The Kathavatthu mentions that in the early centuries of Buddhism there was a sect of monks who believed that the Buddha was so pure and holy, that even his feaces was fragrant-smelling (Kat.XVIII,4). I’ve often thought that a lot of Thai monks have such a high opinion of themselves that they think their feaces has a lovely smell too. Now news arrives that might well confirm my impression. Last week Thai TV ran a story about the well-known Wat Bang Phli Ya Nai not far from Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport, which has just built a couple of toilet at a cost of 5 million Bhat, that’s approximately US $150,000. The toilets have all mod cons – automatic doors, air-conditioning, the most expensive tiling, an indoor garden, a fountain, piped music and beautiful lighting. Optical sensors mean that you only have to wave your hand to flush the toilet or to turn on the hand dryers.
Rumor is circulating that toilet-users wipe their bums with silk cloth, although this has yet to be confirmed. Wat Bang Phli Ya Nai’s fabulous wealth which has allowed it to build such luxurious toilets (the monks quarters are even more opulent), is derived from the temple’s Buddha statue. Called Luang Pho To, it is believed that tipping water over this statue will protect one from dangers. The interesting thing about the media’s presentation of this news item is that there was no suggestion that it might be inappropriate for monks to be so rich that they could spend vast amounts on a toilet. Far from it! The general tone was, as it usually when reporting anything connected with the Sangha, one of admiration and pious respect. Thais love to pamper their monks and the monks of course have no objections to such treatment. Believing in the protective power of tipping water over a piece of cast metal also fits well with most Thais’ understanding of Buddhism, because that’s the sort of thing many monks teach them. And while the Thai Ecclesiastical Council will fight hammer and tong to stop women from becoming nuns, it is indifferent to the scandal of millionaire monks, their luxurious toilets and the superstitious nonsense they encourage.