Thai Monk Cuts Off His Own Head in Hopes of Reincarnation as Higher Being

The act has shocked the Buddhist community, which said it did not align with teachings.
April 21, 2021, 12:37pm
Buddhist temple Bangkok
The roof of a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. For illustration purposes only. Photo: Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

An elderly Thai monk decapitated himself with a homemade device in a grisly death aimed at reincarnating as a higher being, an official confirmed to VICE World News on Wednesday. The extreme act has shaken the Buddhist community and sparked an investigation.

Dhammakorn Wangphrecha rose before dawn on the morning of April 15 at a sleepy temple in northeastern Thailand, where his followers helped him prepare the macabre ritual, which was finished by sunrise.

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He apparently believed sacrificing his life would bring him merit, and that he would come back as a higher being or even a Buddha. 

But the incident has left a wave of shock and sadness within Buddhist-majority Thailand. Prominent monks have publicly rejected it. Others feel that Dhammakorn misinterpreted texts and adopted a radical form of belief that only ended in tragedy.

An official working on the case for Thailand’s National Buddhism Office said Dhammakorn was 68 years old and the former abbot at the monastery. Speaking to VICE World News on the condition of anonymity, he said the ex-abbot’s rationale was not in accordance with contemporary Buddhist teachings.

“This is all from personal belief,” he said, adding that there’s been a “negative response” on social media and within the Buddhist community regarding the act.

He went on to say that this is the first self-decapitation of a monk in modern Thailand, but that there have been reports of similar acts in eras in the distant past, and even then they were rare.

It had been planned for at least five years, Dhammakorn’s followers told local reporters.

The temple also displayed a large statue of a deity holding his own head as an offering, an image used widely in Thai media. The ritual was performed close to the fixture. The National Buddhism Office said that Dhammakorn had been teaching his followers that self-decapitation could grant enlightenment. 

After Dhammakorn’s body was found, forensic teams searched the temple. It is unclear if anyone will face charges in connection with the monk’s death, though police are now reportedly investigating. Temple members and volunteers helped prepare the body for a traditional Buddhist funeral.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.