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Buddhism in the News


Monday, February 19, 2007

Thai Monks Want Buddhism Official Religion of Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand -- A group of Buddhist monks and supporters rallied in front of Parliament Tuesday to demand charter drafters to state that Buddhism is the national religion.

The group of 100 demonstrators is led by Phra Mahacho Thassaniyo of Maha Chulalongkorn Monks University.

The monk said so far over 300,000 Buddhists had signed their name to demand that the next charter would specify Buddhism as the national religion.

He said if the number of signatories would grow over 1 million and he would later submit the names to the Constitution Drafting Committee.

He said if the call was ignored, Buddhists would definitely reject the draft constitution in a public referendum.


This movement seems antithetical to the Buddha's teachings. First, in regards to attachment. Insisting that there be a national religion is attaching to the structure of "religion." It is placing yet another limb into the vast, sticky spider's web of duality.

Declaring a "national religion" is to put the concept of a "religion" higher then even the basic tenets of the religion itself?!! The frame work and labels of a religion are just a shell. Attaching to them is ignoring the meat that are the teachings.

The attitude seems to be, "The majority of people practice "Buddhism" here so it must be better then other religions and therefore lauded to the highest praise and exclusivity." It is not Right View to say that one religion is better then another one. Right View is see things as they are (not as "you" perceive them to be (or want them to be). As we know, all things are impermanent and saying that "Buddhism" be the national religion is trying to make permanent a belief system that teaches impermanence at it's very core!!

Then there is the Buddhist teaching of the middle way. Attaching too much importance too one religion over another is an imbalance that invites undo suffering upon people of other beliefs. It is creating yet another separation between people. Buddhism tries to break down those perceptions of separateness not create more. Separateness that can very easily lead to misunderstandings, anger, social upheaval and ultimately war. A large number of wars in the history of Earth have been fought for "religion."

The current Dalai Lama has often taught the importance of religious pluralism. That not only is it not "Right View" and "Right Action" to convert and shun other believers but that it is also harmful and not in keeping with the fundamental "Buddhist" teachings of compassion, loving-kindness and interconnectivity.

Perhaps some might be shocked that Buddhist monks would have such a warped understanding of the Dharma but it is no different then extremist Christians in America that seek the same exclusivity. Ignoring the teachings of their founder, Jesus, to love one another and not create enmity between people. The same is true of radical Islam. Yes, there IS extremism in Buddhism. People can fall into the trappings of fundamentalist ideology within Buddhism just as easily as any other religion. Extremist, ego-eccentric, dualistic attachment is no respecter of persons or religions.

Even if this move is for honorary reasons it seems silly, hollow and a waste of time, energy and resources.

~Peace to all beings~

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Mystic Wing said...

I agree that such a petition seems antithetical to the Buddhist way.

And I daresay that there are plenty of Buddhists who would not subscribe to such a thing.

No religion, it seems, is immune to this kind of parochialism. There is not much difference between this and evangelical Christians wanting to insert Christian prayer into public schools.

Do you suppose that all religion becomes somewhat corrupt when it becomes an institution?

Buddhist Jihad said...

Actually, I don't mind the notion, so much, so long as it's not being forced on others. Nepal is a Hindu monarchy, perhaps Thailand could be a Buddhist constitutional monarchy. Bhutan is a Buddhist constitutional monarchy, I think, and it has as one of its core values promoting "Gross National Happiness" rather than the gross national product. Might be enlightening, as it were.

awouldbehipster said...

I'm with you, James. The points you brought up about attachment and the middle way resound nicely with your stated opinion. More important than any specific point or argument, though, is the fact that it just doesn't sit right with me (and many others, I'm sure). Not that a National religion is such a bad thing, because it is not. But the idea of monks protesting and causing uproar in the community is unsettling. I can only imagine the suffering being felt by the Christians (or any other religious group) in Thailand during this ordeal. If our gifted teachers have taught us anything, it's that Buddhism is not about being a part of the "in group".

trinitystar said...

My motto has been respect everyones beliefs ... and take the creme de la creme out of each.
The middle way is good. We make no judgements.
Thank you for your post.
hugs for you. :o)

CJ said...

My first reactions to this were along the lines of 'what the hell, that's so not what it's all about...'

But I need to clarify, what exactly does it mean to be a national religion? In Britian we are an Anglican country. Christianity is our religion. I'm not aware that it means anything or has any real power. It seems to be more a way of recognising that this is what most people in this country kinda believe.

Would that be the case in Thailand? Would they try and use Buddhist ethics in governmental affairs? Would you only be allowed to practice Buddhism? Would other religions be marginalised/have the same rights?

I'd need to be sure of the answers to these questions before I could decide whether I thought it was a good thing or not... but my immediate response is 'not'.

"James" said...

Mystic Wing:

Absolutely. All religions are at threat for this kind of behavior.

Buddhist Jihad:

I don't necessary mind the notion as long as it's not forced either. I am all for the Gross National Happiness and Rep. Dennis Kucinich's idea for a Department of Peace here in America.

I guess, I just find a move to establish a national religion to be a dangerous step. Intertwining religion and politics has always been a tricky affair through out the ages.


Yes, preventing suffering and the exclusion of others is a core Buddhist principle. It seems strange to me that monks involve themselves in issues of the government. I think they should have the right to vote--obviously.

I just think that monks have more important things to do then lobbying for Buddhism being the national religion. Would Buddha work toward such a thing?? I somehow do not think so.

Trinity Star:

Well said and a wise policy.


Yeah I'd like to know the answers to those questions too. Good points raised.

Dharmasattva said...

I agree with your post, James. I think the idea of "official" religions and "official" languages is inevitably one of exclusivity and exclusion that is of no net benefit to a society or its citizens. OK, so the majority of people in [insert name of country] are [insert name of religion]? Who cares? What is the benefit of making that kind of declaration if its purpose is not to communicate to the minority that "We are the majority, and we're in charge. Don't challenge us."

As to making Buddhist concepts part of a nation's value system, I think one should be careful not to use labels like "Buddhist" or "Christian" which take away from the substance of the concept (peace, compassion, non-harm, generosity) and deflect the focus towards the label itself.

If the US is a Christian country, which many people say it is, then where does that leave us Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc.? Is it not better to say that we as a country want to foster the values of respect for life and individual rights, taking care of the poor and vulnerable, cultivating healthy families, etc.?

A lotus to each of you.

Greenwoman said...

Well I guess you poked a hole in that de...ah...illusion didn't you? LOL!

james said...


Yes, focusing on things like peace, etc. that transcend sectarian lines is where our emphasis should be. Well said.

Green Woman:

I hate to burst their bubble but....

Anonymous said...

According to some research I have found on the topic, a national religion of this kind could mean a few different things.

In the example of countries such as the UK, it could mean that the government simply favors one religion above others with financial and "official" recognition, while not barring anyone else from practicing. While annoying, this is not as harmful as in other cases. China, though Communist, has a few state-sponsored religious organizations that are "approved", and obviously, the government there viciously persecutes everyone else.

My trouble with this sort of establishment is that familiarity breeds contempt, so to speak. My girlfriend is Spanish, and though Spain is a Catholic nation, she knows the climate there. She's told me about how the vast majority of people aren't actual Catholics, and simply attend church because it's expected, or it's cultural. It might take time for such contempt to form, but form it does. It would be tragic for the Dharma to be reduced to the same level as a political slogan.

~daur izre~

"James" said...

Daur Izre:

Great points. Especially that it breeds contempt. No good can come from such divisive actions no matter how simply symbolic and innocent they seem.

There is a saying that goes something like this: If you let a camel stick his head into the door of your tent that sooner or later he'll have his whole body in there and you're tent will collapse.

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