A man purporting to be the fifth reincarnation of Buddha is coming under increasing pressure after his activities drew the attention of authorities, who have asked him to explain himself.
Thean Vuthy, who has built a pagoda in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, claims to be a Buddhist “god.”
He has apparently accepted money from followers—attracted from as far away as Thailand—who believe he has divine power.
Ministry of Cults and Religion spokesman Seng Somony said Mr. Vuthy, who has been known to sit where Buddha’s statue would normally be situated in a pagoda, has been asked to shed light on his activities.
It follows a raid on the Tuol Reachea pagoda on Sunday, where ministry staff seized religious items that were on sale, including photographs and videos.
Mr. Somony said Mr. Vuthy first ordained priests as far back as 1992 and has been given multiple warnings by the ministry, but this was the first time they had been made aware that he had elevated himself to the status of a god.
“He did wrong by using religion to cheat people [and] he also broke the religious code when he sat on the throne and allowed people to pay him their respects, but we can’t punish him like a suspect,” he said.
The Ministry of Cults and Religion said in a statement released on Monday that Mr. Vuthy’s claim seriously offends the values of Cambodia’s state religion.
It is not only Cambodians who have been taken in by the fake Buddha.
Thai pilgrims have reportedly crossed the border into Cambodia to pay their respects, prompting authorities in Thailand to issue a warning, according to online news site Khaosod Daily.
But Buntenh, head of the Independence Monk Network said the Ministry of Cults and Religion should have intervened earlier.
“Mr. Thean Vuthy is not an honest person—he built a pagoda, he collected money—and if the Cults and Religion Ministry do not punish him he will keep doing it. It’s not first time,” he said.
However, officials could face difficulties catching up with Mr. Vuthy.
Kandal governor Phay Bun Chhoeun said he believed Mr. Vuthy was no longer at Tuol Reachea pagoda.
“[H]e always goes and back and forth from the pagoda. He has a lot of houses,” he said.
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