Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Buddhist Monks are Becoming Irrelevant in Thailand

Ronald McDonald, in Bangkok

The more stuff Christians have, the less they pray; the less stuff Christians have, the more they pray because of their greater sense of dependency. This is not only true of Christianity, it is the way of all religions. This is why, for one reason, non-Westernized Muslims see Western culture as a greater threat to their faith than "Christianity." Indeed, Muslims are not far off when they equate Western culture with Christianity. And this is why, in Thailand today, the Buddhist ways of silence and meditation are very uncool.

See today's nytimes - "Monks Lose Relevance as Thailand Grows Richer."

“Consumerism is now the Thai religion,” said Phra Paisan Visalo, one of the country’s most respected monks. “In the past, people went to temple on every holy day. Now, they go to shopping malls.”

Consumerism is the American religion, too. Many churches, realizing this, acquiesce to it and work hard and spend big bucks to create a religious product for religious consumption. These are Product-driven churches. Ours is a Presence-driven church. I am still of the ancient idea that people need God, and are captivated when they meet Him. God-presence cannot be programmed.

"The meditative lifestyle of the monkhood offers little allure to the iPhone generation. The number of monks and novices relative to the population has fallen by more than half over the last three decades."

"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."

Several years ago a local "wedding chapel" asked area pastors if they would come in and do weddings for people at $75 a pop. I declined. I don't do weddings for people who aren't part of our Redeemer family. But...  many non-Jesus-followers still like to get married in a church building? I don't do that one either.

"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.”"
This monk fails to understand that Buddhism will cease being Buddhism if it becomes as easy and digestible as Ramen noodles. Perhaps in Thailand we could see the birth of a new religion, "Ramenism"? This has an Egyptian ring to it, and could support some serious bling-bling.
"Buddhist leaders should make Buddhism more relevant by emphasizing the importance of meditation as a salve for stressful urban lifestyles."
Again, that's not what Buddhist meditation was intended for. To me this sounds like Christians who try to relate to drug users by claiming that Jesus will make you higher than any drug can. Imagine that being the Good News Jesus went around proclaiming, while wearing dreadlocks? 
"Scandals surrounding some monks have contributed to the decline. Social media has helped spread videos of monks partying in monasteries, imbibing alcohol, watching pornographic videos and cavorting with women and men, all forbidden activities. There have also been controversies involving allegations of embezzlement of donations at temples."
These monks need a God-encounter with the Real Jesus.
"Phra Nipan, the abbot, said his only real role today was to preside over rituals like funerals, weddings and the blessing of a new home. “People today have telephones,” he said wistfully. “If they have troubles, they call their friends.”"
Thai Buddhism is mirroring Western Christianity, which to a large degree has tried to be "relevant" but failed. I never meet a non-Christian student in my classes who is interested in the "relevant" church.