Seth Kane, a visiting research fellow at the Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies, has an interesting article in Asia Times about monks in Thailand. The opening and then the conclusion:
Thailand’s community of Buddhist monks, the Sangha, has traditionally occupied a ubiquitous and hallowed place in Thai society. However, globalization and decades of rapid economic development have challenged the Sangha’s traditional position, seen in its dwindling membership, plethora of scandals and diminished role as educators and conflict resolvers.
The country’s current political divide has further strained the Sangha, exposing rifts and presenting hard dilemmas for an institution that is in many ways struggling to adapt to modern Thai society. Increasingly, Thailand’s Buddhist monks face a stark trade-off: risk further marginalization by remaining on the sidelines of entrenched political conflict or wade into the struggle in a way that could compromise their transcendental legitimacy.
Political leaders face a related choice of whether to recruit monks to their cause and employ their Dharmic rhetoric to push their agendas. While it may bolster the illusion of their moral authority, they risk accusations of hypocrisy and exploitation given their clear worldly power agendas and often less than saintly conduct.
From a longer-term perspective, the diminished role of the Sangha is arguably an important causal factor in Thailand’s crisis. Both sides of Thailand’s political divide are in competition for the loyalty of the rural masses, who are in the process of questioning old assumptions about legitimate authority, political passivity and traditional methods of dispute resolution.
The monastery is no longer the only crucial center of village life and monks increasingly play more ceremonial than mediating roles. As the political conflict plays out, how the Sangha reacts will be a crucial determinant of Thailand’s post-crisis socio-political order.
BP: For specifics see the article. On the role of Buddhist and the Thai state see this post from 2007 – the US State Department states that for Thailand the “state religion in effect is Theravada Buddhism”. What role will monks play a role in the July 3 election? So far, we have Chamlong and those in Santi Asoke are now against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (and of course against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) although the media, aside from ASTV Manager, is no longer paying attention to them, but aside from Santi Asoke, will monks play a direct role in the election? So far it seems no….