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  1. #1
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    Decline of Buddhism in Thailand

    Decline of Buddhism in Thailand
    May 24th, 2013

    LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: Thereís a struggle going on inside Thailand. Itís between two powerful influences. One side can be found in places like this; the other in crowded spaces like this. For now it seems that one side is falling behind.

    This is Professor John Butt, senior advisor to the Institute of Religion at Payap University in Chiang Mai.

    PROF. JOHN BUTT: Itís a real clash with modernity, with social change, and itís been very intense. The changes that took place in America and in Europe have been extended over a couple of centuries; here itís been a couple of decades.

    SEVERSON: This is a country where almost 95 percent of the population is Buddhist, where the constitution mandates that the king be a Buddhist, and where there are temples almost everywhere.

    PROF. BUTT: I think probably this is one of the central if not the central Buddhist country in the world.



    SEVERSON: Itís a country that has recently seen a remarkable rise in economic prosperity. There was a time not that long ago when it would have been difficult to find a mall, let alone one so crowded. The roads would have been clogged with motor scooters, and the fancy cars belonged only to diplomats and the very rich. Not anymore. The Thais have embraced consumerism with gusto.

    This is An Jang Sang, professor emeritus at Chiang Mai University.

    AN JANG SANG: Some of them may be interested in materialism, consumerism, but deep down in their heart they are still Buddhists.

    SEVERSON: But he agrees theyíre not going to the temples, also known as wats, as much as they once did.

    PROF. BUTT: In the past the wat was not just the religious center, it was the life center of the village community. The social life took place there, counseling, respect, authority for the monks. Thatís, I think, decreased tremendously.

    SEVERSON: And not as many are going to the Buddha to offer their prayerful good wishes for all living things. Some are giving more in donations, but Phra Boonchuey, the assistant abbot at this large temple, says too many are just donating to buy good karma.



    PHRA BOONCHUEY: Because now they are coming to the temple just only to offer the offering in order to please, you know, their life for their own benefit.

    SEVERSON: Phra BoonChuey is on a mission to get Thai Buddhism back on track.

    PHRA BOONCHUEY: And so we have to do many things, you know, to bring people, you know, back to the religion.

    SEVERSON: That would include bringing back the monks themselves who have been disappearing. In the past, almost every young man would become a monk, leading a monastic life, some for a few months, some for a lifetime. But in the last 30 years it is estimated that the number of monks has fallen by more than half. Mr. Vinai, our tuk-tuk driver, served as a monk for over a year as a young man.

    (to Mr. Vinai): Did you like being a monk?

    MR. VINAI: Yes. Yes.

    SEVERSON: Do you think every young man should be a monk?

    MR. VINAI: No, no.



    SEVERSON: He says not every young man should be a monk because some care more about shopping.

    (to Mr. Vinai): How many boys do you have?

    MR. VINAI: I have two.

    SEVERSON: Were they monks?

    MR. VINAI: Yes.

    SEVERSON: His last boy served only 15 days.

    Itís about 5:30 in the morning, and the first monks are showing up to collect alms, their food for the whole day. Sometimes thereís only one meal a day, often followed by some sort of community service, and then there are the hours of chanting, study, and meditation. Itís not an easy life. Professor Butt says he once asked the young men in his class how many had been ordained.

    PROF. BUTT: If I had asked that question a hundred years ago, I would have gotten close to a 100 percent yes, that they had ordained as a novice, maybe a short period of time, but they had done so. I went five years before I got one positive response, who had ordained.

    SEVERSON: One reason for that might be the Thais have been practicing family planning, and if there is only one boy in the family, and the choice is school, making money, or ordinationÖ



    PRHA BOONCHUEY: You may not want him to be a novice or to get ordination.

    SEVERSON: A big factor is that in the past many boys became monks to get a free education at the temple. Now Thailand offers 12 years of free public education and far more are attending secular schools. Scandals have also contributed to the diminishing numbers of monks, scandals revealed by social media. Pictures of monks at parties with women, drinking alcohol, watching porn, driving expensive fancy cars. Things monks are not supposed to be doing.

    MR. VINAI: Not whiskey, not beer.

    SEVERSON: Cigarettes, no cigarettes?

    MR. VINAI: Nah, no.

    SEVERSON: No women?

    MR. VINAI: No women.



    SEVERSON: No partying?

    MR. VINAI: Yeah, no party.

    SEVERSON: Itís not that there has been an epidemic of scandalous behavior, but what there is seems to find its way into the media. Justin McDaniel, the chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, was once a monk himself in Thailand.

    JUSTIN MCDANIEL: It has a big impact in the press. I think it also has a big impact that if somebody was on the fence about being a monk or nun, that this is kind of relatively a legitimate excuse you could give to your mom for not doing it: well, look at the way monks act.

    SEVERSON: Professor McDaniel argues that Thai Buddhism itself is not in decline, that it is gaining considerable traction in the Western world, and that the Thai people themselves are debating it more, which he says is a good thing. He skeptical that there really is a crisis.

    MCDANIEL: Iíve never heard any professional religious person, rabbi, monk, priest, imam ever say everything is fine. You know, itís always weíre in a state of crisis, and weíre in a state of crisis so you should be coming more, and you should be giving more money, you should be becoming a monk or you should be reading more books.



    SEVERSON: He would find some disagreement here in Chiang Mai. Phra Boonchuey, for instance, thinks monks need to be taught more critical thinking instead of just memorization, and that the benefits of meditation need to be emphasized more. He wants Buddhists to get back to their basic precepts, such as abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and drinking alcohol. He would also counsel them to consume only what they need and to avoid the trappings of materialism.

    PHRA BOONCHUEY: Think before [you] consume.

    SEVERSON: There is a branch of Buddhism thatís flourishing. Itís called Dhammakaya. One way to explain Dhammakaya is that it is to Buddhism what the prosperity gospel is to Christianity. In other words the traditional value of selflessness has been replaced with ďbigger is better.Ē The more you give, the more you get. Professor Butt says in some ways consumerism is becoming a religion of its own.

    PROF. BUTT: This is the most pervasive and maybe becoming deeply rooted and growing the fastest of any religion in Thailand, and itís consumerism. This is the way that one identifies oneís life, by what you own. The old thing was ďI think, therefore I am.Ē Now itís ďI buy, therefore I am.Ē

    MCDANIEL: I donít see consumerism as somehow a-religious. And I donít see modernity as somehow a-religious. I think that thereís many ways of being religious. I think when we say that consumerism or modernity is somehow a sign of secularism, I think thatís a very particular way of looking at religion.

    PROF. BUTT: Weíre living in a new world, and religion is a response to life, to what it means to be human, and when that changes, as I said earlier, religion has to change too or it dies. Itís put in a museum.

    SEVERSON: No one is suggesting Thai Buddhism is heading for a museum, but many agree that it might need some new packaging.

    For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Iím Lucky Severson in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

    pbs.org

    Vid at link : Video: Decline of Buddhism in Thailand | Watch Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly Online | PBS Video

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid
    from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and drinking alcohol. He would also counsel them to consume only what they need and to avoid the trappings of materialism.


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    I see the Temple schools closing in the Village's, maybe just a transition.

    definitely so many distractions nowadays for the Youth, cant blame them..

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    down spiral

    I was at Lad Prao Temple last night and believe me the buddhist spirit is not prevalent. People racing their motor bikes all over the temple and parking their bikes obstructing the monks.

    Buddhism is not alive and well here

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    The decline of Buddhism.

    The rise of secular mindless consumerism.

    Dead, are the days of casting away wordly pleasures.

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    I havent been around Thailand long enough yet to make an objective comment regarding decline or not, but I do know that our temple Wat Raikhing is very busy and seems to control most things of a civic nature around its juristiction. when the temple has its annual fund raising festival it just teems with people and merchandise and appears to be quite affluent. come to think of it my family told me recently that the temple has acquired a fair bit of land over the river and is in the throes of building a university for their monks.
    Just a Member number

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    In fairness and for what it is worth....
    Everyone I know are good "practicing" Buddhists.
    In life and in community. Observed by all age groups....especially the last two generations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rural Surin View Post

    The rise of secular mindless consumerism.
    What crap. Connecting those dots takes some murky ideological 'thinking'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyFree View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Rural Surin View Post

    The rise of secular mindless consumerism.
    What crap. Connecting those dots takes some murky ideological 'thinking'.
    These nasty ideals were clearly imported from sinisters foreign sources.

    As are studies [the OP] akin....born of European make-believe.
    Per usual, exploring items and disciplines they haven't a clue about.

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    My personal opinion, it's going and going fast. Live about as far out as you can get in Thailand. When I came here 10 years ago I guess, the Wat was the center of life, no TV and only 2 cars. Then there were younger men who were full time Monks, now doubt there are any under 50 in the area.

    Only the old continue to practice, you see very few teenagers or young men making merit as short timers. The biggest use of monks for many is getting new cars and houses blessed.

    The Wat is certainly richer, new building going on, but even that shows the change. When I first came it was the villagers who did the work, now it's paid builders.

    We are a small Wat and the only time you see any numbers of Monks at the Wat is when they bring down the very old jungle Monks. Would think within 10years there will be no solitary jungle dwelling Monks left, they just aren't being replace when they die.

    Sad in away, 100s of years of tradition gone in less than 20 years. Jim

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    Quote Originally Posted by jamescollister View Post
    My personal opinion, it's going and going fast. Live about as far out as you can get in Thailand. When I came here 10 years ago I guess, the Wat was the center of life, no TV and only 2 cars. Then there were younger men who were full time Monks, now doubt there are any under 50 in the area.

    Only the old continue to practice, you see very few teenagers or young men making merit as short timers. The biggest use of monks for many is getting new cars and houses blessed.

    The Wat is certainly richer, new building going on, but even that shows the change. When I first came it was the villagers who did the work, now it's paid builders.

    We are a small Wat and the only time you see any numbers of Monks at the Wat is when they bring down the very old jungle Monks. Would think within 10years there will be no solitary jungle dwelling Monks left, they just aren't being replace when they die.

    Sad in away, 100s of years of tradition gone in less than 20 years. Jim

    Depends which temple you visit.

    In my small Isan village, there are at least three temple that I know about. One is like you described, mostly old monks. The other one is an amulet commercial operation, big mafia, I heard the abbot is actually quite famous in his field. The last one is a small temple operated by a young (40's) educated monk, there is a young novice in his 20's that joined him and regularly there are young educated kids from the city who came for a retreat.

    It's true that the young villagers are not interested by the monkhood anymore. I don't believe they were looking for spiritual enlightment anyway, more for an escape for the hard life in the field. But more educated young people are still looking for answers in buddhism, they just need to find the right teachers.
    Last edited by Perota; 26-05-2013 at 04:19 PM.
    The things we regret most is the things we didn't do

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    Quote Originally Posted by Perota View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jamescollister View Post
    My personal opinion, it's going and going fast. Live about as far out as you can get in Thailand. When I came here 10 years ago I guess, the Wat was the center of life, no TV and only 2 cars. Then there were younger men who were full time Monks, now doubt there are any under 50 in the area.

    Only the old continue to practice, you see very few teenagers or young men making merit as short timers. The biggest use of monks for many is getting new cars and houses blessed.

    The Wat is certainly richer, new building going on, but even that shows the change. When I first came it was the villagers who did the work, now it's paid builders.

    We are a small Wat and the only time you see any numbers of Monks at the Wat is when they bring down the very old jungle Monks. Would think within 10years there will be no solitary jungle dwelling Monks left, they just aren't being replace when they die.

    Sad in away, 100s of years of tradition gone in less than 20 years. Jim

    Depends which temple you visit.

    In my small Isan village, there are at least three temple that I know about. One is like you described, mostly old monks. The other one is an amulet commercial operation, big mafia, I heard the abbot is actually quite famous in his field. The last one is a small temple operated by a young (40's) educated monk, there is a young novice in his 20's that joined him and regularly there are young educated kids from the city who came for a retreat.

    It's true that the young villagers are not interested by the monkhood anymore. I don't believe they were looking for spiritual enlightment anyway, more for an escape for the hard life in the field. But more educated young people are still looking for answers in buddhism, they just need to find the right teachers.
    Yes there are Wats out here that are more like boy scout camps at certain times of year. You can see up to 100 kids and young men in robes, with backpacks hiking up into the mountains. One is famous for some reason and gets it's fair share of young city dwellers that come to seek the truth, but none come to stay. Jim

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    Add this place to the problems. Give us your money and you shall attain enlightenment. Absolute abuse of Buddhist principles. Wat Dhammakaya


    UFO Memorial Hall, Wat Dhammakaya, Rangsit, Pathum Thani, Thailand


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    Quote Originally Posted by jamescollister
    the Wat was the center of life
    Nail on the head.

    Temples were the communal center of the village. Places where folks went to celebrate holidays, births, deaths, and weddings. Acted as social clubs, news sources (local gossip), political centers, entertainment centers and coordination of village projects. The "religious" aspects were all part of it.

    Those days are long gone. Archaic given contemporary access to media and other sources of entertainment. Leaves only a few of the older generation making the daily morning visit to temple with the young only interested to fulfill a "family" obligation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norton View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jamescollister
    the Wat was the center of life
    Nail on the head.

    Temples were the communal center of the village. Places where folks went to celebrate holidays, births, deaths, and weddings. Acted as social clubs, news sources (local gossip), political centers, entertainment centers and coordination of village projects. The "religious" aspects were all part of it.

    Those days are long gone. Archaic given contemporary access to media and other sources of entertainment. Leaves only a few of the older generation making the daily morning visit to temple with the young only interested to fulfill a "family" obligation.
    Same in Europe. Maybe what was really important was the social role of the church (record of birth, wedding and death, education, hospital ...) You're right, maybe religion and faith was never that important after all.

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    Wats the point of worrying, wat will be will be.

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    Rabid Antitheist Responding

    As an antitheist, it is good to read articles like these. Glad to see religion in decline all over the world.

    References: Christopher Hitchens "God Is Not Great"; Penn Jillette "God No!" and "Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Poisian View Post
    As an antitheist, it is good to read articles like these. Glad to see religion in decline all over the world.

    References: Christopher Hitchens "God Is Not Great"; Penn Jillette "God No!" and "Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday".
    Buddhism is not a religion, no gods. Jim

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    Quote Originally Posted by jamescollister View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Poisian View Post
    As an antitheist, it is good to read articles like these. Glad to see religion in decline all over the world.

    References: Christopher Hitchens "God Is Not Great"; Penn Jillette "God No!" and "Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday".
    Buddhism is not a religion, no gods. Jim
    Even when this is correct, Jim, you'd never convince otherwise.

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    Buddhism is not a religion, no gods.
    1. You don't have to have gods to have a religion.
    2. There are in any case plenty of gods in Buddhism. Brahma Sahampati, for example, pops up right at the moment of the Buddha's enlightenment.

    As for all the Buddhism-is-going-to-die-two-weeks-on-Tuesday stuff...hardly. Go into any 7-11 and you'll see stacks of Dhamma books for sale (admittedly half of them will be by W Vajiramedhi). There are also far more meditation retreats being run now for the laity now than there were a decade or two ago. Some types of practice may be slackening off and some village temples may be less full of the young but then there are fewer young around in many places. What's clearly happening is that (i) patterns of religious observance are changing and people very often mistake change for decline and (ii) even in the absence of significant change, people have an unshakable desire to look back at the good old days - whether or not they were actually good is almost entirely beside the point.
    Last edited by Zooheekock; 28-05-2013 at 01:54 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aging one View Post
    Add this place to the problems. Give us your money and you shall attain enlightenment. Absolute abuse of Buddhist principles. Wat Dhammakaya


    UFO Memorial Hall, Wat Dhammakaya, Rangsit, Pathum Thani, Thailand

    Absolutely 200% hits all nails on the head!! It is obvious that this Wat Dhammakaya in Rangsit is nothing more than a money making scam. My wife got involved at one stage but would not listen to me re this place until she was asked for a considerable amount of money which would guarantee her good luck for the rest of her life the brain washing put out by this place almost caused our stable marriage to fold. Although I am not a Buddhist myself I have no objections to my wife practicing her religion at the local temple with what outwardly appear to be genuine Buddhist monks but this place at Ragsit really does need looking into by the authorities!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by mingmong View Post
    I see the Temple schools closing in the Village's, maybe just a transition.

    definitely so many distractions nowadays for the Youth, cant blame them..
    The direction that the youth are taking is not healthy.

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    My wife never remembers the Buddha days, and living in the sticks that matters. No meat at the butchers. However she call herself Bhuddist. As a way of life it's better than the Abrahmic religions IMHO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Stocks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by aging one View Post
    Add this place to the problems. Give us your money and you shall attain enlightenment. Absolute abuse of Buddhist principles. Wat Dhammakaya


    UFO Memorial Hall, Wat Dhammakaya, Rangsit, Pathum Thani, Thailand

    Absolutely 200% hits all nails on the head!! It is obvious that this Wat Dhammakaya in Rangsit is nothing more than a money making scam. My wife got involved at one stage but would not listen to me re this place until she was asked for a considerable amount of money which would guarantee her good luck for the rest of her life the brain washing put out by this place almost caused our stable marriage to fold. Although I am not a Buddhist myself I have no objections to my wife practicing her religion at the local temple with what outwardly appear to be genuine Buddhist monks but this place at Ragsit really does need looking into by the authorities!!
    To add to my above comments I notice quite a number of "foreigners" among the audiences. I wonder what these people hope to get out of this "experience" I just hope they realise just what they are getting into before it is too late. A sample of the quotes they put out (taken from a CD in English which they produce)
    1) All criminals should not be punished as their crimes (Murder,robbery,drugs etc) are not their fault it is due to the way they were treated in their previous life.
    2) The punishments for smoking,drinking alcohol,adultery etc (No 1 seems to have flown out of the window somewhere) are so ridiculous they cannot even be considered amusing ie. reincarnation as an animal where its head is where its tail should be and eating ones own .... for 5000 years and going to the big ashtray in the sky to be burned by a monks cigar ash for 5000 years need I say more! They even put these quotes out on their own television station DMC.
    One big danger this operation has now gone global via the internet I just hope foreigners with too much money to burn and insufficient education to see through this nonsense do not get sucked into thinking this is the answer to all their problems.
    I can think of quite a few "pop stars" in the 60's and 70's who really believed that Buddhism was the easy answer to all their worldly problems.
    I sure hope the Thai Tax and revenue services and the DSI are keeping on top of this alarming development as it has nothing to do with Buddha's teachings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Stocks
    I sure hope the Thai Tax and revenue services and the DSI are keeping on top of this alarming development as it has nothing to do with Buddha's teachings.
    [at]
    they 'll dig up something that says they're exempt.
    unbelievable amount of propaganda they preach.

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