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Chanting monks

I'm not used to getting out of the train and hearing monks chant. (Bangkok has an elevated public transport system, like the Chicago El but modern and concrete in Brutalist style, and the platforms are two stories up. And the chanting pervaded the whole station.)

Wat That Thong from lambertstrether on Vimeo.

Though come to think of it, I'm no longer used to getting out of the train, period. So there's that! I'm also not used to how much activity takes place, here in the tropics, in what feels to me like the outdoors. In a temperate climate, chanting, even if not Buddhist but Christian (well, Episcopalian or Catholic smells and bells), would take place behind closed doors; the sound would waft out through an open window, perhaps, but I certainly wouldn't hear it otherwise.

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And speaking of monks, Buddhist ones, here's also the issue of how a society manages democracy when its religion says -- if it does say, I'm no expert -- that your place in this life was determined by past lives. What does that mean in terms of liberty, equality, fraternity? I don't mean, I really don't mean, to get into the "Thais aren't ready for democracy" mode -- heck, are we in this country? -- but and I just want to know how belief in karma and belief in democracy play out. Perhaps as well as neoliberalism and democracy?

NOTE Thailand is a monarchy, and the Lèse-majesté laws are enforced, even against foreigners. Therefore, readers, discussion of the Thai monarchy or royal family is off-topic. Guests in Thailand must obey its laws. Their house, their rules.

UPDATE Also, if anybody knows has listened to the chant and knows what its about, tell us, please.

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par4's picture
Submitted by par4 on

If anyone wants democracy all you have to do is look to Switzerland for a good way to start. "Representative" government doesn't work. The last two hundred years have proved that.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

The notion that karma is an excuse to not help people and to allow them to remain in subservient roles is specific to Theravada Buddhism, the kind found in Thailand. It does not have such a prominent role in the Mahayana Buddhism of northeast Asia and in Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism, it is pretty much turned on its head: letting someone suffer because it is "their karma" would be seen as itself a karmically negative act.
Buddhism in nations that historically had large slave populations is more supportive of hierarchy. Go figure.
By the way, the reason that Buddhism in Tibet (particularly outside of the Lhasa area) has teachings that are profoundly subversive of any hierarchy is because most of Tibet, until around 1950, was not all that thoroughly ruled by anyone. It was more a part of the Not Governed area that James Scott writes about in The Art of Not Being Governed.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

The monks are chanting in Bali (Sanskrit). Basically they are teaching about life and happiness.
Buddhism here is Theravada based, but also includes Hindu and some animism depending where one is located. Cheers