04 July, 2007

UPDATE - Correct decision: Thailand's government rejects the bid to make Buddhism the national religion

Buddhist monks recently held a hunger strike while meditating in coffins. They were campaigning to get Buddhism nominated as Thailand's national religion.
My earlier post on this topic is here. It would have been crazy to make one group of people suddenly appear artificially elevated above others, especially in the current circumstances of the Muslim insurgency down in the southern provinces.

Buddhists naturally feel nationalistic about their majority status, but hopefully will have enough "metta" (literally "mother-eye" or loving kindness) to understand that nationalism can all too easily morph sideways into fascism and hatred of minorities. You need look no further than Australia for an ugly example of political abuse of nationalism. There is already a not-so-latent distrust of Muslims here in Thailand, as you find when chatting with taxi-drivers. That distrust should not be aggravated by downgrading Muslims' perceived religious status. Buddhism, likewise, must be allowed to rise or fall on its own merits, for its own good. Unfortunately, it has recently lost some public cred through corruption and the Jatukam amulet fad in particular.

I always feel a little uncomfortable commenting on the internal affairs of my host country, but do so if I think there is enough justification. It can be a cultural minefield. I always remember this un-flattering drawing of the Lord Buddha made by the first English explorers of Burma. They had neither artistic sense nor cultural insight in their un-insightful and demeaning assessment of Buddhism.

This pile of bricks at a local Chiangmai building site is the perfect metta-phor for Thailand's fragile progress towards its new post-Thaksin Constitution. Overall, I give the Surayud government a good mark for its work so far. An unenviable job.

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