Prakan province, near Bangkok.
The Buddhist monastic, 46, claimed to have fired two shots at the man in self-defense and accused the victim, a 42-year-old man, of having stolen some of his belongings. The gung-ho clergyman was defrocked and charged with attempted murder and illegal possession of a firearm.
Reports of debauchery have likewise marred the public image of monks in Thailand.
In April two monks were detained for breaking a nationwide nighttime curfew, which had been imposed as part of Thailand’s efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19.
The two saffron-robed men were stopped after police saw them driving in a pickup truck along a village road in the middle of the night in the province of Sisaket in northern Thailand. Both men appeared to be badly intoxicated.
A breathalyzer test administered to them revealed that they had consumed alcohol well above the legal limit. Police also found a box of homemade whisky in the back of their truck.