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Documentary gives Thais rare glimpse into controversial sect

Censors unexpectedly lift ban on film about Buddhist leader and followers

Monks participate in a mass-ordination ceremony at Wat Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani Province, north of Bangkok. The temple is home to the controversial Dhammakaya Buddhist sect, the subject of a gripping documentary by filmmaker Nottapon Boonprakob. (Photo by Ron Gluckman)

BANGKOK -- For the last year, Bangkok residents have been preoccupied with COVID-19 pandemic precautions and pro-democracy demonstrations. Four years ago, however, they were focused on a very different controversy -- an enormous circular temple looking eerily like a gigantic golden spaceship.

As controversial as it appears otherworldly, the Wat Dhammakaya temple had been in the news for years. Then, in February 2017, police efforts to arrest Abbot Phra Dhammachayo, the temple's charismatic leader, on embezzlement charges culminated in a farcical game of hide-and-seek. A siege of the temple was marked by battles between police and followers of what the government insisted was a cult.

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