‘Rebel’ female Buddhist monks challenge Thailand status quo

wildmind meditation newsDenis D. Gray, ABC News: On a rural road just after daybreak, villagers young and old kneel reverently before a single file of ochre-robed women, filling their bowls with rice, curries, fruits and sweets. In this country, it’s a rare sight.

Thailand’s top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks. They can only become white-cloaked nuns, who are routinely treated as domestic servants. Many here believe women are inferior beings who had better perform plenty of good deeds to ensure they will be reborn as men in their future lives.

Yet with the religion beset by lurid scandals, female monastics or “bhikkhunis” are emerging …

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Decline of Buddhism in Thailand

Lucky Severson, Religion and Ethics: There’s a struggle going on inside Thailand. It’s between two powerful influences. One side can be found in places like this; the other in crowded spaces like this. For now it seems that one side is falling behind.

This is Professor John Butt, senior advisor to the Institute of Religion at Payap University in Chiang Mai.

PROF. JOHN BUTT: It’s a real clash with modernity, with social change, and it’s been very intense. The changes that took place in America and in Europe have been extended over a couple of centuries; here it’s been a couple of decades…

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Buddhism won’t be harmed by ex-drag queen

The Nation (Thailand): Critics say that, by ordaining as a monk, a celebrity transvestite is using the religion for selfish reasons, but, like everyone else, he has the right to seek solace in the temple

One key argument against the decision by a former Miss Tiffany to become a monk is that he may be doing so to escape personal problems or send someone a statement.

In other words, he may not be seeking the kind of spiritual peace that those seeking ordination are supposed to. Religion, critics of Sorrawee “Jazz” Nattee say, is neither a hiding place nor a means of revenge …

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Temples prepare to see in 2013 with chanting, meditation

The Nation, Thailand: Rather than just having fantastic fun at a party somewhere, beginning the New Year with a serene mind has become a trend. Some 30,000 temples are preparing chanting and meditating activities for tens of millions of people to celebrate 2014 in “Buddhist style”.

The chanting and meditation starts on New Year’s Eve and runs until New Year’s Day. Such a calm celebration has been conducted for many years, especially in Bangkok, where the first official chanting ceremony to welcome the new year took place about six years ago at Saket Temple with assistance from the Pom Prap Sattru Phai District Office, according to the National Buddhism Office.

The popularity of chanting and meditation to mark the start of a new year has spread widely in the past few years.

“My first time was four or five years ago at Suthat Thepwararam Temple in Bangkok. Since then, I’ve practised that every new year. This year I’m thinking of a temple in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. I haven’t chosen one yet,” said Ging, 44, an office lady.

“Sitting inside a temple, chanting and meditating, I feel tranquil,” she said. “Doing this has become a campaign so lots of people have celebrated New Year’s this way. Anyhow, it’s a good thing to do.”

Adjima Neenungnok, 33, a medical technologist in Nakhon Pathom, said she would ask her parents and sisters to chant at a nearby temple, as they believe that it would help bring good luck to the family. She plans to do this after holding a party with her family at home on the last day of this year.

Also, Adjima treated herself by visiting Chiang Khan, a timeless, charming community in the northeastern province of Loei, to chill out in the cool breezes with her friends during the weekend before having a good time and praying for the New Year with her family.

Considering the new custom to be a good value that was worth promoting, the Sangha Supreme Council in 2010 resolved that every temple host the activity across the country, the National Buddhism Office said.

This year, the government expects 30 million people to chant together countrywide. Each region will have a main temple providing the ceremony. Of course, Saket Temple and Buddhamonthon will be the main venues in the Central region. Saket can accommodate up to 60,000 participants.

Sanam Luang will be another major venue with not only chanting but also Dhamma talks and a musical featuring the life of the Lord Buddha. Up to 200,000 Buddhists were estimated to pack the park. Phra That Doi Suthep Temple is set as the major chanting area in the North, Phra That Phanom Temple in the Northeast and Phra Borommathat Chaiya Temple in the South.

After the chanting ceremony, Buddhists can make merit on the first dawn of the year by offering alms to monks at all temples across the country as well as at Sanam Luang.

The rites will be aired live by National Broadcasting Services of Thailand and Thai TV Global Network.

Thai temples in other countries will also celebrate the New Year with chanting and meditating, so those abroad can also join the Buddhist style countdown.

Until tomorrow, Phra Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani is organising a thudong pilgrimage along with chanting.

The spiritual festivities are not limited to temples. More than 2,400 inmates at a prison in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen will also chant and meditate. It will be the launch of Dhamma practice at the prison, as a series of activities will be provided for them throughout the year to inculcate Dhamma in their minds and improve their conduct.

While it is easy to go to a nearby temple to try out the Buddhist style of counting down to the New Year, if it is not convenient to go out, people can still be part of the auspicious celebrations by sitting in front of a Buddha statue at home and chanting and meditating.

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Candle-lit serenity in Thailand

Young monks rehearsed an evening candlelight ceremony at the Chedi Luang temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The country’s Buddhist temples are as much a part of the landscape as rice paddies and palm trees. But many temples in rural Thailand have fallen quiet.

Credit: Giulio Di Sturco for The International Herald Tribune

From a gorgeous slide show in the New York Times, accompanying an article on the decline of the Buddhist monastic tradition in Thailand,

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Monks lose relevance as Thailand grows richer

Thomas Fuller, New York Times: The monks of this northern Thai village no longer perform one of the defining rituals of Buddhism, the early-morning walk through the community to collect food. Instead, the temple’s abbot dials a local restaurant and has takeout delivered.

“Most of the time, I stay inside,” said the abbot, Phra Nipan Marawichayo, who is one of only two monks living in what was once a thriving temple. “Values have changed with time.”

The gilded roofs of Buddhist temples are as much a part of Thailand’s landscape as rice paddies and palm trees. The temples were once the heart of …

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Obama visits Buddhist temple in Thailand

Thanyarat Doksone, AP: Leaving behind chants of “Obama, Obama” by adoring crowds on the streets, the president of the United States stepped into the serenity of Thailand’s most famous temple compound to marvel at its centerpiece — a gigantic, golden statue of a reclining Buddha propped up on one elbow before passing into nirvana.

The Temple of Reclining Buddha, formally known as Wat Pho, was the first stop on President Barack Obama’s Asian tour that will also take him to Myanmar and Cambodia. Obama arrived at the temple, one of Bangkok’s most famous tourist sites, straight from the airport after landing in Bangkok on …

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Beth Orton: “The discipline and the focus that I learned in the monastery became the same discipline and focus that I write with.”

Beth Orton on National Public Radio: “When I was 19, my mom passed away very suddenly. … She left [me and my brothers] 2,000 pounds each. It was a bit like a fable — you know, what do we do with our money? I bought a ticket to Thailand with some friends, and then we all kind of peeled off. Me and this girl, she’s like, ‘I know of this place we can go and meditate.’ And I was like, ‘Meditation, what’s that?’ I didn’t know what she was talking about. I went because it sounded like a laugh. After a while I just opened up to it.

“The strangest thing was, it was one of the most profound experiences of my life, and I left there and never meditated again. I was like, ‘I could go do anything now — get my heart broken and just meditate it away, and it’ll be fine.’ And then I started to play guitar and it became much more natural. I think what happened was, the discipline and the focus that I learned in the monastery became the same discipline and focus that I write with.”

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Thai Group says Steve Jobs reincarnated as warrior-philosopher

A rather quirky Buddhist organization has taken the distasteful, and I must assume dishonest, step of making claims about Steve Job’s rebirth. Many people only became aware that the Apple leader was a BUddhist when he died last year after a prolonged battle with cancer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Dhammakaya Group in Thailand is now claiming that “Mr. Jobs has been reincarnated as a celestial warrior-philosopher .. and he’s living in a mystical glass palace hovering above his old office at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters.”

The WSJ pointed out that the widespread grief many felt after Jobs’ passing took an odd form, when some of hisadmirers in Malaysia “gathered on a tropical island and in a religious ceremony each took a bite from an apple before flinging the fruit into the sea in a bid to speed up his reincarnation.”

Now, over in Thailand, Phra Chaibul Dhammajayo, who is the abbot at the Dhammakaya Temple north of Bangkok, is claiming that Mr. Jobs has already been reborn.

“After Steve Jobs passed away, he was reincarnated as a divine being with a special knowledge and appreciation for science and the arts,” the Dhammakaya leader said in the first of a series of sermons beamed to hundreds of thousands of the group’s followers around the world.

The WSJ charitably notes that “Phra Chaibul’s claims are impossible to corroborate.” it seems reasonable to assume that they are, in fact, either fabrications or delusions.

It also notes that Chaibul has faced criticism for his claims, which have been accused of being part of a fundraising campaign. Sadly, that sounds about right. I have to say that Dhammakaya’s claims smack of an attempt to profit from the death of a prominent Buddhist.

It is salutary for us to remember that the Buddhist world is not as “pure” as we sometimes might like to think it is.

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Thailand’s young nuns challenge convention

Amy Sawitta Lefevre: Beam Atchimapon is already three days late for the new school term in her native city, the Thai capital of Bangkok – but for a good cause.

The nine-year-old is part of a small but growing group of Thai girls who choose to spend part of the school holiday as Buddhist nuns, down to having their heads shaven.

The temporary ordination of young men has long been part of Thai culture, with men spending a few days as monks and returning to their normal professions after time at a monastery.

But the ordination of “mae ji” or “nuns” is less common …

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