Mano Laohavanich, 60, once called Phra Mettanando, is a defector from the beleaguered Dhammakaya temple, where the head abbot, Dhammajayo, is wanted for questioning by the DSI in relation to the Klongchan Credit Union scandal. Mano has not only been a vocal critic of Dhammakaya since breaking his connections with the temple in 1995, but has also known Dhammajayo personally since the 1970s. Ahead of his talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) as part of a panel discussion called “Politics in Religion” (Jun 22) we caught up with him to ask his thoughts on the current crises facing the Dhammakaya temple and Buddhism in Thailand. 
How do you think Dhammajayo’s case will resolve itself?
I don’t think that he will survive this time, he will be caught and jailed. There’s no way to escape anymore. His days are numbered. 
 
There are so many conflicts within Thai Buddhism right now. What do you see as the cause?
Monks are too wealthy. We don’t have a supreme patriarch and Somdech Chuang doesn’t deserve the position. He was my preceptor, I know him, and he bought the car [a vintage Mercedes-Benz brought to Thailand without paying the appropriate import tax] on purpose—he paid with his own cash and signed his name on the owner’s book. Chuang Soodprasert is the owner of the car, but he blamed another monk, his attendant. It’s totally immoral*.
 
If Dhammajayo is removed, how do you see the future of the Dhammakaya temple?
The temple has to be reorganized. Its commercial version has to end. The plot of land that they gained illegally has to be confiscated*. Then the ministry of Buddhism has to make a declaration and the case of Dhammakaya has to be well publicized as a bad interpretation of Buddhism. Many disciples will be charged with many illegal activities, and many monks will be defrocked. I still believe in the ministry of justice as there have been many cases of high profile and powerful people being jailed.
 
Do you feel that the public’s faith in the institution of Buddhism in Thailand has been irreparably eroded?
We have to first and foremost address the issue of money management in temples. It has to be transparent. We can create a system that manages money in transparent way.
 
When did your conflict with Dhammakaya begin?
In my first year as a monk I had trouble because Dhammajayo told the people that this young monk will replace him. So immediately I became the target of jealousy. I had to move out from Dhammakaya to live at Wat Ratchaorotsaram Temple in Bangkok. I later learned that Dhammajayo was founding a company with his own money, investing in land development. I was not comfortable with this at all. So I wrote him a letter stating that I disagreed with this; that it was wrong for a monk to get into business. One week later he wrote back telling me not to interfere with his personal affairs, just to concentrate on my studies [at Harvard University in England and Hamburg University in Germany].
 
So, what made you drop out of Dhammakaya?
My last straw came in 1995, while I was managing the case of the 1991 assassination of the abbot of Wat Pho, a Dhammakaya temple in California, at the hands of a Thai man. I had to travel back and forth between Thailand and the USA a lot and, during my time in Thailand, I found many families crippled from having to donate to the building of the huge Dhammakaya pagoda. I confronted the abbot again to tell him that his donations were breaking down families. Instead of answering my concerns, he just looked into my eyes intensely and asked me slowly, “Do you know who I am? If you think I am Dhammajayo, the abbot of Dhammakaya, then you are wrong.” At that time, I felt a chill run down my back. I felt I couldn’t stay anymore. He believed that he was the Ton That Ton Tham, which, in Dhammakaya beliefs, is the origin of The Lord Buddha and Luang Po Sod, the abbot of Wat Pak Nam who created the principle of Dhammakaya beliefs. 
 
There are people who accuse you of trying to defame Dhammakaya because you lost your benefits from the temple. How do you respond to that?
I didn’t lose anything. I know this temple is a danger to society. During Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling period, the case of the Klongchan Credit Union proved that Dhammajayo abused his power by putting his closest disciple, Yukol limlamthong, as deputy prime minister and minister of agriculture. During that time, this credit union was awarded the high distinction award from this ministry. That made the general public comfortable to put their money and savings into this organization—it was done on purpose. Without that help, Suphachai [Srisupa-aksorni, the head of the Klongchan Credit Union] would not have achieved so much. In only months, it became the biggest saving organization in Thailand, with over B20 billion in funds*.
 
Have you received any threats?
Yes, I’ve had many threats. I was followed by a blacked-out van very closely. I received emails that were not friendly and some that threatened my life if I didn’t stop what I was doing.
 
If the Dhammakaya case eases up, will you go back to the monkhood?
No. I will continue my religious work secularly. 
 
*These are the beliefs of the interview subject. They do not reflect the views of Asia City Media Group.