INDIAN TEMPLE DRAWS PILGRIMS
Rival politicians find common ground at a Thai temple in the birthplace of Buddhism
Story by POST REPORTERS
Buddhist monks lead a prayer at the Thai Buddha Gaya temple in the Indian town of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh state.
Despite their political differences, Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr, a key figure in the Council for National Security (CNS), and some veteran politicians from the disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, do have something in common _ they have all made a pilgrimage to a Thai temple in India.
They went to the Thai Buddha Gaya temple in the Indian town of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh state.
However, they went at different times and with their visits spread between October and March, when the weather there is good.
Phra Rat Ratanarangsee, who oversees three Thai temples in Kushinagar, said veteran politicians, military officers and senior government officials have made the pilgrimage.
Some went to make merit and meditate, and travelled to four holy places for Buddhists.
Others, including former election commissioner Wasana Permlarp, actually sought ordination at the temple.
These pilgrims, including Newin Chidchob, now with the People Power party, and Sanoh Thienthong of the Pracharaj party, wore white outfits during their stay in India.
Mr Sanoh was accompanied by his fortune teller, who advised him to make merit to avert bad luck. Others who made the trip include former navy chief Adm Prasert Boonsong, former defence permanent secretary Gen Ood Buangbon and former deputy interior minister Pracha Maleenont, who arrived with actors from TV Channel 3, which his family owns.
Apart from making merit, Mr Pracha also had more toilets built at the temple.
Temple staff said Gen Saprang was one of the volunteers who cleaned the temple's toilets.
Those joining the monkhood at Thai Buddha Gaya temple included Sutham Saengprathum, a former Thai Rak Thai executive who is banned from politics for five years. It was the second time he had entered the temple.
He was a monk there for 23 days on an earlier visit.
Mr Sutham said it was important to be ordained into the monkhood in India, because that was where Buddhism originated.
''I feel that I was closer to Lord Buddha and that inspired me to focus deeply on studying Buddhism. The environment helped me better follow Buddhist precepts,'' he said.
Phra Rat Ratanarangsee views the trend by key figures in Thailand to visit the temple as a good sign.
''It's time for them to review their deeds and find ways to right their past wrongs. They started afresh,'' he said.
''Some politicians had experienced frustration. They came here and found real happiness, refrained from competition, shared and had freedom in their minds,'' he said.
Phra Thep Phothiwithes, the abbot of Thai Buddha Gaya temple, said most of the pilgrims felt better after their trip.
''A pilgrimage allows them to be reborn. Washing themselves in the Ganges river or with water from the Ganges river is like washing away sins,'' said the 70-year-old abbot,.
He was among the first batch of Thai monks to settle in India.