Your Say: November 2018

 |  November 1, 2018

Religious Debate

I would like to bring to your attention the article, “Thai Buddhism’s Struggle.” [Ed. Thai Buddhism’s Struggle for Relevance: October 2018], written by Pim Kemasingki and Wasitphon Songmuang which was published in Citylife, October edition. I was shocked by the unprofessional manner the authors pieced together their views and my interviews. They concocted them into a singular piece without any due consideration of what I actually said.

There are imprecision in terms of fact in certain parts, i.e. the remarks that Santi Asok’s members observe 5 precepts and that Buddhadasa regarded reincarnation as foolish. Those who study these 2 movements know only too well that these are far from correct. More serious matter is the tone of the article. Academics always try to understand the people under their study though they do not share their worldview. Unbiased tone makes an article academically mature. In terms of belief, you can certainly preserve your atheist standpoint, but you must also consider and respect the viewpoint of the one you interview. A concerned Buddhist can be critical, but being critical is totally different from outright invective.

This article therefore seriously tarnishes my reputation as an academic as well as a concerned Buddhist.

I was very disappointed and want to register my resentment. I have proposed the revised version of the article, but the authors seem to ignore it. If you want your magazine to meet professional standard, you should display professional ethics. I hope you replace the present online version by the one I sent you. In the next printed edition, I hope the editor will make an announcement of apology to me.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Apinya Feungfusaul

[Ed. Thank you for your letter. We taped our entire conversation and I stand by all quotes. As to my opinion and tone, that is our prerogative, and we made it clear that all non-quotes were our own opinions. I am unable to publish your revised article — which nearly totally rewrote my entire piece — one week after publication. I am sorry that you felt unfairly represented, and thank you for your concerns.]
Thoroughly enjoyed reading your articles on Buddhism and your editorial. I don’t agree with everything you say, but respect your right to say it and really enjoyed how you said it. It is so important to live in a society where we can have such debate and thought and so refreshing to read of two academics who are not afraid of speaking up and questioning the status quo. This is journalism at its best.

Philip Starrack

As a Buddhist, it made me uncomfortable to read the article about Buddhism and I didn’t enjoy it. But then I thought about it a lot. I think I learnt so much from it and am going to be thinking about it for a long time. It is important to question, I think.

Yours ka,

Suporn Barker

Great editorial in October and loved the Buddhism piece. Great read, lots of feisty opinions and overall a pleasure.

[The writer requested anonymity]
Thank you, Pim and Wasitphon, along with Dr. Apinya Fuengfusakul, for important contributions to such an interesting subject.

One of the reasons that I live in Thailand during parts of the year is to access some of its wats, where one can practice meditation as well as do some study, and be in the company of both Thais and foreigners seeking a place to practice. By way of example, Wat Umong is, for me, a wonderful historic refuge for meditative peace and study that is also very accessible.

Yet, even with myriad wats with dedicated monks and nuns, there is at the other extreme in Thailand other movements, which has highlighted in Thailand and worldwide the concerns over the monetization, commercialism, and distortion of the original teachings, at least as the historical Buddha taught them. I’m not singling out these movements; there are many good and honorable people that flock to these organisations for refuge.

One item in this excellent article caught my eye: “The good news, according to Dr. Apinya, is that there are many people who are studying Buddhism and attempting to find a way to interpret it towards relevance again.” I feel this is a key concept. With the expansion of a consumer class in Thailand, and an erosion of attention to original Buddhism’s focus on renunciation and ethics, Buddhism is more needed in Thailand, and around the world, than ever before. In a world that is now so dominated by greed, anger, and delusion over what is important to a skillful and happy life, the original message of the Buddha is needed now more than ever…especially for today’s younger people.

In Thailand, there are monks and nuns that can reach the young people and perhaps instill in them the message of hope and happiness that the Buddha taught with his timeless and energetic Dhamma. We need only locate these monastics (and lay teachers) and give them the same platform and attention that has been previously occupied by forces that are weakening or distorting the Dhamma in Thailand. As the old saying goes, we can lead these young horses to the pure and energetic water of the Dhamma, but will they drink?

Michael Roe