The quixotic National Office of Buddhism is back on the news. This time they want the individuals behind a few AI-generated photos of naughty monks playing rock music, drinking alcohol, smoking and singing with beautiful ladies at a karaoke bar, and racing motorcycles literally behind bars – citing the Computer Crime Act.
Basically, the cybercrime act makes importing false information into a computer system a crime punishable by a maximum imprisonment term of five years. The National Office of Buddhism said earlier this week that these viral AI-generated images are degrading Buddhism in Thailand.
Like chasing “maya” (illusion) or a phantom, they will fail as even if the person behind the viral images is in prison, anyone outside the jurisdiction of Thai laws could simply come up with a new version of “naughty Thai monks.” What is more, perhaps they have never heard of this thing called “Streisand effect,” so they end up spreading the awareness about these otherwise harmless images by making sure it becomes news and more people end up becoming curious and wanting to see it.
PM Office Minister Puangpetch Chun-la-iad was more tactful when on Wednesday, she urged the public not to share these images. But then that was after many more Thais and foreigners read the news and became intrigued by the overt sensitivity of these people who supposedly vowed to defend Buddhism.
Not forgiving and trying to put others in prison for merely making such mocking images is basically un-Buddhist, but I do not think they are aware of the irony. They have to learn to let go and focus on what matters, instead.
For example, instead of being fickle and easily triggered, the National Office of Buddhism could better spend their valuable time meeting and talking to Thai youths who have simply become disinterested if not alienated by the predominant Thai-brand of Buddhism and ask them why and what can be done to reverse the trend.
Basically, they should organize a focus group with Thais, particularly young Thais, on what is wrong with the mainstream Thai Buddhism today. Truth be told, “real” monks having sex is not unheard of. Some “real” monks also drink booze and gamble. Then there is the inordinate focus on merit making, donating more and more money to monks and temples as if good karma is simply something that can be outrightly and conveniently purchased.
These are but some of the things that turn some Thais away from mainstream Thai Buddhism over the past few decades. Many young Thais may be classified as Buddhist on official papers but that is just about it.
The National Office of Buddhism can also spend their precious time making sure more Buddhist chanting by monks, mostly in an obsolete language called Pali from ancient South Asia, be widely translated into Thai language, so when people go to attend a funeral, for example, they will at least understand some of the teachings of the Buddha.
And since they chant repeatedly a few times during a funeral or merit-making ceremony, there is absolutely no reason why these monks and temples cannot make sure it is done alternately between Thai and Pali.
Also, it is likely that in the not-too-distant future, there will be no need for constructing more temples and even some temples will be abandoned as fewer young people are offering alms, donating money or ordaining. The question then, beside running a school or health clinic, or animal sanctuary, what else can the physical space of some of these Buddhist temples be used for or converted into? According to a stat by the 43,005 temples as of May last year, according to the Buddhist Monastery Department.
Should the land of an abandoned temple be deconsecrated and sold in order to raise money for education and health care?
These are some big questions that need answers and the National Buddhism Office and those Buddhists who care should spend more time mulling. Essentially, they should stop barking at the wrong tree and look at the big picture.