Thai Buddhism in the Age of Bling

your say December 20, 2017 01:00

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Re: “Keep Hollywood hype out of Thai Buddhism”, Have Your Say, December 19.

Boonyanipa Bunnag is right to lament the display of Transformer robots at Wat Tha Kien in Nonthaburi. I recall that a few years ago a Thai temple attracted some attention by displaying a statue of David Beckham on its precincts. This is the Age of Bling, people. We should not be surprised if more temples climb on the bandwagon. I envision temples that feature images of LeBron James and Taylor Swift, not to mention local icons like Toon Bodyslam. (I can already see some devotees rubbing their hands in glee and chortling, “What a great idea!”)

Buddhism originated as an austere religion dedicated to the eradication of suffering, which was perceived to be caused by ignorance, grasping and clinging. The Buddha realised that hardly anybody would be attracted to such a no-fun idea. He knew that the human genetic structure is programmed for ignorance, grasping and clinging. So he was disinclined to teach his doctrine until, according to legend, the deity Brahma Sahampati convinced him that at least a few people could benefit from it.  (See Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 26, or HC Warren’s “Buddhism in Translations”, pp 339-341.)

Now, contrary to anybody’s expectations in that bygone age, Buddhism has become a world religion professed by millions. Of course there is going to be some deterioration in its integrity. Its very popularity guarantees degeneration. Try telling 21st-century bling addicts that they’re not supposed to want stuff, and see how far you get. The flaw is not in Buddhism, but in humankind itself.

This being the situation, the best that sincere Buddhists can do is try to keep the rot to a minimum. Clearing out statues of David Beckham and the Transformers would be a good start.

Paramananda Pahari