Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Trial Of Ven. Ming Yi

The trial of the most well-known and well-liked Buddhist monk in Singapore concluded yesterday. The judges will deliver their verdict on the 7th of October. Venerable Ming Yi and an assistant, Raymond Yeung, were charged with fraud and making false declarations. The problem began several years ago when the discovery of financial irregularities in the National Kidney Foundation, Singapore’s largest and richest charity, led to a more careful scrutiny of other well-endower charities. Soon problems were found in one of several charities run by Ven. Ming Ye, namely the Ren Ci Hospital. The Venerable’s fundraising efforts for this hospital had previously won him a high profile, friendships with celebrities, much praise and many admirers. It had also helped dispel the impression that Buddhism is a passive, out-of-touch religion with no social conscience and nothing relevant to say to the modern world. Ven. Ming Yi had also been elected Secretary General of the Singapore Buddhist Federation. But when his books and management style was more carefully examined problems emerged and eventually he and his assistant were charged with falsifying accounts and misappropriating funds to the amount of $50,000. During the first week of the trial it looked like Ming Yi was guilty of nothing more than sloppy bookkeeping, slapdash management and irregular although not improper use of funds, i.e. that he was running Ren Ci the way most Buddhist undertakings in Asia are run. There was a feeling of sympathy for him among the general public. But as the trial has proceeded and more details have come to light, this sympathy has dissolved. Apart from the charges against him, it has also emerged that Ming Yi had been living an extravagant lifestyle. The Public Prosecutor submitted evidence that he had a A$27,900 membership to an exclusive golf club in Australia, three BMWs, one valued at A$163,500, a race horse with a monthly upkeep of A$1000, and expensive properties in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Records also showed that he had numerous credit cards which were used to pay for stays in up-market resorts, and visits to tanning clinics and even casinos. Long before the trial reached its sad end it had become painfully clear that a basically good monk who had began with good intentions had been seduced by wealth and adulation. All this has been profoundly disappointing to many people and a major embarrassment for Buddhism in Singapore. Continued Tomorrow.


Jamie G. said...

This makes me sad. If things could have been different for me, I would have liked to have become a monk. But alas, I came to the Dharma late enough in life that I have a family and children, and some debt, so I'll most likely never get to put on the ocher robes and move closer to Nibbana than I could as a householder.

And yet, here this guy had the fortunate opportunity to have become a monk and then takes advantage of it.

David said...

I think this sad tale illustrates how vulnerable all us are to the corruption of power, adulation and money. One must be constantly vigilant to prevent being infected by their influences. Corruption of this magnitude does not occur instantaneously, but rather comes about by one small compromise, followed by another, then another; like a slowly leaking faucet that wears away and ultimately creates a torrent.

Let's hope that this renews in us the dedication to be "self aware and diligent."

ah-ha said...

Since the trial has ended though not delivered, it is probably time for open comments. Keeping quiet is reason for disquiet. Pretending nothing untoward has happened is hypocrisy. The trial revealed the extravagant lifestyle of a monk who had supposedly renounced material pursuits. It may be shocking for many but for me I had always wondered what really goes on inside temples and behind monastery walls.
Chasing the 5Cs was for ordinary folks. To add charity and compassion is extra-ordinary. Most folks commute using BMW – Bus, MRT, and Walk. For Ven. Ming Yi, BMW is Buddhist Monk’s Wagon. SBF believed this is the way modern monks travel. Ancient monks went about by FORD (Foot, Ox, Raft, Donkey). What will future monks take?

wizwman said...

Dear Bhante,
Are you able to tell us why did not the Sangha pressure him to disrobe at least for his court appearances? Isn't the Singapore Buddhist Federation interested in upholding the image of Buddhism?
I had always wondered whether he has any time left to practise Buddhism when he is running a temple, a hospital, and even organisations overseas, (and now we know many other side line business as well), practising and performing stunts, rubbing shoulders with the show biz community, etc., i.e., whether this is a genuine monk.

vegan27 said...

The Buddha warned us:

"...money is not allowable for the Sakyan-son contemplatives... For anyone for whom money is allowable, the five strings of sensuality are also allowable... by no means do I say that money may be consented to or sought for in any way at all."


no said...

I suppose the moral of the story, or episode, is that Buddhists should not be blind. After all, Buddhism is all about having our eyes opened.

yuri said...

The story is pretty trivial in the religious environment - whichever religion. And yet I am surprised. Three years ago when I experienced the state of tranquility and clarity I lost interest in things material and thought that it was typical for most people who practised meditation and had some progress. Well, probably I haven't been tempted strongly enough. :)
"Buddhism to be dhamma-centred rather than monk-centred" sounds promising. But how exactly this change should be done - in practical terms?

MidPath said...

Yes it is indeed an embarassment. Many thinks highly of Ven Ming Yi until the case surfaced. What a pity.

But what I find most troubling is Ven Ming Yi's comment...that he hide to protect Ren Ci. Ven Ming Yi ought to know better!

A good lawyer will advise his client (assuming Ming Yi has told him the truth) to concede. That way the prosecution cannot examine further. Ming Yi can then mitigate that the act was not a wilful one.

Given the situation, it is the least Ming Yi can do to protect Ren Ci and also to lessen the embarassment to the Sangha.