With actress-turned-lawyer Mary Jean Reimer striking again in London, forcing an impostor soliciting donations to disrobe on the spot, we reveal six ways you can tell a real Buddhist monk from a fake one.
An actress-turned-lawyer who launched a crusade to expose fake monks has struck again. This time she confronted an impostor soliciting donations in London, who she cornered and forced to disrobe on the street. The man vowed to convert to Buddhism on the spot.
In 2015, Mary Jean Reimer accused Sik Chi-ding, the abbess of Ting Wai Monastery in Hong Kong’s Tai Po district, of pocketing millions of Hong Kong dollars in donations, and of sham marriages with two monks for residency purposes. The nun and a monk were later arrested on suspicion of engaging in a bogus marriage.
A practising Buddhist who used to sit on the board of Ting Wai Monastery, Reimer was in London ahead of a meditation retreat she will attend in June in Hertfordshire, just north of the British capital. She ran into a Chinese man wearing a brown monk’s cassock soliciting donations in Tottenham in north London.
With a friend videoing her, Reimer stopped someone who was in the act of making a donation to the man and asked him to produce his jiedie (a certificate of ordination as a Buddhist monk issued by the Chinese government). The man produced a piece of paper resembling an amulet instead. Then she asked him to follow her in reciting Buddhist incantations.
She threatened to call the police and made the man give her his passport and disrobe on the spot. Imploring her to let him go, the man, surnamed Chen, eventually told her he would make amends and convert to Buddhism.
“To attain enlightenment, Buddhist followers have to possess wisdom, compassion and not have a divisive heart. I want to restore Buddhism to its primordial state which doesn’t contain divergent sects.”
Though she won a civil court case against Ting Wai Monastery in Tai Po, with the court ordering its winding-up last November, she says she is still reeling from the episode.
“I had to sell assets to pay the huge bill [for the court case]. I only repaid all my debts in March. My health has worsened a lot,” Reimer says.
“[But] my actions have won kudos from many monks. The public has also been emboldened to take issue with [monks’ deviant behaviour].”
Six ways to tell whether a monk is real or fake
- In general, monks from real temples do not solicit money on the streets (though a Mahayana monk may solicit donations to cover the costs of his travel).
- Anyone holding a monk’s bowl to solicit money on the streets is fake, as the bowl is only for food in Buddhism.
- Anyone who hustles on the street selling amulets and other fortune-telling products such as paper medallions or bead bracelets is fake.
- Buddhist rules forbid monks from engaging in geomancy, face or palm reading, or any activities related to feng shui.
- Real monks do not act aggressively, and would happily offer blessings without asking for anything in return.
- Genuine monks will be willing to answer questions about which temple they belong to and Buddhism in general (such as about the Five Precepts), and recite Buddhist incantations.