Monks face pressure of foreign competition
Income from prayer sessions down as foreign monks charge lower rate
Some monks here are feeling the heat of competition provided by their foreign counterparts.
In particular, the local monks claim that foreign monks, who are mostly from China and Malaysia, are undercutting them by charging up to 50 per cent less for prayer sessions conducted at funeral wakes.
Mr Ang Juat Chong, 59, a Singaporean who has been a Buddhist monk for the last 18 years, said his monthly income has gone down by as much as 70 per cent in the last two years because of this.
'Local monks charge about $1,200 to do Buddhist rites at funeral wakes, but these foreign monks charge only $600 or $700. So of course, funeral parlours will prefer to hire them,' he told The Straits Times yesterday.
He also suggested that some of these monks are not supposed to be chanting prayers at these wakes.
He said he knows of at least one 'monk' from Malaysia who is here on a work permit and supposed to be working as a salesman.
He added that there are real monks who are here on work permits that state they are doing religious work. But, he claimed, that permit does not allow them to be hired by funeral operators to chant prayers at wakes.
Mr Ang, who is based at a temple in Lorong 7, Geylang, said he has approached the authorities about this and also saw Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong about it.
Mr Yaw mentioned the meeting in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Other Buddhist monks said they have also noticed an influx of foreign monks in recent years.
Reverend Ru Hong, 55, of Guat Hoon Vegetarian temple in Kembangan, estimated that more than half of all monks here are foreigners, up from about 30 per cent two or three years ago.
He, too, claimed that while some of these foreign monks are real monks at home, they are being hired out to chant at wakes here despite being on other forms of work passes or even social visit passes.
Rev Ru Hong, who has been holding prayer sessions at funerals and other ceremonies for more than 10 years, added that these monks are mostly hired to do prayers by middlemen such as undertakers.
But he added that his takings have not been affected.
Mr K.C. Low, 61, who is from a Buddhist temple in Rangoon Road, said his income has dropped by at least 30 per cent in the past five years.
'The foreign monks are cornering the market, and from what I heard, some of them are willing to do prayers for just $200 or $300,' he said.
Mr Z. Chin, 63, who took to the cloth a decade ago and is based in a Buddhist temple in Geylang, said that some months go by without him getting called to conduct a single prayer session at funeral wakes.
Three or four years ago, he would do around three sessions every month.
The influx of monks is especially high during the Seventh Month Hungry Ghost period, said the disgruntled monks.
Mr Ang estimated that at least 100 such foreign monks operate here during this period because of the higher volume of prayers and other ceremonies.
While foreign monks may offer cheaper rates, Reverend Sek noted that they may not be familiar with local customs or praying procedures.
Still, Mr Calvin Tang, 35, an undertaker with Singapore Casket, said Singaporean families normally 'won't know the difference even though the foreign monks chant in a different way from local ones'.
Rev Ru Hong said local Buddhist monks go through a head-shaving ceremony witnessed by three senior monks in a monastery.
They also have a booklet that certifies that they have learnt all the rules and procedures and have vowed to abide by them, and this booklet is given out by temples.