Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Laughter and Transmission of the Dharma

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Language, Reality, Emptiness, Laughs

Soraj Hongladarom
Chulalongkorn University

Laughter, especially in connection with philosophy, reality, or language, is not much discussed in the vast literature of Buddhism. In the few places where it is discussed, however, there are two strands. On the one hand, laughter is frowned upon when it is seen as an attraction that leads one astray from the path. This is evident in the Tālapuṭa Sūtra, where the Buddha says that actors and comedians would find it very difficult to enter the Path. It is also found in the Vinaya, where the emphasis is on the proper behavior of monks. The Buddha often rebukes monks who laugh out loud in the villages where householders can see them. The other strand views laughter more positively. This strand is found more in the Mahāyāna literature, where the Buddha laughs when he realizes emptiness, that nothing is substantial. The attitude of Buddhism toward laughter is conditional. Laughter and playfulness have a soteriological role to play as a skillful means, and Buddhism is not always serious.

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Thailand’s Mae Chis and the Global Women’s Ordination Movement

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Becoming Bhikkhunī? Mae Chis and the Global Women’s Ordination Movement

Lisa J. Battaglia
Samford University

Women’s full ordination as Buddhist nuns (Pāli: bhikkhunī, Sanskrit: bhikṣuṇī) has been a contested issue across Buddhist traditions and historical periods. Today, there is a global movement to secure women’s full participation in Buddhist monastic institutions. The present study examines this “bhikkhunī movement” in Thailand from the perspective of mae chis, Thai Buddhist female renunciates who abide by eight precepts yet do not have full ordination or ordination lineage. Employing an anthropological approach informed by postcolonial critical theory, my research reveals that mae chis, women who lead a Buddhist monastic lifestyle characterized by celibate practice and spiritual discipline, are not, on the whole, eager to relinquish their present status, fight against the existing socio-religious order, or pursue bhikkhunī ordination. A critical-empathic consideration of mae chis’ apparent illiberal subjectivities regarding gender hierarchy, female renunciant identity, and women’s liberation brings to light goals and strategies of the global bhikkhunī movement that do not necessarily resonate with the motivations, aims or cultural sensibilities of the Thai white-robed female renunciates.

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Review: The Spread of Tibetan Buddhism in China

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 20, 2013

The Spread of Tibetan Buddhism in China: Charisma, Money, Enlightenment. By Dan Smyer Yü. London: Routledge, 2012, xi + 222 pages, ISBN 978-0-415-57532-4 (cloth), $138.00.

Reviewed by Stuart Young

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Review: The Thai Cult of King Chulalongkorn

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 18, 2011

Worshipping the Great Moderniser: King Chulalongkorn, Patron Saint of the Thai Middle Class. By Irene Stengs. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009, xii + 316 pages, ISBN 978-0295989174 (paper), US $35.00.

Reviewed by Luke Schmidt

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Relocalization of Buddhism in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 15, 2008

The Relocalization of Buddhism in Thailand

Michael Parnwell and Martin Seeger
University of Leeds

This paper probes beneath the surface of the revitalized religiosity and thriving “civic Buddhism” that is identifiable in parts of Thailand’s rural periphery today as a result of grassroots processes of change. It exemplifies Phra Phaisan Visalo’s assertion that Thai Buddhism is “returning to diversity” and “returning again to the hands of the people.” Using in-depth case studies of three influential local monks in the northeastern province of Yasothon, it develops three cross-cutting themes that are of significance not only as evidence of a process we term “relocalization” but also as issues that lie at the heart of contemporary Thai Theravāda Buddhism. The paper explores how the teachings and specific hermeneutics of influential Buddhist thinkers like Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu, Phra Payutto and Samana Phothirak have been communicated, interpreted, adjusted and implemented by local monks in order to suit specific local realities and needs. Added to this localization of ideas is the localization of practice, wherein the three case studies reveal the quite different approaches and stances adopted by a “folk monk” (Phra Khruu Suphajarawat), a “forest monk” (Phra Mahathongsuk) and what might loosely be termed a “fundamentalist monk” (Phra Phromma Suphattho) at the interface of monastery and village, or the spiritual (supramundane) and social (mundane) worlds. This articulation of Buddhism and localism in turn feeds the debate concerning the appropriateness or otherwise of social engagement and activism in connection with a monk’s individual spiritual development and the normative function of the monk in modern Thai society.

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Review: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 15, 2008

Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand. By Monica Lindberg Falk. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007, 238 pages, ISBN 0-2959-8726-X, US $30.00.

Reviewed by Vanessa R. Sasson

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Santi Asoke Movement in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
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.

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Review: Death in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 10, 2003

The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand. By Alan Klima. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. 336 pages. Paperback. ISBN: 0691074607.

Reviewed by Patrice Ladwig

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Abortion in Thailand

Volume 5, 1998

Abortion in Thailand: a Feminist Perspective

Malee Lerdmaleewong, R.N., M.N
Bangkok, Thailand


Caroline Francis, B.A., M.A.
Mahidol University Bangkok, Thailand

The objectives of this paper are threefold: (1) To examine the abortion debate in Thailand, identifying issues raised by Thai feminist scholars about the status of women; (2) To overview some of the more prominent feminist arguments regarding abortion (particularly those written by Canadian and American scholars) as a tool for defining women’s reproductive rights; and (3) To focus on a study of attitudes toward abortion among health care personnel and post-induced abortion patients in Bangkok, Thailand in order to discern the degree of support (if any) for feminist abortion arguments.

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Review: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 5 1998

Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand. By Kamala Tiyavanich. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997, xxi + 410 pages, ISBN 0-8248-1781-8, US$29.95.

Reviewed By Tessa Bartholomeusz

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