"What Makes Thai Buddhism So Strong," is the often over-looked participation of temple communities in community-wide celebrations and events. The most powerful ones are the deepest secrets of village temple culture. From a theological anthropologist's perspective they are secrets in that they cannot be fully explained except in mythic and symbolic terms, some of which are outside Buddhist doctrine.
The most persuasive examples of the strength of Thai Buddhist Religion here in Chiang Mai are ceremonial occasions that draw people from virtually every household in a temple community as well as a large number of people from elsewhere. Support for those events is dependable and consistent. At the same time, the rationale for the events is paradoxical, with accommodation for traditional suspicions and beliefs that have little to do with Buddhist doctrine and narrative, but have incorporated Buddhist priests and involve key Buddhist symbols and structures.
After decades of observing this, I have come to six tentative conclusions:
1.Thai Buddhists are instructed by narratives about incidents in the life of the Lord Buddha, which are re-enacted in Buddhist ceremonies in ways that edify and empower temple communities.
2.The most profound and best attended ceremonies also resonate with references to archetypes in the temple community’s collective unconscious.
3.In Thai Buddhist religious practices there is an embracing of life’s mysteries and realities along with a renunciation of them. This paradox is both mystifying and satisfying.
4.Funerals are the most frequent events to call forth community involvement, to mitigate the loss, and restore cosmic order.
5.Temples are both community gathering places, as well as axial columns in which representations of the Lord Buddha function in ways indicative of independence and dominance. That is, some structures are somehow alive and signify the Lord Buddha’s imminence.
6.The motivation to participate in events is that participation is expected and valuable, and merit is earned for oneself and can be transferred to express filial devotion.
[On July 4, 2019 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. I will provide a PAYAP PRESENTS illustrated lecture on this topic under the auspices of Payap University’s Institute of Religion Culture and Peace, in the International College building on Payap’s main Mae Kao Campus (right behind the chapel). The program is free of charge and open to the public, and you are invited to attend. Following that, a 16 page article entitled “Why Thai Buddhism Is So Strong” will be available on this website. You may request an e-copy now to be sent in July.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.