News You Really Need To See: “Thai Monks Take Up Worldly Matters”

“Thai Monks Take Up Worldly Matters”

The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 2014, p.A13

Luang Pu Buddha Issara doesn’t fit the usual picture of a Buddhist monk.  Sure, his hair is shorn and he wears the clergy’s distinctive saffron robes.  But Phra Buddha Issara (Phra is a religious title) is also a leader of the street protests seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.  His high-profile activism reflects how in Thailand, as well as some other predominantly Buddhist parts of Asia, the faith is taking on an increasingly political form. … Traditionally, Buddhist monks have seldom intervened in secular affairs.  The religion emphasizes rising above the world of desire and suffering, with soft chanting and quiet meditation, and generally lacks the confrontational zeal that helped propel the spread of Christianity and Islam.  There is no tradition of jihad or crusade in Buddhism.  But decades of economic mismanagement in Myanmar led some Buddhist monks to take a stand against that country’s former military leaders in the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007.  After the arrival of a quasi-civilian government in 2011, some militant Buddhists began violently opposing what they see as the spread of foreign beliefs, especially Islam.  In Sri Lanka, the end of the civil war in 2009 has given fresh impetus to Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists to push back against what they perceive as the influence of Christianity and Islam among the minority ethnic-Tamil population. … In Thailand, one of the spiritual centers of Buddhism, factional rivalries within the faith are amplifying a political battle that has claimed 22 lives since early November.”

Quickie analysis:  An interesting article on the emergence of political Buddhism.

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