Despite over 93 per cent of Thais being Buddhist, some are feeling threatened and even convinced by a conspiracy that Buddhism is under attack, largely from Muslims.
Muslims constitute less than five per cent of the Thai population, but that hasn’t stopped the insecurity and paranoia of hardline Buddhists from overcoming them.
A group calling itself “Buddhist Power of the Land” hit the news last week. They accused a female art student – a Buddhist, by the way – of sabotaging the religion by painting a number of Buddha images with the body of Ultraman, a popular Japanese superhero character.
Perception is reality for the group, which decided to withdraw charges against the artist of religious sabotage – whatever that means – which accused the student of being paid to destroy Buddhism through such paintings.
“The student was paid to do this. That’s her business. But now we know there’s a large network conspiring to destroy Buddhism. Now that we know this much information, the police must expand their investigation,” group representative Pattachan Vichientrat told Khaosod English.
The group went as far as to claim that anti-Buddhist elements have infiltrated the bureaucracy and the entire country.
“I can assure you, if we don’t rise up right now, within the next four years Buddhists will be second class citizens,” Pattachan said.
As a non-Muslim, non-Christian and technically a Buddhist myself, I find it very disturbing that there are people who feel insecurity despite the fact that an overwhelming percentage of Thais call themselves Buddhists.
Imagine the poor student coerced by the governor of Nakhon Ratchasima to apologize for creating her work as part of an art exhibition.
It’s not enough that nine out of 10 Thais consider themselves Buddhists. These radical ‘Buddhists’ still feel insecure. Their insecurity is ironically very un-Buddhist as they seem not to understand the concept of non-attachment and impermanence.
Instead of being paranoid about an anti-Buddhist conspiracy, more Thai Buddhists could do well to spend time and energy reflecting on how a lot of Thai Buddhists have strayed far from the path of Dhamma.
Get-rich-quick Buddhist amulets, popular monks issuing lucky lottery numbers, bribes offered at temples and shrines in exchange for the possibility of being granted Arabian magic lamp-like wishes, and temple donations as a down-payment for a better reincarnation – all this is so far removed from the teachings of Lord Buddha.
Nothing can undermine Buddhism in Thailand more than the fact that many Buddhists engage in extremely un-Buddhist activities. Many people who call themselves Buddhists, for example, support capital punishment.
At the same time, Buddhism has been co-opted by the state, and many monks are obsessed with obtaining higher monastic titles.
Others run their temples increasingly like business ventures by building outlandish and gigantic Buddha statues to attract worshippers and donation money.
It’s not just fringe groups like “Buddha Power of the Land” that are paranoid; the Thai state appears to become increasingly paranoid as well.
Earlier this week, former National Human Rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, who is Muslim, disclosed a letter issued by Special Branch Police asking an unidentified university president to engage in profiling of Muslim students.
A police spokesman told me after the news broke that the requests were made to a number of universities but wouldn’t reveal the names and number of institutions. They said it’s normal intelligence gathering. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended the program.
This is not just a violation of religious rights. It will sow a seed of distrust between Muslims and the state, if not between Muslims and Buddhists as well. People who purport to be true followers of the faith should be concerned about such a development, instead of succumbing to their self-induced paranoia.