Abbot's plan to build Shaolin hub sunk by civil suit

He had wanted to build a Buddhist temple not only for worshippers, but also to promote the Shaolin temple legacy and martial arts culture that could draw tourists.

The chief priest of a Shaolin sect, Venerable Meow Di, had planned to put in a $3 million to $4 million bid for an HDB land parcel in Punggol for this purpose. But the High Court civil suit that started three years ago alleging that he had pinched $1.4 million from a casino investor intended for a third party put off potential project sponsors.

"If this case hadn't happened, the money would have come," he told The Straits Times.

Ven Meow Di, 45, was cleared by Justice Tay Yong Kwang two weeks ago as the evidence showed that he did hand over the money to the third party, business consultant William Tan.

Ven Meow Di said his role was to travel to Cambodia to meet Mr Tan with the money in return for a donation to his temple.

But the court outcome came too late for a rally, and the tender deadline passed on Tuesday without his bid. He had thought the 2,000 sq m site at Sumang Walk, facing the Punggol Reservoir, an ideal spot for a $25 million one-stop Buddhist hub.

"Here, tourists can immerse themselves in the Shaolin way of life through meditation, Buddhist culture, traditional Shaolin wellness therapies as well as martial arts performances by the temple's Shaolin's monks," he said. The HDB on Tuesday received two tenders from the Kalyanamitta Centre Singapore and the Bliss & Wisdom Society Singapore for $3.9 million and $3.8 million respectively.

Ven Meow Di, who operated from the Mei Feng Fo Xin Buddhist Temple at Lorong 27 Geylang, is the abbot to four Buddhist groups here. He is also a chief instructor and adviser to several Shaolin martial arts groups and lion and dragon dance groups.

"He has helped many teens like me stay off gangs through teaching martial arts to bring us together," said temple volunteer Eric Tan, 30.

"We try to give them a new good life and the right way," said the sports-loving abbot.

He said he was a sickly child who was placed by his grandmother under the tutelage of the legendary Abbot Hong Choon of the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See temple. He went on to study in Taiwan and China, acquiring knowledge in acupuncture and Shaolin martial arts.

After the court suit erupted, " all the temple supporters ran away and they looked through me like a ghost", he said, with a trace of sadness.

He said the temple's annual turnover of about $1 million from devotees and supporters dried up.

"We had to borrow money and sell some of our vehicles used for our martial arts groups to stay afloat," he said, through an interpreter.

Ven Meow Di said he remained "stable" over the three years because he had done nothing wrong.

But it has taken its toll. Even as he mulls over future plans for the temple, he said: " I want to hide myself from the martial arts world, I am tired and want to live the life of a monk. I tried to teach good to those who learn martial arts, but now I have no strength to continue."

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