Chatty monks not an issue
The controversy over two celebrity monks who landed in hot water following a live-streaming conversation full of puns and political wisecracking is a test of where Buddhism is going.
How the Sangha and the lay authorities deal with the challenge and how the public respond to it will provide an insight into the state of the faith and foretell its future relevancy, or lack thereof.
Phra Maha Sompong Talaputto and Phra Maha Praiwan Worawano created an online buzz when they went live on Facebook last weekend.
As the two monks engaged in a casual conversation, cracked jokes and poked fun at current affairs and politics, more people came to watch, posting questions and comments which the monks addressed and essentially turned into their real and lively "content".
At one point, over 200,000 people were watching. The phenomenal success would be a dream comes true for any online event, let alone dhamma talk which has been associated more with yawns than "likes".
The live talk was so popular that dozens of administrators of Facebook pages for commercial products made comments during the session -- acts later seen as tie-in attempts which may be inappropriate.
The unorthodox live-streaming dhamma talk became much talked about and opinions about it were bitterly divided.
On the one hand, the conservative Buddhist establishment and activists slammed the monks who peppered their talk with contemporary slang while joking about wearing "salmon-coloured" robes and giggling throughout the talk as unbecoming.
On the other, members of the public cheered the monks on. People viewed their casual way of conducting themselves and use of the live-streaming channel, as effective in reaching out.
They also believed there was nothing wrong with monks using slang, sharing their opinions about politics or laughing during a "dhamma" talk.
The National Office of Buddhism is apparently displeased. On Monday, its deputy director Sipboworn Kaewngam said the office was gathering details of the session for an investigation.
A complaint was also lodged with the Sangha Supreme Council that the two monks committed "shameless" acts of trivialising dhamma through jokes and were trying to make commercial gains.
From another corner came a voice of understanding. Phra Khru Samu Watchara, assistant abbot of Wat Rakhang Khositaram, who said no serious religious offences appear to have been committed by the monks.
The talk might be low on useful content but it can be a diversion from the mental stress brought on by the pandemic, according to the monk.
While it is understandable that while the two monks' unorthodox way of "preaching" and the modern, interactive media they chose to convey their messages on might be disturbing for the Buddhist establishment, the reality is there are many more serious problems corroding Buddhism that the authorities should attend to.
How Buddhist temples are run, commercial and supernatural interests that prevail over the essence of Buddhism, abuses by monks and unruly behaviour that often end up in the news and even how the Buddhist establishment is seemingly out of touch with people's lifestyles are issues that will affect the future of the faith more than two chatty monks on social media.
Tolerance and discernment are called for. Who knows if what Phra Maha Sompong and Phra Maha Praiwan are doing will lead the way for Buddhism to become more relevant again?
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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