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Thai Buddhism's unholy mess

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Buddhist monks take part in a protest against state interference in religious affairs at a temple in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on Feb. 15.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- For devout Buddhists in Thailand, the images were unsettling: a burly monk grabbing a soldier in a headlock while other saffron-robed clergy scuffled with troopers in what one Thailand-based columnist called "an unholy mess." What made the events even more troubling was the man at the center of the protest: an aged abbot seeking the country's highest Buddhist office despite being investigated for a tax evasion scam and linked to a controversial religious sect.

     Unfortunately, Thais, 90% of whom are Buddhists, have become accustomed to hearing unsavory reports involving monks, including sex scandals, gross materialism and criminal activities, as well as criticism of the Sangha Supreme Council -- the governing body -- as a conclave of old men out of touch with modern society and unable or unwilling to undertake needed reforms.

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