A man accused of claiming to be the fifth reincarnation of Buddha, called to answer for himself in front of the minister of cults and religion, on Thursday blamed his followers for elevating him to god-like status.
Thean Vuthy, the white-robed spiritual leader who built a grandiose pagoda in Kandal province, appeared before Cults and Religion Minister Min Khin a day after apologizing to provincial officials and monks for any offense he may have caused to the Cambodian people.
Mr. Vuthy admitted to sitting on a throne at Tuol Preah Reachea pagoda while visitors paid their respects and even walking over people who were lying on the ground.
However, he claimed to have done so at the behest of his followers—about 50 of whom were on hand to support him—and blamed them for creating videos and photographs of him that depicted him as Maitreya, the fifth reincarnation of Buddha.
“The photos and videos were made by people who wanted to get money [and] I never took something from them,” he said.
Mr. Vuthy said the money he received from his followers was in return for blessing ceremonies he carried out, not through cheating or force. He added that jewelry found in his room by police was being sold to pay for the ongoing construction costs for the pagoda, which he built to “keep the spirit of Buddhism in the country.”
“The donations from people were not enough to build it, [so] the things in the room were for selling for blessings and to give luck,” he said. “If people wanted to buy them or not it was up to them.”
However, senior Buddhist clergy present at Thursday’s meeting, including Khem San, supreme patriarch and chief monk at Wat Botum, were unimpressed with Mr. Vuthy’s speech.
“Praying to a monk is OK, but how can people pray to Mr. Vuthy? This is because of the ambition of Mr. Vuthy,” Khem San said.
Sao Chan Thol, supreme patriarch and chief monk at Wat Lanka, said a monk would have been punished if he had acted in the same way.
“I think Mr. Vuthy is not a hermit or a monk, that’s why the ministry has taken action on this case as we have never seen [even] higher supreme patriarchs sitting on the throne,” he said.
Mr. Khin, the minister, said he simply wanted Mr. Vuthy to gain better understanding of Buddhist tenets.
“Now the provincial section will prepare the documents relating to Mr. Vuthy [and] then it will depend on the court to make a decision about what to do with him,” he said.
Kandal provincial police chief Iv Chomreun said police would not drop their inquiries into the items seized from the pagoda.
“We are still investigating this case,” he said. “We are not stopping because the religious case is finished.”