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Goodbye Bitcoin, Hello Buddhacoin: Thai Temple Issues Own Cryptocurrency, Sparking SEC Warning

Wat Pa Mahayan, a monastery in Trang Province, has issued a cryptocurrency called Somdejcoin with more than 66 million tokens available for purchase at an as-yet-unspecified rate.
Wat Pa Mahayan, a monastery in Trang Province, has issued a cryptocurrency called Somdejcoin with more than 66 million tokens available for purchase at an as-yet-unspecified rate.

A Buddhist temple’s decision to issue its own cryptocurrency has sparked concerns among financial regulators about monks finding another way to deceive worshippers for financial gain.

Wat Pa Mahayan, a monastery in Trang Province, has issued a cryptocurrency called Somdejcoin with more than 66 million tokens available for purchase at an as-yet-unspecified rate.

The temple has named its currency after Somdet Phra Buddhacaryaa, a Buddhist monk who lived in the 19th century and is still widely revered as a saintly man and miracle worker.

On its website for the tokens, the temple explains in poor English that it has created the cryptocurrency using blockchain technology “so that Thai people and people around the world have access to the world’s first digital coin Somdej. Based on the history of Thais and Asians with long-standing culture.”

“Somdejcoin has been produced in a limited quantity worldwide, only 66,186,727 million tokens, equal to the population of people in Thailand in 2020,” the website said, offering an erroneous number for the country’s population, which stands at about 70 million.

“The creators want Thai people to have the opportunity to collect commemorative coins and have access to digital Somdejcoin coins. At least one token for each person as a souvenir that can be a world heritage site for future generations,” it added.

However, in a statement late last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission warned traders and interested buyers against investing in the temple’s currency, saying it remained unclear how financially sound the coins were.

Many people have taken to social media to allege that the cryptocurrency was a fraudulent means of getting people to send money to the temple and enrich people behind the scheme.

“Yet another scam by the temples and because they use the name of a revered monk Thais will fall for this scam,” one commenter argued. “They have nothing to do with religion — everything is about making money from gullible Thais.”

Many of Thailand’s more than 40,000 Buddhist temples have been known to engage in dubious practices by offering worshippers various get-rich-quick schemes or the hope of winning the lottery by supernatural means.

Wat Chedi, a temple in southern Thailand, has in recent years become a draw for millions who have been flocking to the Buddhist sanctuary to present votive offerings to the statue of a boy in the hope of winning the lottery.

The 10-year-old boy is believed to have been an assistant of a revered monk who lived in the 17th century until he drowned in a river and turned into a potent spirit who grants his worshippers their wish.

Last year the monastery, which has been the locus of a cottage industry catering to visitors from across the country, started selling amulets printed with the boy’s image.

However, skeptics, including Thai monks, have decried the veneration of the boy’s statue in the hope of financial gain as a misunderstanding of Buddhist teachings.

A Buddhist temple “should be a place where we can seek peace of mind and find a path to purify ourselves,” a commentator in Bangkok observed.

“Even though the Buddha never told us to say no to wealth, he taught us to believe in our potential to acquire it through decent means.”

The original version of this story appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.