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Should religion get itself embroiled in everyday lives?

by Aik Theng Chong, Singapore, the Buddhist Channel, June 2, 2011

I read with interest the article ‘Buddhism embroiled in a volatile mix’ By Seth Kane, Asia Times, May 26, 2011.

If we look at the health of religions, we would have notice that religion which have a teaching that mandate how one should live one’s daily life and extend and permeates this influences to all strata of society with full authority, including the government, are the ones that grow stronger by the day. These are religions by default of its teaching, has the complete tacit support of its existing government.

We see them in such belief as the Islamic Faith in countries that are predominantly Muslims.

On the other hand, religion that do not have existing govenrment support or have people in them who are view as threat, tend to be persecuted and when it persisted long enough, would eventually be anihilated. In time, the vacuum created will be replaced by other faiths. Such could be case of Buddhism in Tibet in years to come. This scenario can also be seen in Myanmar if the dedicate situation are not handle with care by the Sangha there.

The teaching of the Lord Buddha will always be true in the beginning, at the middle and in the end, but the same cannot be said of its rules on discipline.

The Sangha involvement in politic may be a contravention of some of these rules, which was lay down more than 2000 years ago. Some may not be applicable in the current modern context and may need to be amended or reinterpreted to suit current situation so that the religion may not be seen as antiquated and be left behind to die a natural death. Monks who got involved in politics in Thailand may be criticized by the Sangha Council, but as the writer has pointed out, if they do not, they risk further marginalization by remaining on the sidelines of Thailand entrenched political conflict. After all, they may be right to say that their role as monks mandates them to fight for truth, justice and against human suffering brought about by misrule. This, even though at the same time they may also be accused of hypocrisy and exploitation, given the clear worldly power agendas of the political parties they get themselves embroiled in. It is a catch 22 situation and a risk they will have to ake.

Beside scandals, the diminishing role as educators and conflict resolvers, the involvement in the political situation by the monks in Thailand may serve as a catalyst for future change in main stream Buddhism and its monastic order as well.

At the same time it can also serve as a lesson for Buddhists of other nations to learn from too.

In Thailand, the role of educator can still be made relevant in today’s context by catering to the needs of working mothers; in the establishment of child and early child care centre within the temple compound and by enhancing the role of the Mae Chi as its educators and care providers. The idea is not new and is used by other religious faiths including some Buddhist groups to provide a much needed social service to society. At the same time, it is also used by these organizations to inculcate the young with the religious value, ethics and beliefs of their religion.

For Buddhism to stay relevant in Thai society and Indo-China as a whole, more changes are needed to cater and draw in the younger generations to its fold. The current Indo-China temple design does not seem to serve such purposes as they are designed for limited purposes and capacities catering more for prayers and for special occasions. Future generation of temples may need to take into consideration a wider usage in its design to draw in the crowds to stay longer on its premises and cater to their needs and requirements.

For Buddhism in Thailand and elsewhere in this region to stay relevant, it needs to widen its role in society and not stay aloft for just specific diminishing purposes which would in time lead to its own demise due to its inability to change with time. It would be a sad day indeed should it ever happens.

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