Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thai Amulets: Value and Economy


REGALIA BUDDHIST CULTURAL CENTRE 聚佛樓
·SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2020·READING TIME: 8 MINUTES

Be it in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, or anywhere else (with the exception of Thailand), a common question oftentimes surfaces in the mind of some people and that is “Do Thai amulets really cost that much?” We have been answering this question repeatedly especially within a lesser Thai accustomed environment such as Taiwan. Therefore, in this article, we will explore the value and economy of Thai amulets. In this article, we will briefly provide readers the underlying value and economic influences from a Thai perspective. For those who are interested in a detailed analysis on the subject matter may refer to the thesis of Professor Nattapon Yurungruangsak titled “Buddha Amulets and Thai Society from World War II to 2007 AD: A Study of Beliefs, Forms and Buddhist Commerce.”

The Thai Perspective

Like any other product, the original pricing of Thai amulets inevitably begin with production costs which include design, moulding, raw materials, packing, wages, taxes and et cetera. Next will be the costs of consecration ceremonies followed by advertising costs. Finally, an intended amount to be raised will be added to derive the final product pricing.

A simple calculation as follow is often used:

a + b / c = x

a = production costs

b = amount to be raised

c = units produced

Therefore, anything rented for below value x is questionable.However, the moment an amulet enters the market various extrinsic factors will influence its value. There are four major factors, namely, popularity, age, uniqueness, and economy.

Somdej Pair Phan, Luang Por Pair of Wat Pitkoonthong

There are many factors that can contribute to the popularity of a particular amulet and the most outstanding is the reputation of originating temple and/or monk. This is similar to brand name. For examples, for the past three decades, amulets from Luang Phor Pae, Luang Phor Pern, and Luang Phor Koon have received closed to frantic popularity. We remember 30 years ago, a Somdej Pair Phan 2510 was merely ฿10,000 but it now costs at least ฿200,000 to ฿300,000.

Somdej Wat Paknam

Another factor contributing to an amulet’s popularity may include escape from death. On this point, Somdej Wat Paknam just have too many reported life incidents associated with escape from death so much so that Thais formulated a sally saying “If have Wat Paknam with you, in the water, you won’t die, on land, won’t die, in the air, won’t die. Fortune does not run out.” These have driven the prices for the first three batches of Somdej Wat Paknam skyrocketing.

Other contributing factors include great charismatic effect, good businesses, prosperity, and vocational progress.

Age

Somdej Wat Rahkang

Thai amulets are like antiques and their value increases with age. This may partially be attributed to the fact that as time goes by many amulets of a particular release or batch are either damaged or destroyed resulting in the remaining available number becoming scarce thereby driving demand far above supply. This is especially so when the consecrating monk is exceptionally prominent and popular. The most outstanding in this category are indisputably those Somdej amulets made and consecrated by Phra Phuttachantoh Promarangsi which current value easily begins from seven digit figures onwards. If you think you got a bargain on these series, think twice.

Kruba Srivichai medal 2482

The above Kruba Srivichai Phim Sawng Chai 2482 medal has a currently open market value of ฿500,000 to ฿1,000,000 depending on condition of the amulet.

Uniqueness

Phra Somdej Putthason

The uniqueness of the amulet refers either to the distinction, beauty, and popularity of an amulet or it may indicate the exclusivity of a particular amulet such as special materials, hair from monks, and some serial numbers. For example, the Phra Somdej Putthason of Wat Kao Takroa is sought after for its distinction, beauty, and popularity. The last offer we received for this amulet was ฿3.8 million.

Economy

Finally, the value of Thai amulets is directly tied to the Thai economy and prices fluctuate according to expansion or contraction thereof. When the economy expands, the prices of the amulets increased. This is partly due to more people having the financial capability to afford more expensive amulets thereby pushing up prices. As a result, in part, Thai amulet is an alternative form of investment that can even be speculated or accumulated for sale in future. On this aspect, many of our old customers would have experienced the impact. The price of their purchase 10-20 years ago is only a meagre portion of what they have to pay for a same amulet today.

Industry Value

In 2007, Kasikorn Research Center valued the Thai amulet business at ฿40,000 million which is approximately ฿50,143 million today. With innovation and development in technology, especially with regards to digital advertisements and promotions to reach buyers beyond Thai borders, the value of the entire industry is easily three times much more than the last reported figures.

Personal Value and Satisfaction

In view of the aforementioned, it is difficult for us to pronounce whether Thai amulets are expensive or not. There are obviously no clear standards for comparison. All we can say is that it greatly depends of an individual’s personal value and satisfaction. Let us put it in another way, for example, a continental made automobile such as BMW and Mercedes Benz in contrast to other Asian made automobile may give an individual the same personal value and satisfaction whilst it does not equally produce the same effect for another individual. The situation is even more eminent with Thai amulets since the price range for the same type of amulet is very vast.

Temple Amulets versus Factory Amulets

Phrakherung Khorng Rongngan

The steep pricing of sacred objects originating from temples has also given rise to another huge market known as “phrakherung khorng rongngan” in Thai which literally means “factory amulets.” In the past, these are confined to counterfeit copies of original amulets originating from temples. However, innovation within the business industry has also brought new life-lines to factory amulet market. There have been a group of businesspeople who have came up with ingenious idea and entered into partnership with various less known temples and monks whereby those businesspeople will make amulets in the name of those temples and monks and sell them to especially unsuspecting foreigners at ridiculously cheap prices which are below value x when calculated using the above given formula. Many so-called “special edition” and “limited edition” amulets claimed to have only produced 9 to 19 pieces are been sold at ฿1,000 to ฿2,000 of which price total of all units sold will not even cover the cost of moulding alone. For prices of design and moulding, you may refer to various factories such as Amulet Maker or Pornwasin.

Mould of Amulet extracted from Amuletmaker.com

There are uncountable occasions where amulets are made and sold in the name of specific temples and monks without approval or knowledge from the respective parties. The most recent trend is pot luck gaming of amulets involving “products” from various temples. Such acts are equivalent to gambling and considered an offense to Nissakiyapachitti under the monastic rules. Therefore, prominent monks are unlikely to be involved in such mischief. As such, if you are accosted with such speculation, it is best that you do a search on the relevant monk and temple alleged to be involved in such offense. We have conducted several background searches for such incidents and they all turned out to be opportunists abusing and misusing the names of temples and monks for personal gains without the temple’s or monk’s knowledge. Nonetheless, if such behavior is purely attributable to individual’s sales tactic then we have no comment.

Conclusion

As business-people in the Thai amulet industry, we advise our customers to make their own judgments as to value. We offer different price range temple products catering to the varying demands of our customer and all we can do is explain the reasons behind price differences. The ultimate judgment lies in the hands of our valued customers. Whether should you obtain a high price amulet, a low price amulet, or even a factory made amulet, it all voices down to your personal perception, value, and satisfaction thereof. However, if you are looking for factory amulets, please give us a pass as we do not provide such services. We hope this article will help you better understand the value and economy behind Thai amulets.

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.

Was Hong Kong movie star Cecilia Cheung being made a Sucker or has the Ill-Informed Critic Croaked?

In the following clip by Zhongtian News, Taiwan, it was reported that Hong Kong movie star Cecilia Cheung rented an antique Phra Somdej amulet for NT600, 000 and which had brought Cecilia Cheung tremendous career luck. However, according to the news anchor, an expert in Thai amulets pronounced that an antique Phra Somdej amulet does not command that kind of value Cecilia Cheung had paid for. Master Tan provided a thorough response and exposed the shoddy culture behind Taiwan’s news reporting…

Generally, an informed critic is a person who possesses profound knowledge in a specific field albeit not necessarily having to be a specialist in the said field but suffice that he is able to assess, evaluate, and communicate an objectively informed opinion or critique about a subject matter, for example, social or government policy. Do take note that I stipulated “profound knowledge” and not “specialized knowledge” although the latter may be preferable otherwise any opinion delivered stands the risk of being ill-informed and stupid if not misleading. These minimum criterions for criticism are necessary to invoke a judicious application of the mental faculty through examination of sensation by deliberation which in turn allow for a distinction to be drawn between a critique and a rant.

Pursuant to the afore-mentioned, there are inevitably many “critics” who adopt title inflation in order to justify their criticism as informed opinions. For example, here in Taiwan, there is a profuse and loose use of the term “師” which literally means a “master”, “teacher’, or “expert” and it is not surprising to hear plumbers, tilers, cooks, and et cetera being addressed as “師”. With as much looseness as the use of the term “師” there is also a liberal use of the term “評論家” or critic which is why we are seeing abundant commentary programs and commentary news (評論節目) here that is of entertaining quality more than knowledgeable deliberation. Inevitably, we too are seeing such title inflation and ill-informed commentary taking a toll on Thai Buddhism here.

The above is a Taiwan news clip by Zhongtian News on a Phra Buddha Somdej amulet rented for NT600, 000 by Hong Kong movie star Cecilia Cheung. It was reported that that Somdej amulet had brought Cecilia Cheung tremendous career luck. In the course of the broadcasting, an expert in Thai Buddhism was also introduced.

It was claimed therein that the particular Somdej amulet rented by Cecilia Cheung is 140 over years of age thereby implying it is possibly the last batch of Phra Buddha Somdej amulet made and consecrated by His Venerable Somdej Phra Buddhachantoh Promarangsi. However, the news reader Liu Yingxiu made a closing statement with a claim that according to expert an antique Somdej amulet does not worth that much of money.

His Venerable Somdej Phra Buddhachantoh Promaragsi

What is the relevance of us sharing this piece of “news” here? Well, it is a general knowledge of Thai Buddhists and Thai amulet collectors that a genuine Somdej amulet made by Somdej Phra Buddhachantoh Promaragsi easily fetch a market price of more than a million baht which is equivalent to more than NT920, 000 and amulets with a price tag of NT500, 000 are just too common. Therefore, that piece of “news” not only highlights the abuse of title inflation, it also underscores the essence of fake news.

NT1.4 million Somdet amulets

The above are photographs taken by our Mr David Tan on 5th June 2013 in Wat Kiat Chayeo which he immediately uploaded to our Facebook and shared them with our valued customers. The asking prices of those Somdej amulets were explicitly shown in the photograph and it was 1.5 million Baht each which is approximately equivalent to NT1.4 million. It was a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of a genuine antique Somdej amulet of that category and above.

Somdej LP Chung

To-date, we have rented out numerous high-ends Somdej amulets from prominent temples including but not limiting to Wat Rahkang, Wat Mai Amatarot, Wat Kiat Chayeo, Wat Pitkulthong, Wat Natangnok, and et cetera with prices costing more than NT300, 000 – NT500, 000. The piece of news from Zhongtian News and their expert’s opinion is so funny that we took the liberty to share it here just for a laugh! So what do you think? Feel free to express your opinion here.