The future of Buddhism in question

Professor Soraj Hongladarom from Chulalongkorn University.

“Many of the new generation do not believe in Buddhism because of the improper conduct of some monks.”

“I’m an atheist. Can I change the religion on my ID to be ‘no religion’?”

These discussions are widely circulated on social media as more and more young people express doubts about religion, especially Buddhism, which is the largest religion in Thailand.

In recent months, reports of bad behavior by monks have embittered young people towards the faith. Many monastic members – including well-known and high-ranking monks – have drawn criticism after being caught engaging in sexual acts, drinking alcohol and possessing luxurious material possessions. For this reason, young people say they have lost faith in Buddhism, preferring instead to be irreligious.

In 2012, a study by the Forum on Religion and Public Life at the US-based Pew Research Center found that globally, non-religious people (1.1 billion) have become the third largest group people after Christians (2.2 billion) and Muslims (1.6 billion). . The Buddhists came in fifth place after the Hindus. Of the 1.1 billion non-religious people, more than 700 million lived in China, 72 million in Japan and 51 million in the United States.

Professor Soraj Hongladarom from the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, said that traditionally people have remained connected to religions from their birth throughout their lives. Faith played an important role in their lives. In recent years, the number of non-religious people has increased because religion no longer meets people’s needs.

“People are currently questioning the reason for religious ceremonies. For example, some people are questioning the reasoning behind the baptismal custom of sprinkling water on a baby’s forehead. In addition, there are many reports about the misconduct of priests and monks. In Thailand, there are news stories about chaotic politics in religious organizations. This makes people skeptical about the role of monks in society,” Soraj explained.

In today’s fast-paced world, a lot has changed, but not Buddhist practices in Thailand, he said.

Photo: Evan Krause via unsplash.com

Buddhist monks use a language from the early Rattanakosin period. Their positions and names are in this ancient language. The Supreme Council of the Sangha has titles and positions for monks, just like nobles, which does not “It’s not necessary. It’s not a tenet of Buddhism. The younger generation doesn’t see the importance of the hierarchy of monks. As their language and scriptures have never changed, they can’t impress the new generation.” , said Soraj.

Woraphat Phucharoen, founder and honorary chairman of the Bojjhanga Foundation, echoed the same sentiment. Woraphat said religious preachers do not use language that appeals to the new generation.

“In the digital age, there should be new methods of learning. One of the methods is ‘action learning’ which respects learners and allows them to express themselves. I work on ‘reverse mentoring’, which allows young people to teach adults preachers use their old-fashioned language instead of using new generation language and slang, which leads to a generation gap,” Woraphat said.

Also, there is no research in Thailand to prove the benefits of having a religious belief. This type of research can convince the younger generation who need evidence to support their beliefs.

“People from Western countries have published research on mindfulness meditation and said it can improve brain function, reduce the risk of certain diseases, and improve efficiency in the workplace. However, it doesn’t There is no such research in Thailand, which makes the younger generation doubt the benefits of having a religion. I plan to conduct research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. I will compare people who practice mindfulness meditation to those who don’t,” Woraphat explained.

A study by American political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris said that in a society with an efficient public health system, adequate housing, low poverty and high equality, people were inclined to be non-religious. In contrast, in a society where people had less stability in their lives and more difficulty earning a living, most people were religious. Soraj agreed with this study.

“In a society characterized by high inequality, citizens do not feel safe because those in power can harm them regardless of the law. They have to find something to fall back on, so they turn to religion. For example, people born into a lower social class may believe that they were born that way because of their karma. Thus, they have to do many good deeds to be born with a higher social status in the next life. In contrast, people in a high-equality society already have secure lives, so they don’t need to pray or depend on any religion. Religion is their personal choice,” Soraj said.

If the number of irreligious increases each year, what will be the effect on societies?

Soraj said people should not worry that the scale of irreligious people in the future will affect the world.

Woraphat Phucharoen of the Bojjhanga Foundation.

“We should not think that people without religion are bad. In some religious countries, there are conflicts caused by religion. For example, people in Afghanistan are uncomfortable being under the Taliban who rule In the Netherlands, many prisons are The Dutch are not religious, but they strictly follow the law, which makes their society peaceful,” said Soraj.

Woraphat, who is also a consultant for the television program real little monk on TrueVisions, agree with Soraj. He said that some non-religious people are better than religious people.

“Some people go to temples and practice the dhamma, but they treat others badly, while some people with no religion are kind and generous. Some people use religion to pretend they are good people when they are not. If people don’t have peace of mind, people will be more miserable and selfish and there will be more crimes. If people have peace of mind, they won’t harm others,” Woraphat said.

Even though the world is full of non-religious people, the rule of law can help every society maintain peace. Soraj said laws that bring peace to society must come from a democratic system.

“The rule of law cannot be separated from democracy because democracy balances equality for all citizens. The rule of law should come from the people of the country, so that they accept and are willing to follow the rules “said Soraj.

The two scholars believe that in the future, the number of non-religious people may become more important than that of religious groups. In order to maintain religious groups, Soraj suggests that a religious organization should not be huge like the Supreme Sangha Council.

“The Supreme Sangha Council controls more than 250,000 monks nationwide in a conservative manner. To help a temple serve its community directly and quickly, each temple should be free to organize activities suitable for people in each community. A temple need not wait and listen only to the Supreme Sangha Council Another option is that Buddhists can form groups to find answers to life through the dhamma without involving elaborate ceremonies. No religious leader is needed. People can currently find this type of group through social media,” Soraj suggests.

Professor Soraj Hongladarom Chulalongkorn University. Professor Soraj Hongladarom

Woraphat said media representatives play the role of teachers and the religious leadership should find consultants to reform teaching and spread religious education.

“Due to the generation gap, young people often don’t listen to their parents. Media representatives, idols and influencers are the new teachers of today’s society. These people should educate the younger generation about the how to have peace of mind and how to make the world a peaceful and happier place,” he said.

“Monks should move from preaching to facilitating and coaching. There are new generation monks who are learning with me and teaching using fun activities. For example, in the real little monk Television program, the adult monks were the hosts of the little monks. The little monks did not know that they were being taught. With this method, the facilitators respect the learning capacity of young people, so they ask them to reflect, discuss and then conclude what they have learned,” Woraphat concluded.