Shortage of Buddhist monks in Malaysia

by Bernard Cheah and Diana Chin (Source: The Sun, May 19, 2008), The

GEORGE TOWN, Penang (Malaysia) -- As Buddhists across the country observed Wesak Day today, followers could not shake off concerns that there are today fewer qualified Buddhist monks and nuns to lead the community in temples and centres around Malaysia.

Leaders of various Buddhist organisations are anxious that immigration restrictions, government red tape and increasing apathy among youngsters have caused a situation where not enough monks are available to pass on the religion's values and ceremonies among followers.

Mahindarama Buddhist Temple chairman Kung Kok Chye said there are only between 600 and 700 Buddhist monks currently serving in Malaysia for both the Theravada and Mahayana sects.

"The government should not impose excessively strict rules on visas for
foreign monks coming to Malaysia," he said in an interview. "It is our hope on this holy day that the authorities will seriously look into this matter."

"These monks teach our children the important values preached by our
religion such as to be good, to cease all evil and to purify the mind."

He also said there is an urgent need for more local youths to be encouraged to take up monkhood. "There are parents whose faith and understanding are not deep enough, and are reluctant to let their children, especially their sons, to be made monks."

Surya Gidwani, a principal of the Sunday Pali School, stressed that the need for foreign monks has become particularly pressing as not many locals are inclined to be monks.

"The locals should not to look at monkhood as a career, but as a decision made. But they should take up the call only if they are fully ready," she added.

A senior member of Siamese people in Malaysia said the community has been particularly hit as there is now a critical dearth of genuine teachers who can imbibe the language and customs to youngsters.

There are about 70,000 Siamese, mostly in Kedah, Kelantan and Penang, who practise Buddhism. Most of the temples run by the community lack qualified monks, he said.

"Many temples have applied to bring in monks from Thailand to reside here and lead our community in religious matters," he added. "But most have had to face restrictions and delays with the immigration department."

Malaysian Buddhist Association secretary in Penang, Lim Tien Phong,
advised Buddhist groups to submit proper supporting letters when applying for visas for foreign monks to ensure they are genuine.

"You can never tell the real monks from the fake ones. We should be
cautious when applying for foreign monks as we must always consider the monks' qualification and experience."