many [...] lament the state of Thai Buddhism as being corrupt, power hungry [...] A series of scandals has turned up recently, including senior monks sexually abusing their novices. Many monks have been accused of the commercialization of the faith including fraudulent fund-raising. Between accepting donations and chanting ancient Pali incantations that many in the congregation don’t understand, the monks thumb at their cell phones or ask their personal attendants to grab them refreshments.
Corruption within the Thai clergy has not been an uncommon or even recent phenomenon. In 1999, The Associated Press carried a story stating: “At its core, Buddhism is a religion that teaches the renunciation of desire for material comforts is the way to relieve suffering and find the path to wisdom. But instead of shunning material comforts, some senior monks live in plush quarters and drive Mercedes Benzes.”
This is why I personally believe it is important to have a healthy skepticism of organized religion. I am a very happy and devoted Buddhist, but I don't believe everything taught by organized Buddhism, or any religion. In the end, no organization can do the work for us. No amount of "blessings" or donations can help us in those quiet moments alone when our ego declares war upon our peace of mind. While I am thankful for temples and monasteries, we are on our own.
I find that freeing because it empowers us to directly impact our lives without relying so much upon imperfect organizations and leaders. People will disappoint us and lead us astray if we put all our faith in them alone. There is definitely a place for temples and monasteries, but for me, direct experience is where the progress happens. Amulets can not prevent bad things from happening in our life, but the purpose of Buddhism is to teach us methods of behaving that enable us to experience the inevitable pains of life with less mental anguish.
As for the money involved in these corrupt temples, I believe in dana, or donating, but the Dharma is not for sale. The idea of making money off donations beyond caring for the basic needs of monks and their temples is shockingly antithetical to the dharma. Monks driving around in Mercedes Benzes corrupts the dharma to nothing other than a business gimmick. No one expects monks to be perfect but they set the example for novice Buddhists. They are the caretakers of the dharma who are supposed to best embody Buddha's work. They represent what is possible when the Buddha's methods are practiced on a regular basis. They are the teachers who pass on the knowledge of finding the path to true spiritual freedom.
There is, however, the tendency to deify monks on the other extreme. This is why I have a healthy dose of skepticism of organized religion. It's not that the Dharma is flawed but that we humans are flawed, so putting all our trust in any human being is falling into the trap of delusional thinking, which is one of the three poisons that Buddha taught create suffering. After all the teaching, chanting and reading, no one can walk the thorny path of samsara for us, and it can not be any other way.
There are no short-cuts. We can believe that trinkets and donations will ease our suffering but they merely distract us, so when the delusion wears off, we're back in our hole of suffering. In the end, it's up to us to put one foot in front of the other and climb the steps toward realizing enlightenment. We can walk with friends and guides for a time but they can not carry us to liberation because the path to enlightenment isn't a physical journey. It's a journey of the mind.
Being carried the whole way could never work because our mind is where the problem rests and if you don't fix the mind first then you're simply trying to drain water out of a boat before fixing the leak first!! Trying to fix the mind through charms is like trying to heal a broken bone by reading the doctor's manual on how to heal broken bones aloud to the damaged leg hoping that alone would cure the problem. Thus, for me, my practice is a balance of following experienced, Buddhist, teachers while continuing to think for myself and use common sense. In the end, isn't balance the middle-path that Buddha taught?
~i bow to the buddha within all beings~