Volume 28, 2021
If You Meet the Buddha on the Road: Buddhism, Politics, and Violence. By Michael Jerryson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, 240 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-068356-6 (hardback), $115.00.
Reviewed by Manuel Litalien
Volume 27, 2020
Gender and the Path to Awakening: Hidden Histories of Nuns in Modern Thai Buddhism. By Martin Seeger. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2018, xvii + 341 pp., ISBN 978-616-215-147-7 (Paperback), $40.00.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Angowski
First of two reviews of the Review Section: Lives of Ordained Women.
Volume 25, 2018
Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand
Studies have shown that religion can support or hinder social development (Haynes 2007; Tomalin 2013). This article makes a case in favor of how, in Thailand, the demands for greater justice and gender equality have engaged groups of women to seek higher Buddhist ordination as a means to better promote human and social development. Equal religious philanthropic contribution between men and women is presented as a component to democratic participation in the struggling political Kingdom of Thailand. The study finds that the women’s Buddhist movement in Thailand capitalizes on the limited welfare resources offered by the government, along with the current institutionalized politics of religious diversity, as defined in the Thai constitution. To present the inequalities and challenges faced by Thai Buddhist women, the function of the Thai Buddhist monastic community (saṅgha) will be portrayed as an organization promoting an “inequality regime.” The governing structural configuration of the saṅgha will be presented as reinforcing social roles divided by oppressive gender conceptions. The Buddhist institution’s inequality regime will be depicted in light of its refusal to ordain bhikkhunīs. The exclusion of Thai Buddhist nuns is situated in eight different lenses: namely, biological, ritual, scriptural, cultural, political, institutional, historical, and legal contexts. Finally, the vital sustainable core to these women is introduced as both a global and a local network of Buddhist women. This is better known as a glocalization strategy for the promotion of gender equality in Theravāda Buddhism.
Volume 25, 2018
Language, Reality, Emptiness, Laughs
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.
Volume 22, 2015
Becoming Bhikkhunī? Mae Chis and the Global Women’s Ordination Movement
Lisa J. Battaglia
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Volume 5, 1998
Abortion in Thailand: a Feminist Perspective
Malee Lerdmaleewong, R.N., M.N
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.
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