Sambojjhanga wrote:I'm curious why so many people seem to have an affinity for the Thai Forest Tradition? I have a great affinity for this tradition as well, especially the Dhammayut sect.
There are a few reasons which I will state. ...
Here are a few social sciency reasons why the Thai Forest tradition may have higher numbers:
Of the S/SE Asian countries listed in the poll, Thailand has probably had the most peaceful and prosperous history during the decades when Westerners have been looking most heavily to the East for religion/spirituality/philosophy (i.e., since the 1960s). Burma/Myanmar has been ruled more-or-less by the military since 1962, and has had many ongoing civil wars between its many ethnic groups since the country's independence in 1948. Sri Lanka also had a civil war from 1983-2009. Thailand has had pretty good relations with the US for almost 200 years
, which has facilitated a lot of bi-lateral tourism, trade, and immigration. Thailand is also more ethnically homogeneous than either Burma/Myanmar or Sri Lanka, and Thailand is the only SE Asian nation that was never colonized by Westerners, so has not had to deal as much with the legacies of colonialism in S/SE Asia.
The Thai Forest teachings have an ascetic/serious-practitioner bent, similar to Zen and Thich Nhat Hanh. Western people who are serious/interested enough to leave their own society's mainstream tradition(s) for an Asian tradition are probably looking for something serious, and may not be very interested in embracing any society's mainstreams. That seriousness also has probably made those traditions more dedicated to core Buddhist principles, which are not usually/historically tied to one nation or culture, and hence more open to foreigners.
The Thai people, culture/language, monarchy, and Thai Buddhism are a closely intertwined package. It may be less objectionable to the Thai mainstream to have large numbers of foreigners living for long periods out in the forests rather than in the cities. Short-term tourists probably can be more easily isolated/separated from mainstream Thai society in the cities than resident bhikkhu(ni)s could be.
The upturn in the poll for Burmese Theravada (compared with "Sri Lankan" and "Thai") is interesting to me, because Buddhist monks have been an important force in mass protests of military rule in Burma/Myanmar. I wonder if this has caused more of a separation between nationalism and Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar than in Thailand. The ethnic diversity of Burma/Myanmar, and the fact that the several most populous ethnicities (Bamar, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, Karen, and Chinese) are all mostly Buddhist, may also contribute to mainstream Burmese Buddhism's being more open to foreigners.