A Thai Buddhist monk who beheaded himself to offer his life as a sacrifice to the Buddha was mistaken in his interpretation of religious teachings, according to Buddhist authorities.
Dhammakorn Wangphrecha, 68, a senior monk who was abbot of Wat Phuhingong monastery in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lamphu, beheaded himself with a homemade guillotine in a macabre religious rite early on April 15.
The monk believed that by sacrificing his life as an offering to the Buddha he would be reincarnated as a higher spiritual being or reach enlightenment, the goal of all Buddhists, based on a suicide note he had written.
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Dhammakorn, who wrote that he had been planning the act for five years, executed it beside a plaster statue of Indra that shows the Hindu deity holding his severed head in an outstretched palm, according to an ancient Indian myth.
“His wish was to offer his head and his soul so that the Lord Buddha could help him reincarnate as a higher spiritual being in the next life,” Booncherd Boonrod, a relative of the late monk, told a Thai news outlet.
In his suicide note, the monk wrote that “chopping his head off was his way of paying homage to Buddha,” Booncherd added.
Buddhism discourages suicide for any reason, seeing it as an undesirable act resulting in negative karma
The abbot had reportedly been teaching his followers in the rural community that by giving one’s life to the Buddha a person would be ensured of a more propitious rebirth in the next life.
Before his cremation in a forest, Dhammakorn’s body was laid inside a coffin, but his head was placed in a jar so that his followers and relatives could pay their respects to it.
Buddhism discourages suicide for any reason, seeing it as an undesirable act resulting in negative karma.
Thai Buddhists routinely free captive birds, fish and other animals to make merit and earn some positive karma by “saving” the lives of these animals.
However, committing suicide for religious reasons does not qualify as making merit, according to several prominent Buddhist monks who have spoken out against Dhammakorn’s act.
“There is no teaching in which the Buddha tells you to cut your head off as an offering,” Phramaha Paiwan Warawanno, a monk in Bangkok who has a large social media following, said in a post on Facebook.
“What the Buddha wants is for people to follow his teachings and have a better life. He does not want anyone to give up their life or head for him.”
We have to prevent such unpleasant situations from happening again
However, some Thais have come to the monk’s defense, arguing that self-mutilation has been a traditional religious way of seeking and attaining a higher state of mental and spiritual “knowing.”
There are concerns that a cult following of Dhammakorn might arise among Thais who continue to have faith in black magic and other questionable practices even though normative Buddhism frowns on such beliefs.
“Temple executives and abbots should review their practices and look after other monks in their temples. This incident is possible evidence of neglecting to do so,” said Sipbowon Kaeo-ngam, spokesperson for the National Office of Buddhism.
“We have to prevent such unpleasant situations from happening again.”