More meditating, less talking please
Whenever there are reports of Buddhist monks misbehaving or violating the monastic code of conduct, we often hear comments like "They are causing a decay to the religion" and "They should be kicked out of the monastery right away".
I only agree with the second remark if the wrongdoing involves sexual intercourse, stealing, killing or boasting high spiritual attainment. They are the four disrobing offences in the Vinaya, or the body of monastic rules, laid down by Lord Buddha.
So, I was surprised to see famous monk preacher Phra Maha Sompong Talaputto crying live on Facebook last week, telling his followers that he was being pressured to leave the monkhood. Even though he said that he learned of the attempt from fellow monks and couldn't prove whether it was true or not, he drew a lot of sympathy on social media.
The unlikely drama was the aftermath of last month's furore in which he, along with another monk from the same temple, Phra Maha Praiwan Worawano, were criticised after they livestreamed talk shows to deliver dhamma on social media.
The shows drew mixed feelings from the public. Some applauded their new approach of preaching saying that it could attract young people to get closer to Buddha's teachings.
But many voiced their disapproval. They condemned the two monks for making a comedy out of dhamma, unnecessarily poking fun at stars and celebrities, and using satirical and sarcastic remarks, let alone excessively giggling and laughing. Some even called them a threat to the religion and demanded they be disrobed.
Such negative sentiment against the two preachers is understandable considering their personal backgrounds.
Phra Maha Sompong, 43, has long been known to preach dhamma in an amusing way that always involves making a fool of everyone and everything. He's often seen at entertainment and sports functions and, recently, he agreed to be an honorary consultant for a local football club.
Meanwhile, Phra Maha Praiwan, 30, a frequent commentator on social media, is known for his outspokenness and sharp tongue. He formerly stunned many Buddhists when he criticised a venerable monk. At the same time, he often renders strong remarks in response to those who criticise him.
Even though both of them are well educated and have good knowledge of dhamma, they're unpopular among most older Buddhists who prefer to put their faith in monks who abide by disciplinary rules.
They couldn't help but compare the duo's unimpressive behaviour and character with the calm and holy nature of many other revered monks, most of whom are meditation masters whose flawless conduct has earned them respect from the public.
However, the two monks insisted that their show had good intentions. They said that they only wanted to help the new generation understand basic Buddhist teachings in an entertaining way and put them to good use in real life.
Looking at the positive side, I think we should be glad that they could get so many people to pay attention to dhamma in this modern world where the traditional preaching at the temple can never compete.
I believe that when these people are ready for a higher level of dhamma, they can always turn to any meditation monk out there for guidance. Of course, their teachings might not be as funny but they can, at least, "awaken their minds" and bring them to the core of Buddhism.
Faith is a personal experience that is hard to change, especially when it concerns monks who are normally expected to be clean to be worthy of being Buddha's disciple. That's probably why many Buddhists feel that Phra Maha Sompong and Phra Maha Praiwan aren't qualified.
I think that the real flaw of the two monks lies in the fact that they are too obsessed with worldly matters and neglect to break away to focus more on meditation practice or bhavana to refine themselves.
Meditation is the major duty of all monks. It is the only tool that Buddha guaranteed to lead us to spiritual cultivation and, finally, enlightenment -- which is the ultimate goal in Buddhism. Today, the two monks continue to host their live talk shows and attract a lot of admirers -- and haters as well.
In my eyes, both monks have done enough for the benefit of laypeople. It will be much better if they care more about themselves and get serious with bhavana practice for the sake of their own souls.
The duty to protect Buddhism belongs to both monks and laypeople. As long as we do our best to drive bad guys out of the monasteries and support good monks, we don't need to worry that our religion will decline.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.