Thai Buddhist Scholar Cautions Against Enshrining Buddhism as State Religion
Prominent Buddhist scholar Sulak Sivaraksa has condemned calls from Nationalist monks and lay Buddhists in Thailand, who are demanding that the kingdom’s next constitution recognize Buddhism as the official state religion. Sulak cautioned that such a move would do more harm than good and could serve to antagonize religious discord in the country. “Those who think like this are extremely nationalistic,” he said. (Khaosod English)
His reaction came shortly after more than a thousand monks and their supporters attended a rally at Phutthamonthon Buddhist Park in Nakhon Pathom Province near Bangkok on 15 February to call for the acting supreme patriarch Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn to be appointed to the post permanently, and for Buddhism to be enshrined in the constitution as the national religion. Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, with 93.2 per cent of the nation’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhist, according to 2010 data from the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center.
Sulak urged Thai Buddhists to consider the kingdom’s other faiths, which include Islam and Christianity. “It’s most inappropriate and will do more harm than good. Don’t we recognize the value of Muslims?” asked Sulak, adding, “A [Thai] female Christian told me being a woman is disadvantageous enough.” (Khaosod English)
The scholar attributed the demands to an overly narrow understanding of Buddhist teachings and a prevailing undercurrent of ultra-nationalism in Thai society. “It’s because this country has taught people to be nationalistic, so they think we must have a national religion too,” he said. “Buddhism is also a religion which teaches people to reduce one’s ego and to nurture loving kindness. The Buddha taught people to love all mankind.” (Khaosod English)
Amorn Wanichwiwatana, a spokesman for the committee tasked with drawing up the next constitution—Thailand’s 20th in 84 years of turbulent democracy since 1932 that have been punctuated by a similar number of military coups—observed that all faiths were protected under the current draft of the new charter. Noting that he believed maintaining the status quo would be preferable, Amorn was more circumspect on the possibility of whether the situation could change in the final draft, due by the end of March, saying, “You will know when the time comes.” (Khaosod English)
Human rights proponent and Muslim Angkhana Neelapaijit chairs a subcommittee that has submitted a proposal to the charter-drafting panel urging them to recognize that while the kingdom is a unitary state, it is also a pluralistic society with a diversity of religious beliefs.
Angkhana said the recurring calls to make Buddhism a national religion had originated from the same group of well-known controversial monks. She urged that for the sake of equality and mutual respect, no religion should be made a state religion. “Perhaps we should teach people about the essence of religion,” she mused. (Khaosod English)
Pipob Udomittipong, former editor of the progressive journal Pacarayasara Magazine and a Buddhist, lamented what he saw as the politicization of Buddhism. “Making Buddhism the national religion will tie religion to the state and politicize it,” he said, observing that ordinary lay Buddhists in his home province of Chiang Mai did not seem to share the concerns of the groups calling for change. (Khaosod English)
“The conflicts in the three [predominantly Muslim] southern provinces will acutely exacerbate [sic]. [Separatists] will be able to recruit more people, and the issue would lead to more violence,” said Pipob of the potential ramifications on the kingdom’s restive south. “The ending won’t be nice.” (Khaosod English)
Buddhist Scholar Warns Against Establishing National Religion (Khaosod English)
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Thai Monks Tussle with Soldiers at Monastic Leadership Rally (Buddhistdoor Global)
Buddhist Groups Push to Make Buddhism Thailand’s Official Religion (Buddhistdoor Global)