I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…
Since 2000, increasing numbers of fraudulent monks have been giving hit-and-run blessings to passers-by before bowing, presenting small plastic Buddha statues and demanding cash. Sure, being on the receiving end of an unwelcome sanctification is a refreshing change to risking an unsolicited stabbing (which would probably be the more likely incidence were I back in London). However, with these fraudulent holy men refocusing their attention on uninformed tourists and Westerners, they’re surely making a mint from people’s mystified preconceptions of Buddhism, and their outright kindness.
Utomo Francis from HK’s Buddhist Association insists the fake monks are simply mainland criminals who come over, shave their heads and dress the part. All monks and nuns within China, let alone our city, will be looked after very well by their own monasteries, and begging certainly forms no part of their spiritual journey. Mr Francis has been working with the police, security bureau, mainland Buddhist groups and the media to raise awareness of the issue but legally, the impostors can only be charged with loitering. He recommends that Hong Kongers simply ignore them or report the matter to the police. ‘Donating’ may simply embolden those involved in this dodgy practice and make matters worse.
Not only does uninvited hassle create a bad impression for visitors, it harms the reputation of Buddhism within the city – a movement which plays an excellent and wide role within the community. The Association, founded in 1945, includes kindergartens, schools, elderly care homes, medical care facilities and youth service units. So how best to directly assist these noble social ventures? Utomo admits that the English section of hkbuddhist.org is small, so invites anyone who wishes to support their work to call the association on 2574 9371, rather than encourage the charlatans on the streets!