Friday, April 27, 2007

Why not making Buddhism part of the Thai constitution may actually make Buddhism stronger

Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand. By Kamala Tiyavanich. University of Hawaii Press, 1977, xxi + 410 pages, ISBN 0-8248-1781-8, U.S. $29.95. [Book Review]

The question of whether Buddhism should be made the official state religion of Thailand in the new constitution has been raging lately.

Before this time, Buddhism has not been the official state religion in the constitution, even though perhaps about 90% of Thais are Buddhist and the King is required to be Buddhist in the constitution.

The issue became political last week when Thaksin's satellite TV station rather opportunistically adopted the issue as its own for political purposes.

Perhaps slightly paradoxically, there are good reasons for those who want to see Buddhism thrive in the world not to have it written into the constitution as the state religion.

Relaxing state controls over religion, especially Buddhism, encourages local diversity. At the turn of the century (c. 1900) a lot of diversity in Buddhism in Isan and the north was wiped out by tight government regulation of the Buddhist religion as the above book on forest monks demonstrates.

Furthermore, when Buddhism becomes an appendage of Thai nationalism the future doesn't bode well for Buddhism as a world religion. How can a thinking person accept the universal applicability of a religion that exists in many countries from Burma to Sri Lanka to the west when it is tied to the vagaries of secular national politics in Thailand, something that can change rather rapidly as we've seen recently.

World reknown Thai Buddhist thinkers like Buddadhasa Bhikku and Sulak Sivaraksa (his website) seem to be critical of secular trends of nationalistic influence in Buddhism.