Volume 11 2004
Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement: Building Individuals, Community, and (Thai) Society
Juliana M. Essen
Soka University of America
The late 1990s economic crisis in Southeast Asia marked a critical moment in Thailand’s history. Now, many Thais pause to reevaluate their nation’s development path and to consider alternatives for a primarily Buddhist, agrarian society. The Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement in Thailand offers one such alternative. The Asoke group’s aim is not a Western ideal—to accumulate high levels of material comfort, but a Buddhist ideal—to release attachment to the material world and attain spiritual freedom. Like other Buddhist approaches to development, Asoke-style development begins with personal spiritual advancement; yet it emphasizes worldly engagement in order to address contemporary social, economic, and environmental dilemmas. This paper draws from ethnographic research at one Asoke community to illustrate how Asoke Buddhist beliefs and practices contribute to development on three levels: individual, community, and society.