Modern Urban Reform Buddhism in Thailand
Speece, M. 2013. Modern urban reform Buddhism in Thailand. IAPR 2013 Congress, International Association for the Psychology of Religion. 27-30 August 2013, Lausanne, Switzerland, Programme & Book of Abstracts, p. 277-279. (Abstract only)
17 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2014
Date Written: August 27, 2013
Thailand’s success at pursuing development over the past century has fostered economic growth, urbanization, and the rise of an educated urban middle class. However, many middle class Thai feel that economic success has not bred happiness, but rather, new and bigger problems. They hope for guidance from Buddhism, but traditional Buddhism seems irrelevant, focused on the traditional dichotomy between the Thai elite and the rural masses. Thus, a number of urban middle class Buddhist reform movements have developed.
We examine four of the most prominent movements using Rawlinson’s (2000) four-quadrant taxonomy, which classifies religious traditions by the type of psychology they address. The ‘hot-cool’ dimension distinguishes whether traditions stress an ‘other’ beyond oneself, to which one must refer to attain salvation (hot), or see salvation as essentially a matter of self-realization (cool). Structured traditions follow some roadmap, with or without help from an ‘other’. Unstructured traditions do not distinguish stages or a map, but aim for realization that truth/God is present always, and one only needs to see it.
The reform movements have diverged to reoccupy all four quadrants. ‘Reform-from-within’ remains within official Thai Theravāda’s ‘cool-structured’ framework, itself based on official reforms of the 1800s and early 1900s. Wat Dhammakāya has re-integrating esoteric elements into a ‘hot-structured’ form similar to Vajrayāna in many respects. Santi Asoke diverged along the other dimension, becoming a ‘cool-unstructured’ form sharing many characteristics with Zen, a Mahāyāna tradition. Kuan Im, the Chinese Kuan Yin, was brought to Thailand by Thai-Chinese. She is often associated with Pure Land Buddhism, and offers salvation to her followers through her compassion and grace, a ‘hot-unstructured’ traditions.
Keywords: buddhism, reform buddhism, thailand
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