The process of Temple Fundraising and Activities

A recent event has prompted us to write this article with regards to temple fundraising in lieu of us having to progressively and repeatedly help answer a stream of enquiries from various parties.

What exactly does temple fundraising means? Generally, it may be defined as a process of which a temple initiates to solicit financial support to accomplish the temple’s specific objective. However, the definition aforementioned is very broad and general and does not explain much about specific processes, the roles of offices and individuals involved there-in-under as well as to the limitations of the entire processes per se. The essence of temple fundraising far transcends mere asking for money. It also reflects the ethical conduct of the particular temple and the ways it imparts religious knowledge and behaviour, how it builds and establishes relationships between the Sangha (monks) and devotees, brings in and retains foundation support as well as how it attracts new donors and followers. In other words, it is a reflection about the overall responsibility and accountability of the temple’s modus operandi. A seemingly simple temple fundraising process actually comprises a complicated web of sub-processes which, if not carried out properly, will open the floodgate to fraud and deception.

We have in the past twenty over years participated in various temple fundraising processes through assuming different roles and obligations within those processes. Each role has its specific set of duties and limitations. In this article, we will share our experiences in pertinence to the process of temple fundraising and hope you will find these information useful.

Financial Sources of Temple

Before we delve into the topic of temple fundraising, allow us to provide you with a general knowledge of the constituents of temple income in Thailand. Most of the temples derive income from the rental of property (temple land) and kiosks (shops and stalls within temple compound) and the sales of religious items such as flowers, incense, candles, offering products, and specifically sacred objects such as amulets and statues. The aforementioned channels of income constitute a temple’s long-term revenue which is usually used for general maintenance of the temple.

Technically, these activities are governed by Ministerial Regulation issued in accordance with the Sangha Act which gave birth to what became known as ‘temple committee’. Nonetheless, both laws do not specify the method of appointment or qualification as well as the authority and duties of office holders thereby indirectly conferring upon the abbot the discretionary power to appoint persons he deems appropriate. In this article, we will not be visiting the benefits and problems arising under such system but suffice to make our ground that an abbot has sole authority to fill the “temple committee” as he deems fit.

Purpose of Temple Fundraising

With a steady flow of income, temple fundraising must, therefore, be confined to the premise of specific purposes that require stipulated amount of money to accomplish, for examples, the restoration of 13th century Chedi in Wat Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat; the construction of Ubosot and Phra Phrom shrine in Wat Noak, Bangkok; the construction and extension of temple activity compound in Wat Bangplad, Nakhon Pathom and et cetera.

Under such circumstances, a temple will usually organise a range of activities to raise funds to accomplish the specific project. In the process of fundraising, a temple usually forms a network to reach out to potential donors. This network comprises individuals and groups assigned with specific tasks to help the temple accomplish its mission.

Roles and Duties of Individuals in a Fundraising Process

The network of individuals may be broadly categorised into five groups as follows:

(1) temple project committee;

(2) agents;

(3) distributors;

(4) dealers; and

(5) runners.

Temple Committee

Temple committee members formed for the purpose of a project may comprise ad hoc members specifically appointed for their competence for the purpose of fundraising with or without participation of temple’s standing committee. Project committee activities are case specific with objectives concentrating on overall project purposes and specific deliverables in soliciting funds and ensuring funds solicited are efficiently utilised on the said project. In other words, not only do temple project committee members work hand-in-hand with other relevant parties in related processes such as event organisers, advertisers, distributors, dealers and et cetera, they also have access to the books to ensure funds raised are not abused.

The project committee or its members neither solicit donation nor sell sacred objects. However, they may refer potential donors directly to the temple. The status of project committee members dies with the project.

Agents

Agents are directly appointed by the abbot and charged with the responsibility to reach out to a wider community by creating awareness of the temple’s ongoing project so as to gather contributions of money from individuals, businesses, and institutions. Their core duties, amongst other things, include providing donors with correct information, such as the temple’s name and address, the purpose of fundraising, total amount of donation solicited, the means for solicitation, potential dates for commencement and completion of project, arranging for donors to meet up with the abbot or project committee when authentication is being requested and et cetera.

Names and photographs of appointed agents are published in temple’s circulars, newsletters, magazines, brochures, official website or other platforms of communication to preclude impostors from deceiving unsuspecting donors and damaging the temple’s reputation. Agents are the only group among the six authorised to raise cash donation. However, official temple receipts must be issued for cash collected.

The status of agents either die with the project or upon termination by the abbot whichever earlier.

Distributors

This role is usually fulfilled by prominent dealers in the amulet trade. The responsibility of distributors include stockpiling sacred objects specifically made and consecrated for the particular project and distributing them to willing amulet dealers without mark-ups. This is to ensure dealers are not price-disadvantaged. The list of appointed distributors is published by the temple in its brochures and other communication platforms.

The status of distributors expires when stock becomes unavailable.

Dealers

Dealers are businesses seeking profit from the sales of sacred objects and are not directly associated to the temple. Unlike distributors, they are not constrained by temple pricing. Moreover, the advantage of dealers is that they provide a ready and diverse client-base that temples can tap into to raise funds.

Runners

Runners, sometimes also known as petty-dealers, are traditionally individuals who buy in small units either from dealers or direct from temples in the hope to make a profit by selling their purchases to relatives and friends. Currently, runners may also take aim at strangers through the Internet.

Donor’s Rights

A legal fundraising project must necessarily include donor’s rights. What are the donor rights? Of course, donors have many legal and moral rights to pursue, however, there are basically three more obvious and pertinent donor’s rights in relation to temple fundraising. Firstly, a donor has the right to voluntary donation based on true and sincere information with regards to the project. Secondly, a donor must be provided with the venue to seek verification and/or authentication that his donation has been duly received by the temple. Thirdly, a donor may request to witness the progress of a project or see the physical finished product(s) if the fund solicited pertains to specific objects such as statues, murals, and so on.

Thai Legend: Buddha of Wealth Luang Phor Sothorn

Buddhism is a major world religion founded in the 5th century BC based on the teachings of Lord Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. There are approximately 535 million Buddhists worldwide of which more than 100 million are Theravada Buddhists. Theravada Buddhism, also known as “doctrine of the elders”, is the oldest and purest form of Buddhism which preserved and practiced the teachings and traditions as was observed during Lord Buddha’s time and thereafter recorded in the Pali canons. Today, Theravada Buddhism is strongest in South Asia but is, currently, gaining grounds throughout Southeast Asia as well as western continent.Pursuant therefrom, it is not difficult to imagine the number of Buddhist temples around the world. In our earlier article “Phra Jaktukam Ramathep: a Frenzy Culture within and beyond Thailand” we mentioned that in the Kingdom of Thailand alone there are 40, 717 Theravada temples and, perhaps, the most in the world. Out of these 40,717 temples is a historical temple that was built during the late Ayutthaya Period on the bank of Bang Pakong River, Tambon Amphoe Mueang Chachoengsao, eastern Thailand. The history of this temple and the Buddha image that it houses are both filled with mystery and suspense.

An old and simple temple which housed the National Treasure, the image of Luang Phor Sothorn

Three Large Bronze Buddha Swimming in Bang Pakong River

More than three centuries ago, during the reign of King Narai the Great or Ramathibodi Si Samphet of the Siamese Ayutthaya Kingdom, three large bronze Buddha images were unbelievably discovered floating in Bang Pakong River by a fisherman. The fisherman quickly gathered the villagers to help bring the three large bronze Buddha images out from the water. However, all attempt failed. They even tied ropes to the images but the ropes snapped and the Buddha images kept flowing down the river. The villagers were filled with disappointment and grieve as they believed the village did not have sufficient merits to invite the three Buddha images to be enshrined in their village.Suddenly, water current increased and became turbulent. Two of the three images were swiped downstream whilst the third remained in the water. One of the two Buddha travelled another 79 kilometres and took up abode in Samut Prakan and became known as Luang Phor Toh Bang Phli whilst the other travelled 152 kilometres to Samut Songkhram and became known as Luang Phor Wat Ban Laem.

A Guru Monk Used a Chanting Thread and Invited the Buddha Image out from the River

A guru monk from Wat Hong was summoned to help invite the remaining Buddha to reside in the village. Joss-sticks, flowers, and other offerings were made during the ritual and the villagers were surprised when the guru monk asked them to bring a “saisin” (Thai chanting thread) out to the Buddha image and tie it around the Buddha. Even a thick rope had snapped and what good can a “saisin” do, the villagers thought. Nonetheless, they did as they were told. The monk then sat by the river bank and began chanting. To the surprise of the villagers, the Buddha image began flowing towards the river bank as the monk chanted.The large bronze Buddha image lap-wide 1.65 meters and height 1.48 meters was lifted off the water and His features were so different from other Buddha images during or before the Ayutthaya Period. Luang Phor Sothorn’s face is a full moon with a peaceful smile. The image of Luang Phor Sothorn was invited to be enshrined in Wat Hong which was subsequently renamed Wat Sothorn Woraram Woravihan. Do not be surprised that the Buddha image you pay homage to in Wat Sothorn Woraram Woravihan today is much larger than the measurements provided herein because the original image has been concealed in a coat of stucco to prevent sinners from stealing the image during the time when the Buddha was first enshrined in Wat Hong. Since then, the original image has remained concealed hitherto.

Believers praying to Luang Phor Sothorn and asking for help

The Mascot of Chachoengsao

After Luang Phor Sothorn was enshrined in Wat Hong, the province of Chachoengsao which was originally a sparsely populated fishing village began to prosper and develop. Traders gradually brought their transactions to the village and more businesses were also set up there. Those who pay homage to Luang Phor Sothorn saw their businesses prospered and, thus, for centuries, Luang Phor Sothorn has been Thailand’s most prominent Buddha of Wealth.During the Ayutthaya Period, medical facilities were almost primitive and people usually resort to faith healing. Diseases, sickness, and outbreak of epidemic are just too often during those days. The people of Chachoengsao, and subsequently included people from other provinces, turned to Luang Phor Sothorn for help. The incense and flowers used as offerings were used as medicines. They were either boiled and consumed or used in bath to ward away sickness. Many miracles had taken place, especially the cure of epidemic in the year 2433, have strengthened the people’s faith in Luang Phor Sothorn who not only became the guardian but also the mascot of Chachoengsao.

Sacred objects made and consecrated by Wat Sothorn are made available to public.

The Two Main Effects that Touched the Hearts of Millions

The two main effects granted by Luang Phor Sothorn are wealth and good health. As news about the effects of Luang Phor Sothorn spread, many people from all over Thailand travelled by rafts through the Bang Pakong River to Wat Sothorn. Consequently, the number of people who decided to settle down in Chachoengsao also increased and the population inevitably bloomed. Perhaps, it was for that particular reason that some people today also think and speculate that, apart from the two primary effects, Luang Phor Sothorn is also “fertility” Buddha.

Reverence of Luang Phor Sothorn as the Buddha of wealth and healing has persisted to this day. Millions of businessmen and believers from all over the world have deliberately travelled to the Chacherngsao province every year to worship Luang Phor Sothorn resulting in Wat Sothorn Woraram Woravihan becoming Thailand’s richest temple. Phra Buddha Sothorn or simply Luang Phor Sothorn has become the main prosperity Buddha in the Kingdom of Thailand.

The Wish of His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej

In 1966, His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej has made a wish that the most revered Buddha image of Luang Phor Sothorn will one day be enshrined in a magnificent temple. The temple administrators have since set their minds in fulfilling the wish of His Majesty and, finally, in the year 1992, Wat Sothorn Woraram Woravihan underwent a 15 year-long reconstruction which was completed in the year 2006.

A majestically magnificent white monastery decorated with gold

The new temple took on a unique architectural outlook comprising traditional Thai architectural characteristics and contemporary flavour with Italian carrara marble tiles and gold plated ceramics. The current temple occupies an area of 5496 meter square, excluding other surrounding temple facilities.

External compound include a garden and a Chinese shrine

At the centre of the “Vihan”, or the assembly hall, is a square structure with four arches erected into an eight-level pyramidal roof of 85m in height with five 4.9m high golden royal umbrella weighing 77kg. It was estimated that the entire reconstruction project cost more than 2.04 billion baht in total.

Wat Sothorn’s Chinese Shrine

In August 30, 2006, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn officiated the opening ceremony of the newly constructed Wat Sothorn Wararam Worawiharn in Chachoengsao for and on behalf of His Majesty the King Bhumibol Aduyadej. The new temple is considered the most beautiful and largest Theravada Buddhist temple in the world.

Luang Phor Sothorn and other Buddha images housed in an unconventional open and spacious style

Luang Phor Sothorn Amulets are as Expensive as Phra Somdej Amulets

Luang Phor Sothorn bronze statue bearing the King’s insignia

Because of the effects, amulets and images of Luang Phor Sothorn are highly sought after. To cater for the varying masses, some of these amulets and images are pricey while others are moderately priced. Those that were made a century or so ago are without saying exquisite and expensive for both effects and antique value and their prices easily fetch from a few hundred thousand baht to tens of millions baht. The highest recorded price of Luang Phor Sothorn amulet is 30 million baht for a 2460 medallion. Fake copies are selling over the Internet for a meagre amount of few hundred baht to as much as half-a-million baht. Other moulds commemorating special occasions or made from special materials may also be costly.

Luang Phor Sothorn 2460 extracted from Collection Book

Even those amulets and images slightly above half-a-century old are placed on the high-end of the scale.

Images and amulets bearing the royal insignia are also priced higher than normal moulds.

Luang Phor Sothorn 2509

There are two batches of roof tile images and amulets released in the Buddhist calendar years 2530 and 2534. The former were made from old roof tiles dismantled from Wat Sothorn Wararam Worawiharn that was believed to contained strong energies due to years of chanting by guru monks in the temple. This batch was made available to soldiers only.

Luang Phor Sothorn 2534 Roof Tile

The latter were made from a mixture of old and new roof tiles. They were moderately priced and made available to the public. In the Buddhist calendar year 2534 batch include images and amulets made from shredded bank notes provided by the Bank of Thailand signifying wealth and prosperity. Simultaneously, there were also those made from Gomphrena globosa linn flowers signifying good health.

Luang Phor Sothorn 2534 Roof Tile


In Thailand there is a sally saying “you are not a Thai Buddhist if you do not rent a Luang Phor Sothorn image or amulet”. From the sally it can be known the importance of Luang Phor Sothorn to Thai Buddhism. Luang Phor Sothorn is not only an important Buddha but He is also one of the three main Thai Buddhas of Wealth. Thais throughout the Kingdom of Thailand revered Luang Phor Sothorn and so do many people from around the world. If you think we have exaggerated the prominence of Luang Phor Sothorn please feel free to consult any Thai about this Buddha and verify our content for yourself. Finally, if you are keen to know who are the other two Thai Buddhas of Wealth, please keep a watch out for our articles.