Thai politicians seek spiritual escape in Indian Buddhist shrines

New Kerala, Jan 14, 2008

Bangkok, Thailand -- Senior Thai politicians, including a top coup leader, have visited historic Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India to seek spiritual solace from the political troubles at home.

The Thai Bodh Gaya temple in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh is the main pilgrimage site for Thai political personalities, some of them spending time ordained as monks and performing menial tasks, the Bangkok Post reported.

These include General Saprang Kalyanmitr, a key figure in the September 2006 coup that ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra following months of street protests against alleged corruption and abuse of state authority by Mr Thaksin's administration.

Key figures of Mr Thaksin's now disbanded Thai Rak Thai party have also been visiting the temple over the past year.

Thai Buddhist cleric settled in Kushinagar said some senior Thai military officers, government officials and politicians had become novice monks at the temple.

Among these were former election commissioner Wasan Permparp, an influential Thaksin political ally Newin Chidchob and another top politician Sanoh Thienthong.

Former Thai navy chief Admiral Prasert Boonsong, former defence permanent secretary General Ood Buangbon and former deputy interior minister Pracha Maleenont also visited the temple in Kushinagar.

Temple staff told the newspaper that General Saprang also volunteered to clean the temple toilets during his stay there.

A former senior member of Mr Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, Sutham Saengprathum who spent 23 days as monk at Kushinagar told the Post that it was important to be ordained as a monk in India.

''I feel that I was closer to Lord Buddha and that inspired me to focus deeply on studying Buddhism. The environment helped me better follow Buddhist precepts,'' he said.

Phra Rat Ratanarangsee, the Thai priest at Kushinagar said several Thai politicians found happiness after coming there.

''Some politicians had experienced frustration. They came here and found real happiness, refrained from competition, shared and had freedom in their minds,'' he added.

According to Phra Thep Phothiwithes, the 70-yer-old abbot of Thai Bodh Gaya temple in Kushinagar, ''A pilgrimage allows them to be reborn. Washing themselves in the Ganges river or with water from the Ganges river is like washing away sins.''