In Thailand, ‘socially engaged Buddhism’ goes beyond meditation to seek justice

by | Jul 17, 2023 | Religion

BANGKOK (RNS) — Street shrines are everywhere in Thailand’s capital, perched on pedestals outside homes, stores and even hotels, and they are more than decoration: Passersby frequently stop to light incense or simply bow to the image of Buddha or another deity inside the small, temple-like structures. Adding to the sense of near-constant devotion are the Buddhist monks who walk the streets, ready to accept donations of food. Filling a monk’s alms bowl is a way for lay Buddhists to earn merit.Buddhism, which first arrived in the country about 1,000 years ago, is also a commercial boon for Bangkok, bringing Westerners flocking to the city’s many meditation centers and temples.
But some in Thailand have become concerned that the faith known for promoting its practitioners’ inner peace pays too little attention to the suffering of those around them.
A devotee receives a blessing after offering alms to a Buddhist monk on a sidewalk in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
The late Vietnamese Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh coined the concept of “engaged Buddhism,” during the Vietnam War, when he extended his practice as a monk to include reducing the deprivation the war visited on the Vietnamese people. Among those he ordained into this way of practicing Buddhism is Sulak Sivaraksa, who later founded the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. Sivaraksa believes Buddhism needs to look beyond personal practice to bring social change. “Only meditating, that’s not Buddhism. It’s escapism,” he told journalists visiting INEB’s Bangkok office recently.

The movement is growing in response to religious conflict in Thailand. Religious violence has broken out in the country’s far south where the Muslim population is concentrated, and where ultranationalist monks are spreading hate. According to Suchart Setthamalinee, Thailand’s national human rights commissioner, misinformation is spread through temples stoking fears that Muslims plan to take over the country. In some areas, “Protect Buddhism” organizations have emerged.
But socially engaged Buddhists are addressing social justice issues within the faith as well. Buddhism has been unwelcoming toward women and transgender people: Some temples in northern Thailand have signs that say women are not allowed to enter the ordination hall area because of menstruation, and Bhikuni, or female monks, are not accepted in the order.
INEB has recently been advocating for transgender rights and the ordination of women. The group has also become involved in building environmentally …

Article Attribution | Read More at Article Source

Share This