The Ministry of Cults and Religion has finally asked the Fifth Incarnation of Buddha to explain himself (see the Cambodia Daily).
To explain the background: the Buddha we know, Siddhartha Gautama, was the fourth; he’s supposed to be followed by a fifth incarnation, the Maitreya Buddha. (I have no doubt that indignant Buddhists will be writing in to tell me I’ve got it all wrong, but that’s close enough for a two-line statement). And up in Kompong Thom there’s a man who claims to be that final Buddha – that’s him in the photo. The Maitreya Buddha is supposed to be the final incarnation, his coming marking the end of time – though perhaps “end of time” is putting it a bit abruptly, since the world will last another 80,000 years after him. So don’t panic.
Here’s an article about Maitreya Buddha, and I owe thanks for Khmer440 for providing the link. Khmer440 is not for the faint-hearted – you’ve been warned! – but it does provide a list of what the police seized when they raided the Buddha of the Future’s HQ:
180 photos (assorted sizes)
64 glass framed photos
175 red cloth talismans
410 card talismans
110 million dollar bills
All of the above were for sale to believers. The million dollar bills carried a picture of the new Buddha in the place you’d find Ben Franklin. His name is Thean Vuthy.
So the million dollar bills weren’t worthless.
Thean Vuthy (temple above) has been a controversial figure for quite a while. Here’s a well-produced video, complaining about him. It’s in Khmer, but read the comments.
But Thean Vuthy offers his followers exactly what American evangelical preachers offer theirs – personal salvation in a time of tribulation, plus showmanship and very big statues. The statues are quite mind-boggling: he started with one 21 meters tall, then one 33 meters, and is now working on or planning statues of 108 and 210 meters.
Thean Vuthy’s fame has spread as far as Thailand, and it seems the Thai authorities have issued a warning. It also seems that from being a charismatic preacher he’s now elevated himself to the status of a god. Possibly these two things combined prompted the raid on his temple. But Thean Vuthy wasn’t there. He seems to have some powerful patronage at the provincial level. Plus, apparently, a lot of money. The story continues.