Critical Commentary: Correlation of gaining wealth and loss of monks?

Posted on November 6, 2013 by

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In the article “Monks Loose Relevance as Thailand Grows Richer” by Thomas Fuller, an issue is looming over Thailand concerning what is being referred to as “fast food Buddhism”. Its implications socially, economically, and spiritually are discussed in relation to the defined role of monks.  Times have changed and since the recent economic rise in the country, there has also been a fast paced change in the amount of monks present. A shortage of monks and what the cause of this drop could be from are speculated about in the article. The appeal of something that is fast, easy, and gets the job done are now the driving forces in several societies in this modern age.

The article gives the feeling of almost an onset of panic and loss of optimism for the future in terms of maintaining the traditional standards of Buddhist practices. This specific geographic change is constructed and broadened to a global phenomenon, the article giving the impression that it could spread and affect other areas of the world similar to that of a domino effect. Our western perspective of what “Buddhism” should consist of leads to a critical assessment of the shortfall of what was originally perceived as a strong, well constructed and sought out religion is now presented as something that is “consumed” and breaking apart. Change is bound to occur and the teachings and rituals that were relevant in the past are not going to withhold years and years of history. The Buddha himself did not teach the same thing to everyone and was in a way like a doctor. He prescribed specific medication to a specific problem the patient was facing. In today’s world, the pressing issues and concerns of the people have changed. The problems they go to seek from a monk are different then what they were many years ago and how they access that monk are also very different, we even see that the Dhali Lama is on twitter and has over eight million followers illustrating his wisdom is still sought. Phra Anil Sakya, a Thailand monk, is given a voice in the article through a few interview responses. His responses are stated in a tone reflecting anticipation of change and how he plans to go about approaching this change. While the narrative of the author states statistics of the loss of monks and what economic implications may contribute to that, the spiritual leaders bring a calm approach. There is some concern in the monk’s answers, but the he is also aware and ready to redefine rituals to make them the most beneficial to the followers. The change is framed in a negative way sourcing the scandals occurring among monks and people thinking donating money to certain charities can be their sole way to make merit and improve karma. It gives new monks the name “factory monks” because they are tossed out so quickly after little training. Every monastery is different and the process varies from place to place. This doesn’t necessary reflect the quality of the monk after he has been ordained like the article implies.

Monks are sought out in times of trouble. The process of seeking out the assistance of monks is presented in the article as decreasing in an exponential fashion; however, it just may being accessed in a different way. Grant it monks are very important to the practice of Buddhism because they provide rituals, recitation of texts, and other “services” that laypeople cannot do on their own. It is an interesting concept to explore and can be applied to other religions as well. How have spiritual leaders role change and finding highs and lows to the interactions of ordinary people with them. After reading the article it gives a feeling of uncertainty of the future of Buddhism. What will religious leaders, the monks, do in response to this decline? What concerns do they have? Will technology become more incorporated into their practices? And if it does, will the traditional ways become polluted and bring chaos? Technology and modern lifestyles are constructed as almost evils that most of the world has fallen to and need to cleanse ourselves of in order to return to these pure practices.

Sources:

Critical Commentary: Monks Loose Relevance as Thailand Grows Richer (Thomas Fuller, Monks Loose Relevance as Thailand Grows Richer, New York Times, December 18, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/world/asia/thai-buddhist-monks-struggle-to-stay-relevant.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0

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Posted in: Buddhism