Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not Good News

In Singapore last week a well-known and popular monk, Ven. Ming Yi, was arrested on ten charges of fraud, forgery and falsifying accounts. In the past the Venerable earned the reputation as a successful fundraiser for various charities, an active social worker and a respected director of the Ren Ci Hospital of which he is also the founder. He is also widely liked as an approachable and kindly person. News of his arrest is bad for everybody. The ‘charity industry’ is already reeling from financial scandals in two charitable institutions which have led to a significant drop in donations to many other charities. It is also bad for Buddhism, which in Singapore, has a great reputation for organizing elaborate ceremonies and building lavish temples but a poor one when it comes to meaningful charity work. Ven. Ming Yi showed by his example that the modern monk in the urban setting need not just sit around ‘radiating’ compassion but can actually go out and manifest it by making a positive difference to people’s lives. He has up to now at least, given Buddhism a very good image.
Now people are saying that perhaps it would be better if monks stuck to their traditional role. I disagree. Ming Yi’s fall from grace had nothing to do with the fact that he ‘handled money’ or didn’t live in a forest. Many monks and nuns ‘handle money’ and live in towns without it being a problem. If the only way monks can keep on the straight and narrow is to isolate themselves from every actual or potential temptation then the Sangha is in very serious trouble. The solution, at least for the urban-dwelling socially engages monk or nun, is to balance periods of withdrawal with periods of engagement.
Allegedly, Ven. Ming Yi has made some very bad decisions concerning money, the details of which will only come out during his trial. Whatever the outcome of this, I hope people will remember and take into account Ven. Ming Yi’s very considerable contributions to society and accept him back after an appropriate period of contrition. I hope also that this unfortunate incident will not deter young monks and nuns, and lay Buddhists for that matter, from being more socially active.


footiam said...

Problems like that occur in all religions; it does not have to do with money problem; sometimes, its sexual etc. Whatever it is, it is always the problem of the individual rather than the religion.

Ti-lakkhana said...

Hi footiam,

You are right, but in the real world this type of news is what makes people think twice when the idea of giving a donation crosses their minds.

wizwman said...

I always wonder whether he is a real monk. How could he have time for monkhood training when he is so heavily engaged in not only Renci but many other organisations in the region? I thought this inconsistency alone should have made the authorities sit up and notice it some years ago.
I have never donated to Renci because of this doubt in my mind.

Terrance said...

The gift of dhamma is the greatest gift.

There must be a good reason why the Buddha did what he did and avoided anything to do with money.

I guess it's ignore at your own peril!