Monk Flees Before TV Exposé Airs

Apparently Tempted by Worldly Things

Bangkok Post, October 16, 2001

Quits monkhood to dispel 'confusion'

Popular monk Phra Issaramunee left the monkhood hours before a television show last night exposed an alleged relationship with a female disciple and a fondness for expensive worldly goods.

The embattled abbot of Wat Thammaviharee in Phetchaburi province said in a statement faxed to newspapers that he intended to leave monastic life. He wanted to put an end to confusion caused by the allegation. He would spend the rest of his life peacefully regardless of what other people thought. He would make no use of the saffron robe for material gain.

The whereabouts of Phra Issaramunee - whose large following included Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - were not known yesterday although there were reports that he had taken refuge in Sa Kaew province. The monk was seen leaving his monastery four days ago in a Mercedes car, taking with him valuable belongings.

Deputy Education Minister Chamlong Krutkhunthod said as far as he knew Phra Issaramunee had not been seen at Wat Thammaviharee, his temple, for the past three days. Phra IssaramuneeHe said there was no formal confirmation that the abbot had left the monkhood, but he pointed out that the monk could quit anywhere by merely expressing his intention at any temple.

A close follower of the abbot, Sumeth Sophit, said the monk would send a photo to confirm his departure.

Religious Affairs Department officials led by Thawil Samakrath, director of the secretariat of the Sangha Council, went to Wat Thammaviharee in Kaeng Krachan district yesterday to investigate. The team called on Phra Thep Suwanmunee, the provincial chief monk, and was told that Phra Issara-munee had never attended a meeting of the provincial Sangha order.

Pawaranand Pansa, a female volunteer who helped a team of Independent Television reporters look into the monk's private life, apparently obtained information from Umaporn Uma, or "Sika Nid" - the woman with whom he is alleged to have had a relationship. Bangkok Daily NewsSika is a term monks use to refer to lay women.

Ms Pawaranand, or "Sika Paew", had reportedly obtained love letters in Thai and English from Sika Nid, whom she met after joining the temple in June.

Ms Pawaranand was seen on iTV's exposť talking on the phone with a man said to be Phra Issaramunee, demanding he admit to having written the letters. Among the documents was a mock cashier's cheque the monk had written out for Sika Nid using his family surname at the end of the woman's name.

The report also showed Phra Issaramunee meeting a group of disciples.

They took the letters to the monk and he admitted being the author.

Ms Pawara-nand said Phra Issaramunee was obsessed with expensive worldly goods, among them telescopes, infra-red binoculars, scuba diving gear and a whirlpool bath tub. She said the monk showed followers a German-made whirlpool bath tub which could hold five people.

The monk, she said, was building new living quarters for himself before the scandal became public. He had just bought a Mercedes car to replace a Japanese-made car given to him by Mr Thaksin two years ago, as the seats in the Japanese car were not supportive enough.

Sathienpong Wannapok, a Buddhist scholar, said the scandal concerned an individual, not the religion, and Buddhists should distinguish between the two.

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