Thai Monks and the debate of modernizing religion vs sticking to convention

Enjoyed this article in Reuters today. It pretty much touches on all things I dislike about the rigidity of religious conventions.

Basic summary:

  • Two Thai monks have used Facebook live streaming as a way of teaching about Buddhism during the pandemic when in person visits are not possible.
  • The two monks have captivated a large audience. They attract hundreds of thousands of viewers, once had an audience of two million, and overall have a following of 2.5 million on Facebook.
  • A large reason of their success is they have attracted a young audience through being able to talk and relate with them and apply their teachings to practical aspects of daily life which young people feel, learn from and enjoy. They also try and make the classes fun with jokes and light-heartedness.
  • However the traditionalists see this as flippant and not respectful. So the two men were made to explain themselves to a parliamentary hearing on religion and told by government ministers to tone down the “inappropriate behavior”.

“Monks’ behavior has to be respectable in the public eye. It doesn’t have to change with the time to appease young people,” said Srisuwan Janya, head of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution. “That will lead to the decline of Buddhism, which has already existed for nearly 2,600 years without needing to change before.”

Paiwan ( one of the monks ) responded with typical levity when asked to comment on the summons: “Laughing has become a national problem!”

I say those two monks ought to keep it up and in fact be appreciated for clearly spreading the message of religious virtues in a way that is relatable to a new generation. Buddhism is generally considered a very tranquil faith which does not have the negativity of world events and politics tangled together anyway. The debate of conventions and religious norms and how young people are breaking away from it is a more broader topic across different faiths but these two monks have a solution in their sphere and aren’t causing any harm. What’s the problem?

They play video games, too!

Well, I’m relatively sympathetic to Buddhism, but all in all I want all religion to go the way of the dodo. So if religion doesn’t want to keep up with social media, that’s another nail in the coffin for them, though not proselytizing of course is a good thing.

In just about any religious structure you will find old and young, conservatives and reformers. Sometimes (often) the conservatives push back.