Groups of monks have overtaken the world’s tourist hotspots. However, these monks are nothing more than panhandlers. They may look like monks, right down to their shaved head and orange robes, but it is all a ruse to con people out of their money.
They can often be found at popular tourist attractions. Their approach is consistent — a man, and on occasion, a woman, dressed in an orange or brown robe asks for donations for a temple, sometimes in exchange for peace offerings in the form of a shiny amulet or beaded bracelet.
Working in teams, the phony monks take shifts and panhandle for a short period of time before disappearing until another takes over. They also can be persistent if their demands are refused or if they don’t think the donation is large enough.
The British media has reported extensively on the situation. Faux monks are often seen at major London tourist attractions, such as the Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square, thrusting a golden amulet into the hands of tourists before insisting that they pay up. In other cases, tourists are asked to fill out a form with their name and the amount they would like to donate to a temple in Thailand. However, there is no temple in Thailand.
The problem is not just relegated to London. Reports of this type of panhandling began surfacing around 2012, and over the years there have been an increasing number of news stories about the impostors in China, Canada, Australia, Japan, and the U.S.
In New York City, bogus monks can be seen at major tourist destinations, including Times Square and The High Line park. The problem has become so serious along The High Line Park, that Friends of The High Line put out a statement asking visitors to report this particular brand of “aggressive panhandling.”
Buddhist leaders in New York City have also come out to warn people against these individuals, and to advise them that they are not true Buddhists. The Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, president of the Buddhist Council of New York, told the Associated Press:
“The problem seems to be increasing. They are very aggressive and hostile if you don’t give them money.”
Buddhists see the act of the aggressive panhandling by monks as disrespectful. Traditionally, authentic monks may be seen carrying a “beggar’s bowl” to receive gifts of food and money, but they would never aggressively beg for money. If you see a fake monk panhandling, you can register a complaint with the local police.
This story was translated by Yi Ming and edited by Kathy McWilliams.