Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Anagarika » Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:04 am

Yet, just because we were Westerners, many people including monks assumed that we were there for sex tourism.


The above statement is in my view a bit unfair. I've spent a fair amount of time in Lanna Thailand and know Chiang Mai fairly well. I am a discount card holder with John's Place, if anyone catches my drift.... :toast: Met a number of good, and some noble and outstanding, monks and novices and have had the great fortune myself to live and train at a Wat and temporarily ordain in northern Chiang Mai region.

In any case, Chiang Mai is replete with western foreign students, farang businesspeople, many, many farang tourists looking not for sex but for elephants, etc. One sees husbands traveling with wives and kids in Chiang Mai. The idea that the Chiang Mai Bhikkhus perceives a farang in a white Nehru suit with beads as as a sex tourist seems a bit of an overreach. It might have been the white suit /robes and beads that threw them for a loop. :)

To get back to the main topic, it's ironic that at a time when the role of the Wats and the Bhikkhus is being questioned is precisely the time when the Dhamma is going to be so necessary for Thai life. One day, there may be more Tescos in Thailand than functioning wats.....at that point, it really does fall to the more progressive elements of the Thai Sangha to develop a plan to rescue the Thai populace from the commercialism and greed, and outright delusion that we see here in the US.
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby GraemeR » Thu Jan 17, 2013 11:51 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:
<snip>
To get back to the main topic, it's ironic that at a time when the role of the Wats and the Bhikkhus is being questioned is precisely the time when the Dhamma is going to be so necessary for Thai life. One day, there may be more Tescos in Thailand than functioning wats.....at that point, it really does fall to the more progressive elements of the Thai Sangha to develop a plan to rescue the Thai populace from the commercialism and greed, and outright delusion that we see here in the US.


Dear BuddhaSoup.

I think we have more 7/11 stores than Wats already :)

Nothing is permanent and things need to change.

Unfortunately people are are loosing respect for the Sangha, I know older people who won't wai :anjali: to monks any more as they don't respect them. When we had monks visit my school (sitting around waiting for their food playing with their smart phones) someone called them unemployed with the latest phones coming to be fed.

Of course there are good temples and good monks, but people remember the bad examples and it's to easy to paint everyone with the same brush, Thais do tend to do this too! Luckily I live away from tourist areas, but many Thais get a strange perspective of foreigners from those they see in some places.

Quite how the Sangha can change to meet the needs of the young, well I really don't know.

With metta

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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby gavesako » Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:22 am

Will Thai luck ever run out?
Thailand's culture is a passive and superstitious one that relies on faith, fate and sheer luck, with the ingrained belief that things will always turn out just fine. After all, karma dictates our destiny, and we bribe her quite well. So mai pen rai.
Make donations/offerings at the temple. Hang garlands at the shrine and say a prayer. Rearrange the feng shui of our home and office. We also wear 15 amulets around our neck for good measure.
If the monks of Thailand ride around in Mercedes Benzes and use the latest gadgets and software, it is only because of the Thai people's obsession with making donations to appease karma into providing many happy returns.
Just think - if we actually rethink, reform and re-engineer, if we actually plan and prepare and make changes, then together with luck, fate and faith, we might actually be able to rise from the mediocre to become the magnificent.
Perhaps if I buy a monk an iPhone 5 on behalf of the country, karma will realise this dream for us. ...

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opin ... er-run-out
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby gavesako » Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:22 pm

Analysis of Thai Buddhism crisis today:

Is the Thai tradition of Buddhism on the decline?


Imagine a picture of Thailand and you might well come up with a scene of beautiful scenery and the Buddhist monks that are seen all over the country. Yet that might soon change. Numbers of those in the monkhood are a quarter of what they were twenty years ago; even those serving today don't know if they will continue in the long term. The decline is being blamed on modernity and materialism, with the Thai people increasingly turning away from traditional religious practises.

http://www.france24.com/en/20130123-201 ... b-en-focus
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Anagarika » Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:39 pm

I feel the story made the point well that it's not Buddhism that people are turning away from, but the hypocrisy of the Thai Sangha. As Thailand turns further toward consumerism, and away from their traditional religion, they are going to need more Dhamma, and not less. The key it seems to me is to give the people what they need: an authentic Dhamma If this means using marketing and media campaigns, then so be it.

I've met many, many good and ethical Thai monks so I am not generalizing in the extreme. It may be that the noble and ethical Bhikkhus are marginalized by a Thai Sangha hierarchy that values prestige and art collecting over meditation and the lessons of the suttas. The Thai people need to get to know these good monks and perhaps there will develop ways for the good Bhikkhus to attract a following through media vs. the leadership of the stifling Thai Sangha; ....these good Bhikkhus could learn to become the "Ajahn Brahms of Thailand"

Thailand is going to need them, just as the West does now. Of that, we can be sure. The Dhamma will never go out of style or need.
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby gavesako » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:02 pm

I am not really sure where they have got their figures from but this table shows a significantly higher figure:

http://www.onab.go.th/DataMonk/Monk54.pdf

It is of course 3 years old now but if correct would make the figure mentioned in the report (70 thousand) look rather unlikely. Perhaps the more optimistic figures are collected during the Vassa whereas the less optimistic figures reflect the empty temples in many villages (as I have seen especially in northern Thailand) outside of the Vassa.

There are already several very popular Thai monks who are widely admired and respected and appear often on TV and in social media. But they exist outside of the official Sangha hierarchy and present an alternative to it.
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Anagarika » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:34 pm

gavesako wrote: There are already several very popular Thai monks who are widely admired and respected and appear often on TV and in social media. But they exist outside of the official Sangha hierarchy and present an alternative to it.


Bhante, I am hoping that this will be one way forward for Buddhadhamma for the Thai people.
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Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby GraemeR » Sat Jan 26, 2013 1:26 am

gavesako wrote: There are already several very popular Thai monks who are widely admired and respected and appear often on TV and in social media. But they exist outside of the official Sangha hierarchy and present an alternative to it.


This is quite sad in some ways.

It's the young people who I feel sorry for. :coffee:

There is a good Dhamma radio station and there is a lot of teaching that can be download free as mp3s or pdf books. But these don't appeal to the young. TV and social media are how to attract them.

Unfortunately most young people seem to have more interest in ghosts and superstition than in Buddhism and the though of doing meditation ... :zzz:

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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby gavesako » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:01 am

Indeed, as yet another article describes the situation:

The Crisis in Thai Buddhism
Written by Cod Satrusayang
FRIDAY, 01 FEBRUARY 2013

If Thai Buddhism has been corrupted and lost its way, as critics are alleging, you would never know it by talking to Mod and her friends, whose devotion keeps them making merit and seeking solace at Wat Tha Mai, one of Bangkok's scores of Buddhist temples, every weekend.

It's still morning but the heat in Bangkok is already oppressive. Yet that doesn't seem to deter large numbers of worshipers from turning up at Wat Tha Mai on their day off from work. The smell of incense and smoke are part of a palpable, chaotic atmosphere as people mill about, determined to donate their way into the good graces of some higher power.

Mod - her nickname means "Ant" in Thai - is typical of the people who come to the temple. An accountant in a prestigious international firm, she has come this morning to make merit so that "things might be better as it had been a rough start to the New Year."

As Mod darts from one donation box to the next she pauses to slip Bt100 (US$3.35) into a box placed before a statue of the elephant god Ganesha. When pressed on the significance of the Hindu deity in a Buddhist temple, she struggles to place him in a Buddhist context but agrees with her friends nevertheless that he is holy and we should not question such mystical things. Ganesh is actually a central figure in Hinduism who broke off his right tusk to use as a quill to write the Mahabharata and subsequently the Baghavad Gita.

Mod's experience that morning is emblematic of the admixture that is Thai Buddhism - made up of equal parts animism, Buddhism, Hinduism and plain superstition. But many, including the group known as the Forest Monasteries, lament the state of Thai Buddhism as being corrupt, power hungry and as dirty as the rest of the country. A series of scandals has turned up recently, including senior monks sexually abusing their novices. Many monks have been accused of the commercialization of the faith including fraudulent fundraising.

The Thai Forest monks are known for their orthodoxy, conservatism, and asceticism. They model their practice and lifestyle on those of the Buddha himself and his early disciples, keeping alive the practices of the historical Buddha, who frequently dwelt in forests, both during his spiritual quest and afterwards.

"How can we hope to have a good country when not even the religion is pure?" a member of the group told Asia Sentinel. "Some of what these monasteries are teaching is not even real Buddhism!"

At the central building in the temple where Mod worships, people have been waiting since before dawn to get their time before the abbot. Many have come from far and wide with various requests and ailments. Some pay with whatever meagre savings they have for the chance that some miracle might cure their ailing son, daughters, mothers and fathers. Others are willing to drop seven-figure donations to get what they want.

Between accepting donations and chanting ancient Pali incantations that many in the congregation don't not understand, the monks thumb at their cell phones or ask their personal attendants to grab them refreshments.

Corruption within the Thai clergy has not been an uncommon or even recent phenomenon. In 1999, the Associated Press carried a story stating: "At its core, Buddhism is a religion that teaches the renunciation of desire for material comforts is the way to relieve suffering and find the path to wisdom. But instead of shunning material comforts, some senior monks live in plush quarters and drive Mercedes Benzes."

Blessing public buildings - and even the occasional airplane - by throwing water on them in return for donations is not a part of Forest Monasteries religious practice. It occurs nowhere in the Tripitaka, the sacred Buddhist texts.

While real Buddhism might be a theological debate best reserved for another time, Thailand has caught the global headlines with a few unique Buddhism-related stories. The first came on the heels of the death of Apple mogul Steve Jobs when the Dhammakaya sect made a special television broadcast and claimed they have found his soul and presence in heaven.

They later went on to claim that Jobs had been reincarnated as a "divine being with special knowledge and appreciation for science and arts in some Utopia. In this Utopia he is around 35-40 years old with a head full of hair. He serves a role as a mid-level warrior philosophy and lives in a celestial palace."

It should be noted that the Dhammakaya sect is one of the fastest growing groups in Thailand and currently holds widespread public appeal. Its supporters number in the hundreds of thousands and it has temples around the country and the world.

The Steve Jobs story is not the only one that has gained international recognition. Every year millions of Thais buy lucky charms and amulets that are supposed to help in their everyday life. One story that garnered international press was the presence of amulets and tattoos blessed by monks, which hold special properties such as rendering the wearer bulletproof.

Many swear by the amulets, with some even claiming to have witnessed such tests first-hands. But when pressed to offer more proof the seller told this writer that it was illegal to try it out on people although he has many eyewitness friends. An independent test a few years ago by a reporter resulted in a very dead chicken with the vendor then claiming it only works on humans.

Regardless, these amulets and tattoos are amazingly profitable with bulletproof ones going for as high as Bt300,000 or around $10,000 US Dollars.

But while the international headlines may focus on the sensational aspects of Thai Buddhism the local Sangha, or supreme council, has come under increased scrutiny and criticism after a period of sex and corruption scandals. Under Buddhist canon, monks are not allowed to engage in sexual relations because it brings with it attachment and desire which leads to suffering.

Local Buddhism has even taken a page out of the Catholic playbook recently with several monks embroiled in legal battles for having abused their novices.

And while many Thais feel disillusioned about the way some of the Sangha has behaved many are reluctant to speak out. It is taboo in Thai culture to do so. Mod articulates this point.

"We were taught from a very young age that it is okay to not believe but it is not okay to disrespect. While we may not approve of certain things that monks do, they do not represent our religion as a whole. We are Buddhists and we know what we believe."

As she makes her way with her friends to the central building where she will queue with countless other people looking to make their fortune through the purification of their karma, that point has never been clearer.

(Cod Satrusayang is a Bangkok-based freelance journalist)

http://asiasentinel.com/index.php?optio ... Itemid=189
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby rohana » Sat Feb 16, 2013 1:33 am

I think, in traditionally Buddhist societies, there are always a small minority of lay people who are serious practitioners, while the majority are just interested in making a bit of merit.

But my guess is it would extend to the monastic community as well. (I'm writing based on my experience of Sri Lankan Buddhism here, and assuming - based on what I've read - that Thai Buddhism is not too different, so I could be completely wrong.) The reason is that most monks are ordained rather young, so essentially the pool of candidates that have been selected for the monastic order is not different from just selecting a random subset from the laity. So in the Sangha, we have a small group which are genuinely interested in serious practice, while the majority are just going through the motions. And as economies prosper and hardships decline, for the majority of monks, along with the laity, there's even less reason to bother even with going through the motions(why bother with a heavenly birth when you can experience plenty of sensual pleasures here and now?). In the long run, if the majority of the lay community are not seriously interested in the doctrine, there's little the Sangha can do. If you don't have some amount of natural interest for serious practice to start with - either that interest is something you always had from birth or developed after some harsh suffering - then you can't be coerced to cultivate sīla, samādhi and paññā. The doctrine of the Ṭathāgatha requires a willing disciple to practice.

In the West of course, people who decide convert to Buddhism (i.e. those for whom it wasn't their cultural heritage) would be serious practitioners for the most part, otherwise they wouldn't bother to convert to a minority religion at all.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby iforgotmyname » Sat Mar 09, 2013 4:55 pm

Let me tell you the same is true in Sri Lanka. Doesn't mean every monk is like that - but those who get all the attention (thanks to politics) tend to be the type of monk this article describes.
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Nyorai » Mon Mar 11, 2013 2:41 am

gavesako wrote:Perhaps centers like this -- an oasis of spirituality and peace in the middle of Bangkok -- are an answer to the problem:

A Taste of Buddhism


http://www.bangkok101.com/2012/12/06/a- ... n-rot-fai/

A center in Bangkok for both monks / nuns is a good recommendation. And this center ought to be an institution for Theravada studies / lesson / dharma talks accessible to laybuddhists. It ought to have a simple standard method of meditation hall for all schools to facilitate gradual focus of mind and into attainment. Hope this center will be a reality for everlasting common peace & bliss. metta :anjali:
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby gavesako » Thu Jun 27, 2013 10:24 am

This month the Thai media has been full of reports highlighting the inappropriate behaviour of the monks as captured on photographs and videos. Especially Thai monks going abroad (which the Mahathera Council tries to control but with little success) tend to lose restraint and freely spend the money which they get from laypeople:
:broke:

Nothing new about monks living it up

Monks living in a cocoon of luxury is not news. Just drop by the dwellings of any elders in the clergy to see how they live. Monks owning or commuting in luxury cars is not news either.
by Sanitsuda Ekachai
http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opin ... ving-it-up


Thailand cracks down on monks living it up with luxuries


YouTube video of Buddhist monk sporting stylish aviator sunglasses and wireless headphones on a private jet prompts complaints. An administrative officer at Khantitham temple in Sisaket province, confirmed to AP that the monks on the private plane lived at the temple but refused to give details about the trip.
"We can explain this, but not now," she said, saying that the abbot, who appeared in the video, is currently on a religious tour in France.
The images from the video contrasted with the abbot's message on the temple's homepage that read: "The true core of those who preach Buddha's teachings is to not own any objects at all."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/ju ... s-luxuries


It seems that the net around Luang Pu Nenkham is getting tighter:

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/nationa ... 08841.html
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/nationa ... 09116.html


These Dhammayut 'missionary' monks in America are nothing out of the ordinary, really:

The National Office of Buddhism has strongly criticised a group of monks who were photographed while apparently "out shopping" in the United States.
Two monks check out smart phones at a shop in the US. (Facebook photo)
Nopparat Benjawatananun, director-general of the National Office of Buddhism, rebuked such conduct after several photographs circulated through the internet on Tuesday, showing six Thai monks checking out brand-name products and smartphones, queuing to buy coffee, and dining at a steakhouse in the US.
"These activities should not be carried out by monks because they are indecent and not composed," Mr Nopparat said.
He said the activities were not serious offences. The country's administration of Buddhism will determine actions to be taken against the monks in the photos. Members of the National Office of Buddhism and the Sangha Supreme Council will meet on Friday to discuss the matter.
"If a monk repeatedly misbehaves and it has become a habit, the National Office of Buddhism may consider imposing a severe penalty on him, which means forcing him to leave monkhood," Mr Nopparat said.
http://bangkokpost.com/news/local/35703 ... criticised


A good analysis by Saksith Saiyasombut:

Thailand’s materialistic monks pose worldly problems
http://asiancorrespondent.com/109562/th ... -problems/
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Thanavuddho » Thu Jun 27, 2013 11:04 am

Greetings,

GraemeR wrote:
Young monks want the use of technology, such as smart phones which their friends have. You can see them sending IMs to their friends outside their temples. Some have WiFi.

Thais love Temples to look big and colourful, the bigger, more golden statues the better. Personally I would rather give money for sanitation or education.

Forest Temples still maintain simple Buddhist teaching and practices, but I generally avoid urban temples because of the commercial aspects.

People are slowly loosing respect for monks who are seen behaving badly: smoking in Temples, asking for money etc plus the all too common scandals). Unfortunately as the urban monasteries seem to be the worst, they are seen the most. There are real gems, but rotten apples too.

Graham


What's the big deal with smoking? One monk told me yesterday that Sri Lankan Buddhist don't care if you eat at night or have committed a parajika offence, but they do care about smoking. I don't see the Internet as a big problem, either. If the number of monks is declining and the religion is in a bad state, so what? We can let the rotten part drop off naturally and see if anything genuine remains.

Metta,
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Anagarika » Thu Jun 27, 2013 12:14 pm

If the number of monks is declining and the religion is in a bad state, so what? We can let the rotten part drop off naturally and see if anything genuine remains.


However, we can just let the apples with the fungus infect the other apples in the barrel, and soon the entire barrel is spoiled.

It falls to the Thai Sangha to crack down on these rogue monks. By doing so, some truly bad monks will be disrobed, and possibly the Thai young people will have some sense that when they pass a Bhikkhu on the street, he is deserving of a wai.

I'd also like to see more support in Thailand for Bhikkhunis. There are so many good Bhikkhus, especially in the smaller towns and forest areas, and in the Wats that train monks from the west. It may fall to the Bhikkhunis in the cities to set a standard, and crack the whip a bit at lazy and greedy young novices and monks. I have a sense that some women who ordain might carry a bit more discipline, and not be so drawn to some of the commercial attachments that young male monks might be. I'm stereotyping, but only to make a point. With some changes, the Thai Sangha could inspire more trust in the young laity, which will enable the Dhamma to thrive. The Dhamma, like medicine, is going to be needed for an increasingly sick commercialized Thai society. I'd hate to see Thai young people turn out like many in the US, where they get a big helping of selfishness, greed, anger and delusion with their morning coffee each day.
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Coyote » Thu Jun 27, 2013 12:47 pm

For those who know about Buddhism in Thailand: Are the Patimokkha seen as relevant to monastics and lay people in Thailand, or are they thought of as old rules that are no longer needed (in the mainstream)? Are those who abandon them seen as modernising in any way? It could be that this is the reason behind a lot of the offences.
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Iti 26
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby Anagarika » Thu Jun 27, 2013 12:58 pm

Coyote wrote:For those who know about Buddhism in Thailand: Are the Patimokkha seen as relevant to monastics and lay people in Thailand, or are they thought of as old rules that are no longer needed (in the mainstream)? Are those who abandon them seen as modernising in any way? It could be that this is the reason behind a lot of the offences.


Coyote, the Patimokkha are recited and are still expected to be followed in Thai Wats, at least the one I lived at. The erosion of the Bhikkhus precepts starts at the top...if the abbot is seen with women, or is seen driving his own Mercedes,what effect does that have on the young monks and their respect for the precepts? No, the monastic vows are still very much in place, and I would argue that as the world becomes more modern, that much more are the full precepts needed.
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Re: Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle to Stay Relevant

Postby GraemeR » Sun Jun 30, 2013 10:20 am

Thanavuddho wrote:Greetings,

What's the big deal with smoking? One monk told me yesterday that Sri Lankan Buddhist don't care if you eat at night or have committed a parajika offence, but they do care about smoking. I don't see the Internet as a big problem, either. If the number of monks is declining and the religion is in a bad state, so what? We can let the rotten part drop off naturally and see if anything genuine remains.

Metta,
Thanavuddho


But what if the good bit continues to drop off and the rotten bit remains? :toilet:

With metta

Graham
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