Experts’ warning: Miraculous healers or devious scammers?

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Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

Buddhist leaders and scholars, and mental health experts warn against the increase in religious scams where fraudsters claim they have spiritual powers, healing illnesses, and deceiving unsuspecting followers.

The man and woman duo from Udon Thani claim they can cure illnesses using a celestial frequency, their throats producing a rhonchi-like sound as a signal from five Lord Buddhas.

In Surat Thani, an eight year old boy insists he possesses telepathic powers, a gift from his past life as a son of Lord Buddha. Meanwhile, a man in Buriram is revered for his ability to cure diseases by placing an aluminium pot over patients’ heads and chanting.

Believers tout phrases like phalang boon (merit power), chueam jit (mind connection), and perd ta thip (to open the third eye) to cultivate spiritual credence. However, sceptics dismiss these as shams designed to exploit the gullible.

Despite controversies, these spiritual healers have garnered devoted followers. The Bangkok Post consulted experts to dissect these tales of supernatural powers. Assistant Professor Teeranun Vichaidit from Ramkhamhaeng University explained that beliefs are integral to people’s lives, providing emotional support even when they defy reason. Scammers exploit this, and people often fall prey until they face severe consequences like fraud or sexual harassment.

The appeal of mutelu—superstition, black magic, and witchcraft—stems from people’s need for protection amid uncertainties. Media coverage amplifies this phenomenon, offering reassurance to those seeking solace. Teeranun emphasised the importance of education in fostering critical thinking to counter irrational beliefs.

Twisted teachings

Phrakhru Palad Suvaddhanasaccaguna, assistant abbot of Wat Rajadhivasvihara, stressed that beyond faith, wisdom is essential to grasp Buddhism’s true teachings. Misinterpretations can lead to societal chaos. He advocated for a collaborative effort to promote Buddha’s teachings and empower people’s knowledge through education.

Buddhist scholar Jaturong Jongarsa noted that divine reincarnations and supernatural claims are global phenomena. He highlighted that some cults, like Falun Gong, engage in illegal activities. Jaturong called for stricter regulation of religious groups and belief-based activities, urging background checks for operators.

Legal and mental health experts agree that the government must regulate from the start to prevent exploitation. In Udon Thani, the Ministry of Public Health plans to take legal action against the duo claiming psychic abilities, while the case of the eight year old boy remains under investigation.

Dr Varoth Chotpitayasunondh from the Department of Mental Health stressed the family’s role in preventing unhealthy beliefs, reported Bangkok Post.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Kritsanapong Phutrakul from Rangsit University and Police Major General Atip Pongsivapai from the Technology Crime Suppression Division echoed the need for scepticism and vigilance in a social media landscape rife with scams.

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