The Theravada Religious Economy

It has recently been argued that the theories of religious economics have been derived from the study of Christian countries and are basically inapplicable to other religious climates, particularly the pre-dominant Buddhist cultures of the Far East. The image that emerges from these studies is quite familiar. Although no reliable quantitative data were collected, Thai scholars generally agree that Theravada Buddhism was in good shape in the country in the 19th century and remained in good shape until the early 1960s. This is explained by the fact that there was originally no centralized governmental control of Buddhism. “A century ago, the Thai clergy was really pluralistic. The monks were responsible to their communities and their practices varied according to local cultures and the training of their teachers. “ The government, in accordance with a centuries-old tradition, provided financial support to Buddhist institutions and temples, while these institutions actually compete with each other, with state money working as a reward for those who prove to be more popular. At the beginning of the 20th century, as a result of colonial threats, the Thai state began to move towards political and religious centralization, creating a national sangha to supervise all the Theravada national clergy.

In 1962, the military government was concerned about the possible communist infiltration of Buddhist temples and passed the Sangha bill, which “concentrated power in a small group of superior monks.” In fact, Theravada Buddhism as a whole was under the control of a single centralized leadership or Supreme Council loyal to the government, which received all public funds and assigned them to local institutions according to a system that gave priority to seniority over the merit. “In the old days, the neighborhood controlled monks and temples. This was with Sangha’s dictatorial project that gave the Supreme Council the exclusive power to assign monastic positions and power. The monks feel that they only need to please the elders of the Council. “

As any theory of religious economics would predict, the Buddhist clergy controlled by the Council and salaried by the State became complacent, infiltrated by careerists and less interested in participating in missionary activities than in protecting their own situations guaranteed by the State.It is a familiar litany of how a state clergy, whose salaries are guaranteed no matter what, becomes lazy and incompetent. “People with a future without a future use the monk as an occupation of last resort. “The Sangha’s monopolistic and authoritarian structure, which does not allow disagreement or local difference in religious practice, has removed the structure of internal challenges that would otherwise make it more alert to competition.” “One of the weaknesses of the Sangha is its great dependence on state power and nationalism to protect its territory and silence critics. This has encouraged a baby-crying mentality, so the clergy are always demanding outside help instead of developing self-sufficiency. “

Worst was arriving in the 1990s, when the clergy remained largely silent while the resorts of Bangkok and Thailand became the sex tourism capital of the world (with possibly up to a million professionals) and a series of scandals surrounding prominent members of the clergy, found guilty of sexual abuse or addicted to drugs or alcohol, became known.

One of the results of post-1962 complacency among the leading Buddhist clerics (once again, according to the theory of religious economics) was the emergence of new religious movements, both inside and outside of Buddhism. Two very different Buddhist movements emerge, both at odds with the Supreme Council.

The Santi Asoke, whom he calls “fundamentalist”, and Dhammakaya, whom he accuses of spreading a “consumerist” and emotional version of Buddhism. However, it is curious about the political repression of such movements, noting that the Thai law protects the religious freedom of non-Buddhist (or, more accurately, non-Theravada) groups, while according to the Supreme Council the power to denounce theravada Buddhist heretic for the state.

This creates a paradoxical situation in which the Unification Church or the Mormons, for example, can participate freely in proselytizing, while the dissident Theravada groups are harassed by the police at the instigation of the Supreme Council. The inertia within the Sangha has allowed the opportunists to take advantage of the saffron robes [of Theravada monks] as well as to force devotees-disenchanted with lax discipline and the commercialization of conventional Buddhism-to seek other options, which leads to the proliferation of sects and meditation groups.

While a local social scientist states that “the increasing popularity of the Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke religious movements, although of contrasting dogmas, reflects the religious needs of a new public, middle-class urban professionals, and a greater specialization in services religious, it is said that the laziness of the Buddhist clergy explains the success of new religious movements such as Sekai Kyuseikyo, Súkyó Mahikari, the Sathya Sai Baba movement, Falun Gong and the Unification Church, as well as the forms of non-Theravada Buddhism, particularly Sóka Gakkai.

Many believe that religions have lost power because people today are less religious and more materialistic. But if that is the case, how do we explain the proliferation of new faith groups that are rapidly devouring the territories of conventional religions? “Although the figures for new specific religious movements should not be exaggerated, the popularity in Thailand, among people who no longer visit Theravada temples, of a variety of spiritualistic and New Age beliefs imported from the West, India or China is noted.

However, hope is still seen in Theravada Buddhism, provided that the power of the Supreme Council is reduced, and free intra-Theravada competition allowed, although “breaking the monopolistic structure of the clergy, however, is easier said than done. do what”.

The Thai religious economy suggests that processes very similar to those observed in the West work in an essentially Buddhist country. Thailand confronts the state-sponsored clergy in a state of laziness and complacency, and thereby leaves room for both intrabudge and extrabudgese dissent in the form of a variety of “cults” and “sects” with free intra-Theravada competence seen by many as a remedy for the crisis of the clergy that prevails.

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