Friday, July 19, 2013

Different Religions, Same Scandals

Most of the time in the United States when a scandal emerges surrounding a religious leader, the leader in question is Christian. That's not surprising, as Christianity is by far the majority religion in America. But this story out of Thailand reminds us that corrupt religious leaders can be found in every spiritual tradition. Wirapol Sukphol, a Buddhist monk, is at the center of a scandal involving sexual misconduct, fraud, and the amassing of $32 million dollars in assets. Sound familiar?

Despite the vows he took to lead a life of celibacy and simplicity, Wirapol had a taste for luxury, police say. His excesses first came to light in June with a YouTube video that went viral. It showed the orange-robed monk in aviator sunglasses taking a private jet ride with a Louis Vuitton carry-on. The video sparked criticism of his un-monkly behavior and a stream of humorous headlines like, "Now boarding, Air Nirvana."

Since then, a long list of darker secrets has emerged – including his accumulated assets of an estimated 1 billion baht ($32 million). This week, authorities issued an arrest warrant for the disgraced monk after having him defrocked in absentia. Wirapol was in France when the scandal surfaced after leading a meditation retreat at a monastery near Provence. He is believed to have then fled to the United States but his current whereabouts are unknown.

The arrest warrant implicates him on three charges including statutory rape, embezzlement and online fraud to seek donations. He is also under investigation for money laundering, drug trafficking and manslaughter for a hit-and-run accident. Authorities are struggling to figure out how he amassed so much money.

It truly is remarkable how this scandal seems so similar to our own despite all the differences between Christian and Buddhist beliefs. It just goes to show that no matter what spiritual tradition we follow, we're all human and power has a corrupting influence on many if not most people. Whether that power is religious or political seems to matter very little.

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