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Archive for January, 2011

Luangta Maha Bua Passes Away

It’s all over the front page of the Nation. “Thailand’s most revered monk; a guiding light has passed on.” Luangta Maha Bua had an enormous influence on Thai Buddhism, culture, politics and even the Thai economy. You can read some recent pieces about Luangta Maha Bua at Wandering Dhamma, where the author had the great fortune of being able to speak with him. For those who’ve never heard of this charismatic old monk, it is hard to relate how huge an impact he had on Thai Buddhism—not to mention what his passing may mean for the future of the Thai forest tradition. Much more to say, but those are my thoughts for now.

My thanks to Bhante Sujato for altering us of this sad news.

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Foreign Policy magazine just did a photo-essay entitled “Close Encounters of the Buddhist Kind“, with the subtitle, “An exclusive look inside a booming multibillion-dollar, evangelical, global Thai cult.”

That’s not a fair way to introduce to their readers a “movement…little known to Thailand’s general public, and certainly to the rest of the world.” Buddhism has always had an evangelical element ever since the Buddha’s decision to teach and spread the dharma, with the same motivation powering Christianity (or any other religion’s) spread of its gospel, compassion. Dhammakaya is certainly global, but to say it is little known to Thailand’s general public is a misstatement, later corrected in the essay. And it’s okay if the rest of the world does not know about it, there’s a lot that the rest of the world doesn’t know about. Most religious groups do not have the global celebrity power of the Dalai Lama.

The most egregious assault by Foreign Policy is in the way the photo-essay labels Dhammakaya as a cult. With little explanation of the context within Thai culture, the photo-essay shows pictures of massive rallies with adherents all dressed white and standing in lines. What are most people to make of these pictures without the proper context? Afterall, Dhammakaya is “certainly” unknown to the rest of the world. Could it be that the massiveness of the rallies is fed by the Thai culture’s expectations that men be ordained at least once in their life? This is suggested by the fifth picture but there are no indications of this being a family or community event. Instead, we only see a sea of uniformity.

It would be easy to post up a group of pictures and include short commentary. The Internets does this all the time! In fact, we could invite our readers to do the same for the pictures below. Use your imaginations, sky’s the limit.

But in all seriousness, there is one troubling aspect shown by these pictures: lots of money and it’s use. Where does all the money for the Memorial Hall come from and how did they receive it? Was it necessary to enclose it with dome consisting of thousands of gold-plated Buddha statues? Why are we creating another idol? I will admit to having a suspicious bias against ostentatious displays, be it of wealth, compassion or most other things.

I am interested in hearing from Dhammakaya followers or anyone who knows more about these practitioners. What is the meditation practice like? Their website suggests imagining nimitas. Why’s that? How is the organization able to collect so much money? Since there is a local meditation center, I may just have to check them out.

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Cobb's Spinning Top Totem

Venerable Kusala mentioned the movie during his dharma talk with the University Buddhist Association at UCLA and Reverend Danny Fisher wrote a review for the film. I’m sure many others have contributed their two cents on the movie Inception so here’s mine.

The part of Inception that became the most memorable for me was not the gravity-defying fight scenes nor was it the magnificent dream worlds the characters were transported through. Rather, the one part of Inception that really had me thinking was the totem. Cobb describes the totem as a small object used to confirm whether one is in reality or a dream – what an idea! Three totems are introduced in the film: Cobb and Mal’s spinning top, Arthur’s weighted red die, and Ariadne’s chess piece.

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