Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a Buddhist temple of humongous size in Khlong Luang District, 16 kilometers north of Bangkok International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. It is the center of the controversial Dhammakaya Movement, a Buddhist sect founded in the 1970s, that has been attacked for its unconventional religious teachings and commercialization of Buddhism. The unorthodox $1billion religious monument looks more like a spaceship, or a sports stadium or even a UFO rather than resembling a traditional Thai temple.
At the center of the structure is a huge dome (the Dhammakaya Cetiya) covered with 300,000 gold-coated bronze statues of Buddha — another 700,000 are nestled inside the temple. The golden dome is the Memorial Hall of the sect’s founder, Phramonkolthepmuni. This is surrounded by a massive circular concrete platform which functions as the Meditation Amphitheatre. The entire complex is located on a thousand-acres piece of land.
Mass rituals and meditations are held everyday, helped by thousands of volunteers. During Sundays and major religious festivals, nearly 100,000 worshippers congregate at the complex. Already a community of 3,000 monks, novices, laymen and laywomen live within Wat Phra Dhammakaya making it the largest temple in Thailand in terms of inhabitants.
Despite outlandish ceremonies and national coverage of these events through television channels, Dhammakaya has managed to keep under the world’s radar. The four-decade old religious cult has only recently scaled up to a spectacle that it’s now, with a two-week nationwide retreat held on Dec. 25, 2010, where an estimated 200,000 people attended.