06/11/2009, 00.00
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Controversy surrounds an expensive robe given to the abbot of Shaolin monastery

The robe is made with silk and gold thread. For years Abbot Shi has been criticised for turning his world-famous monastery into a tourist attraction and a money-making venture. For many this is compromising its religious and spiritual vocation.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Shi Yongxin, abbot of the Buddhist monastery of Shaolin, is under fire for accepting a robe made with silk and gold thread worth an estimated 160,000 yuan (US$ 23,000). More and more people are openly attacking the monk for turning the modest life of meditation of his temple into a money-making business.

The robe, decorated with elaborate Buddhist patterns, such as the lotus and sacred vases woven in gold thread, was given to the abbot by Nanjing Yunjin Fabrics Research Institute, a private brocade company in the Jiangsu capital. Media reports suggest the robe contained gold thread worth 50,000 yuan

A monastery spokesman dismissed the criticism as an attempt to make Abbot Shi feel guilty when in fact he is not likely to wear the robe but will instead be its custodian and pass it on to future generations.

Still some observers have noted that this is not the first time the abbot gets himself into hot water.

In 2006 the temple accepted a luxury SUV from the local government worth a million yuan as a reward for its role in increasing tourism.

In April 2008 the monastery was lambasted for spending US$ 430,000 in lavish restrooms.

Shi has also been criticised for using the monastery’s international reputation as the birthplace of Buddhist spirituality and kung-fu to turn it into a tourist attraction by adding, among other things, theatre shows, movies and online sale of “traditional” items.

In doing so, critics argue, he has seriously compromised the monastery’s religious vocation.

In addition Abbot Shi has been accused of liking too much a life in the limelight rather than the more frugal and meditative lifestyle associated with monks.

Being seen in the company of politicians, rich businessmen and celebrities has not helped his case either.

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