Here is some information for you which could clarify a few things:
Thailand. DONALD K. SWEARER. Encyclopedia of Buddhism.
"State Buddhism established at the
beginning of the twentieth century and revised by the 1962 sangha law is still intact; however, calls for
reforming the conservative, hierarchical sangha governance structure come from younger liberal monks
as well as educated laity. There is increasing concern that mainstream civil Buddhism is out of tune with
the times that in the affluent decades of the 1980s and 1990s became more complacent and materialistic.
To be sure, in villages and towns throughout the country the monastery continues to serve important
community functions, especially educating the rural poor, even though many of the roles once filled by
monks are now the purview of civil servants. As a result there has been a general decline in the high
regard and social status traditionally accorded monks. Several high-profile instances of immorality and
rancorous division have also challenged the sangha's moral authority.
In the 1970s, partly in response to the changes brought about by globalization and challenges to the
relevance of the sangha, two nationwide sectarian movements emerged, Santi Asok and Wat Thammakāi.
Although Phra Bodhirak, Santi Asok's founder, was ordained into the Thammayut and then the Mahānikāi
orders, in the mid-1970s Bodhirak and his fellow monks cut all ties with the national sangha. The
movement continued to grow rapidly in the 1980s, and it gained special prominence through one of its
members, General Chamlong Simuang, a former governor of Bangkok, member of parliament, and
founder of the Phalang Dhamma political party. Santi Asok defined itself against the Thai mainstream,
establishing centers where monks and laity observed a moderately ascetic regime, living in simple
wooden huts, eating one vegetarian meal daily, and avoiding intoxicants, stimulants, and tobacco. In the
view of mainstream Thai Buddhists, Santi Asok had overstepped acceptable limits both in terms of its
independence and its outspoken criticisms of Thai society. In 1995 a court decision codified a 1988
recommendation by national sangha leaders to expel Bodhirak from the monkhood on the grounds that he
had ordained monks and nuns without authorization and had contravened a vinaya prohibition forbidding
claims to supernatural powers.
In several respects, Wat Thammakāi
stands at the opposite end of the
spectrum to Santi Asok. Also a product
of the early 1970s, its imposing national
headquarters at Prathum Thani near
Bangkok represents a new version of
state Buddhism with an aggressive,
international perspective. Its founders,
Phra Thammachayo and Phra
Thattachīwo, were educated in
marketing before becoming monks under
the inspiration of the Venerable
Monkhon Thēpmunī of Wat Paknām,
who was noted for his unique
visualization meditation method. The
entrepreneurial skills they brought to the
movement led to its considerable
success but has also generated attacks on its commercialism and charges of financial irregularity.
A striking feature of the religious ethos in Thailand at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a
burgeoning increase in cults. Although the veneration of relics and images of the Buddha has long played
a central role in Buddhist devotional religion, its contemporary efflorescence is due in part to their
commodification in the face of the cultural dominance of commercial values. The cult of images and
relics, furthermore, is matched by the veneration of charismatic monks to whom are ascribed a wide range
of apotropaic powers, including the generation of wealth. New cults, abetted by the financial crisis of
1997, include the veneration of images and other material representations of royalty, especially King
Rāma V, and the popularity of the Bodhisattva Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara), which testifies to an increasing
Chinese influence in the Thai economy."
I have met many Thais who honestly seem to think that Dhammakaya is a "third nikaya" in the Thai Sangha. Although they make sure that they get the patronage of wealthy people and the royalty and can fit into the normal Mahanikaya ecclesiastical system, due to their internal organization they act as if they were quasi-independent group.
Bhikkhu GavesakoKiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)ajahnchah.org
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