Many societies have witnessed a gradual shift from the sacred toward the profane as they have modernized. What is striking in Thailand is the compressed time frame, a vertiginous pace of change brought on by the country’s rapid economic rise. In a relatively short time, the local Buddhist monk has gone from being a moral authority, teacher and community leader fulfilling important spiritual and secular roles to someone whose job is often limited to presiding over periodic ceremonies.
Phra Anil Sakya, the assistant secretary to the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, the country’s governing body of Buddhism, said that Thai Buddhism needed “new packaging” to match the country’s fast-paced lifestyle. (Phra is the honorific title for monks in Thailand.)
“People today love high-speed things,” he said in an interview. “We didn’t have instant noodles in the past, but now people love them. For the sake of presentation, we have to change the way we teach Buddhism and make it easy and digestible like instant noodles.”
He says Buddhist leaders should make Buddhism more relevant by emphasizing the importance of meditation as a salve for stressful urban lifestyles. The teaching of Buddhism, or dharma, does not need to be tethered to the temple, he said.
“You can get dharma in department stores, or even over the Internet,” he said.
But Phra Paisan is markedly more pessimistic about what is sometimes called “fast-food Buddhism.” He is encouraged by the embrace of meditation among many affluent Thais and the healthy sales of Buddhist books, but he sees basic incompatibilities between modern life and Buddhism.
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