Religious southeast asia

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Religious southeast asia

  1. 1. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Religion, monarchy and politics in Thailand – Whatrole does religion have in politicalThailand and how about the monarchy?IndexIntroduction/Background .................................................................................................................................. 2Theories ............................................................................................................................................................. 2Religion, Politics and Modernization compared to Monarchy .......................................................................... 3 Religion and Monarchy.................................................................................................................................. 3 Politic, modernization and Monarchy ........................................................................................................... 5Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................................... 7Appendix:........................................................................................................................................................... 7 Mandala ......................................................................................................................................................... 7Bibliography ....................................................................................................................................................... 7 Why do humans need religion? They need religion because it explains. It provides us with answers to existential questions: why we die, why something like earthquake happens and so on. Religions are controlling forces that help sustaining moral and order, they validates our existence and gives meaning to life. And religions helps human in the fragile moments of their lives and make them overcome failure, illness, catastrophes and death (Keesing 1985:330-331). 1
  2. 2. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Introduction/Background In this paper I want to analyze, supported by ethnographic examples, the significance of religion in themonarchy of Thailand history. I want to discuss why religion is so important for the monarchy in Thailand,and what influence it has on political, and economic decisions. The main religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism, and this form of Buddhism “teaches theaccumulation of merit through one’s own good deeds as a way to ensure good fortune” (Tapp 1993:287-288). Nirvana is the final destination, outside the endless circle of death and rebirth, so technicallyBuddhism is a way of living, without spirits or supernatural beings. Those things is being blended into therituals anyway (it origins back from Hinduism) and is ensuring health, prosperity and fertility.TheravadaBuddhism is attractive as a socio-political system because it provides “people with (1) a perspective withinwhich each human existence could be seen as the working out of moral gain and loss in previous existence;(2) a scale of moral values in which equanimity, peaceableness and generosity rated high; and anger,conflict, violence and desire for gain rated low. It also (3) embodied an organization of voluntary teachersand moral preceptors (the sangha) whose main concerns were strictly non-political; and who would beeconomically supported by the people, but were also prepared to cooperate with the ruler and advise himon religious and social matters in return for his guaranteeing them a virtual monopoly as the spiritual andreligious professionals of the kingdom” (Suksamkran 1984:28-29). Today, about 95 percent of the population is Buddhist and the king is declared to be Buddhist. But it isnowhere said that Buddhism is to be the state religion, in the Constitution it says that: “The king is aBuddhist and an upholder of religions” (Sharma 2003:17). The situation in Thailand is significantbecause it is the one country in Southeast Asia that has not beencolonized, and it was therefore able to continue its traditions and improve them to suit modern time. Thecountry has a king as the head of the government.Theories According to George Herbert Mead (Furseth 2007:76) humans only become humans in socialinteraction. According to him many institutions in human life, e.g. religion, imply taking on a role and at thesame time it represent an expansion of the process. The religious role is based on helpfulness in e.g. familyrelations;thus you can see the King as the father of the people, whom he rules and therefore he is takingthe helpful role in order to help his ‘family’ – the people. An example of this is, when general Taksin in the1760’s, after the Burmese plunder of Ayutthaya, took upon himself the helpful role of a father for thepeople and led them to their new home further south of the river, near todays Bangkok. Another exampleis King Bhumibol Adulyadej (xxxx-), who has traveled around his country, helping minorities to identify 2
  3. 3. Bastian Friborg040788-1907themselves with him, the country and the religion. This has led to the great respect that is shown to himand his decisions, when he chooses to interact in politics. Max Weber (Furseth 2007:67) connects religion with social hierarchy and status groups. He says thatgroups who are economically and politically well off, use religion to legitimize their way of living and theirplace in the social structure, while the underprivileged groups tends to accept religions that reward thegood deeds and punish the bad deeds. This we can see in the history of the Thai monarchy, at first the kingwere focused on the religious aspect of being king – dharmaraja – and made changes and laws tobringdiscipline to the sangha, later on they used religion in more political ways. Latest we can see how, thate.g. King Bhumibol Adulyadejhave used that, that he is protector of all religions, to unite the minoritiesliving in the outer rime areas, and given them an identity with the monarch and the nation, while havingtheir own religion. Pierre Bourdieu(Furseth 2007:105) claims that individuals or social groups that experience low socialmobility, might take over a more traditional religion with focus on the past, because it will legitimize areturn to the old social order and restore their social being, as we see in Thailand, where many of therituals connected with royalty are Brahmanic, because they are more glorifying and legitimize the king as agod-king – dharmaraja. Bourdieu (ibid:105-6) have three central terms: habitus, capital and field. Habitus refer to principles thatproduce and reproduce a social class practice. Capital describes the ability to exercise control over own andothers future, e.g. when a dictator legitimize his reign by calling upon his religious capital, this can also beseen as religious violence. In Thailand the king has been given huge religious capital through the Brahmanicrites, that makes him almost like a god on earth, the head of all religions, thushe can make any religiousdecision or lawhe wants to. Field is kind of the arena where different agents use habitus and capital to getinfluence on the crowd. E.g. an imam and a monk compete over the same crowd, but the crowd hasdifferent subgroups with different religious interests. Therefore the imam and the monk have to modifytheir message in order to be heard and to convince people. In that way the field is affecting the message, itis the interaction between the agent and the patient.Religion, Politics and Modernization compared to MonarchyReligion and Monarchy In Buddhism kingship is a holy thing with roots in the history of evolution of mankind, the king is chosento control man because of its imperfection. He was to be the upholder of Dharma. Because of this therewas, and still is, a tight bound between the king and the prosperity of his kingdom. It is said that: 3
  4. 4. Bastian Friborg040788-1907 “When the kings are not righteous, so are princes, Brahmins, and householders, townsfolk and villagers. This being so, the moon and the sun deviate from their courses, so constellations and stars, days and nights……months, seasons and years; the wind blow wrong……; the god (of rain) does not pour down showers of rain, the crops ripen in the wrong season, thus men who live on such crops have short lives and look weak and sickly. Conversely, when the kings, the rulers, are righteous, the reverse consequences follow” (Suksamkran 1984:27). Therefore it is necessary to keep the sangha alive, so it can help the king keep the country on the righttrack. The king is regarded the father of his people and they pay him great respect and have great faith inhim. Today’s monarchy in Thailand “though not actively engaged in politics, enjoys wide popularity amongthe Thai public” (Sharma 2003:1). Now I will in short describe the three main periods of Thai kingship: the Sukhothai, the Ayutthaya andthe Bangkok era. The Sukhothai kingdom (1238-1438) was the first to arise in present Thailand and was centered in theLopburi region near what is now Chiang Mai. It was administrated like a super –muang1. The well-known Thai scholar, Prince Dhani Nivat, once wrote about kingship during the Sukhothaiperiod, in his article “The Old Siamese Conception of the Monarchy”. According to Dhani Nivet, the monarchof that time “was the people’s leader in battle, and in peacetime, a father whose advice was sought andwhose judgment was accepted by all” (ibid:3). In the region there has been found an inscription that saysthis in relation to the reign of King Rama Kamhaeng: “During the lifetime of king Rama Kamhaeng, the city of Sukhodaya has prospered. There are fish in the waters and rice in its rice-fields. The Lord of the country does not tax his subjects who throng the roads leading cattle to market and ride horses on their way to sell them…; if anyone in the kingdom has some grievance or some matter that is ulcerating his entrails and troubling his mind, and wish to lay it before the king, the way is easy: he has only to strike the bell hung there. Every time King Rama Kamhaeng hears this appeal, he interrogates the plaintiff about the matter and gives an entirely impartial decision” (ibid:4). As the Tai rule gradually got consolidated in what is now northern Thailand, so did the Buddhization.Theravada Buddhism was consolidated as the ‘backbone’ of the society, while Hinduism still was importantpart of the kingship rituals and some elements of Hinduism survived among the population.1 See Appendix about Mandala 4
  5. 5. Bastian Friborg040788-1907 The Ayutthaya period (1340-1767) followed the Sukhothai and was centered further south. It wasfounded by U Tong after he had led the people to this new location in order to escape from an epidemic. In the Ayutthaya period, there was a massive influence from the neighboring Khmer empire, Angkor.This influence was mainly cultural and religious, and it is shown in the fact that the state rituals becamemore Hindu-Brahmanic, the monarch was given the regalia of Shiva and Vishnu; even today the monarchhas these symbols (ibid:8). In the same period the realm was transformed from the mandala organizationinto a kingdom with its own division of labor and hierarchy. This also meant that the king became moredistant from the common people. The king now represented a microcosm of the universe. The palace wasbuilt around the king and the city was built around the palace and the Capitol was the center of the realm. King Taksin (1767-1782) was the one who moved the capital further south of the Chao Phraya Riverfrom Ayutthaya till todays Bangkok, after the plunder of Ayutthaya by the Burmese, and with him startedthe Bangkok era. Later Taksin got more and more religious, and began to think of himself as a bodhisattva,and he began to disrobe monks who questioned his ideas. It ended with a rebellion and his execution in1784 (Sharma 2003:10). Rama I (1782-1809) was one of the generals opposing king Taksin, and he was crowned king in 1782.Rama I became a Buddhist king – a dharmaraja. He issued a series of laws to restore discipline in theBuddhist monkhood (Sharma 2003:11). In 1851, Prince Mongkut became king Rama IV (1851-1868) after 27 years in monastery, where he hadtraveled the country and studied original Buddhist manuscripts. King Rama IV saw himself as defender ofBuddhism, and he did so by reforming Buddhism so it could stand against the western missionary religionse.g. Christianity, and he extended freedom of religion to the people and missionaries.Politic, modernization and Monarchy King Rama V (1868-1910) also known as Chulalongkorn, helped transforming the kingdom into a modernstate. Chulalongkorn focused on acquiring European science and institutions and at the same time protectthe country’s independence. When the rule of Chulalongkorn ended in 1910, the Siamese state had apower never seen before in its history. It became a “’patrimonialbureaucracy’ headed by an ‘absolute(enlightened) monarch’” (Sharma 2003:14). In the reign of king Rama VI (1910-1925) the idea of the Thai nation, was conceived as a triumvirate of“nation-religion-monarch” (chat-satsana-phramahakasat). If disrespect was shown towards one of these, itwas disrespect shown to them all (ibid:14). When king Rama VI died in 1925, the crown went to PrincePrajadhipok, his younger brother. In June 1932, 123 middle level officials – civil as well as military –made a swift coup and forced kingRama VII to relinquish his power and thereby end absolute monarchy in Siam. King Rama VII agreed on the 5
  6. 6. Bastian Friborg040788-1907conditions set by the coup-makers, “promoters”, and continued as constitutional head of the newgovernment and the name is changed from Siam to Thailand in 1939. For the next 25 years royalty was absent from Siam, because the reigning monarch was living outsidethe country most of the time, and the country was dominated by the “promoters”. In June 9 1946, KingRama VIII was found dead, and his younger brother Bhumibol Adulyadej was declared to be king Rama IX,and from 1951 he stayed permanently in Thailand. Politically King Bhumibol Adulyadej was only engaged in absolute crisis e.g. in 1976, where “politicaltensions between leftist and rightist forces reached a bloody climax in October 1976”(www.onwar.com/aced/data/tango/thailand1976a.htm) and hundreds of students were killed, and in 1992,where protest against the government ended in a bloody military crackdown(www.monsmade.com/english/056_bloody_may.php). So only when absolutely needed, did he use hispower to restore normality. This among other things has given him great respect among the people, andhuge political weight. The other things that have made King Bhumibol Adulyadej popular is that he hassought not only to embody ethnic Thai and Buddhist, but also minority ethnic and religious groups as well.He has been visiting remote parts of the country, and by doing so he helped turning the tides against theinsurgency of communism, which was on its way from Cambodia and Laos. In some Southeast Asian countries e.g. Thailand, some Western ideas are been taking in and mixed withthe local ideas i.e. it is a mix of both worlds, some Western values are ignored and so are some Asian valuesin order to create a whole. Buddhism did “not become an agency of modernization in the way, for instance, that some determineChristianity has in the West, it has provided support for that evolving sense of national purpose that isintimately linked to modernization. In this, it performs the valuable function of legitimizing the changesthat transpire by accepting them into the traditional world-view” (Matthews 1986:56). For some, especially rural people, in order to learn the new science and technology, their whole world-view and system explanation, which origins from their “old” religion, has to be changed. So success oftechnical learning is determined by an attendant cultural learning (Buss 1986:16). Technology has to beincorporated in the culture and become a natural part of it2in order for the culture to become whole again.This was well done in Thailand; here the kings let Western technology and science enter, while stillprotecting the Thai identity and independence. This way of doing it, match with Weber’s (ibid:17) idea, thatmodernization has to come one step at a time in order to constitute ‘right livelihood’ so the system doesnot collapse.2 E.g. animism in Japan has made it easier to accept robots in their lives. (Oral: Robertson, Jennifer. Copenhagen. 11.Nov. 2010) 6
  7. 7. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Conclusion By leaving the religion of the kingdom undefined, and only specify the religion of the king, and make himprotector of all religions, it is easier for minorities to identify themselves with the king and country. In general can be said that monarchy has been ushering modernization in Thailand, with the end ofabsolute monarchy in 1932, and the way the monarchy re-invented itself and its role in political andreligious matters. The monarchs of Thailand have been able to create a vision of national purpose including bothBuddhism and modernization. Therefore Thailand got a head start in post-colonial time, to mobilize anational identity. In the case of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his interventions in politics, these have been aimed atdiffusing crisis, consolidating democracy and restoring stability, and when things where back in order, hewithdrew from the scene. And his traveling around to the minorities has made them come to identifythemselves with the Thai nation and to take part in its development.Appendix:Mandala A mandala is a spiritually powerful circle, around a central figure. It is an important geometric figure inBuddhism and Hinduism. “The configuration of the mandala may … be represented as a geopoliticalalliance; such an ideal kingdom would exclude threats and undesirable influences. In the centre would bethe ruler, surrounded by his officials, who themselves were at the centre of subordinate mandalaformations” (Heidhues 2000:22).Bibliography Benjamin,Geoffrey. 1979. “Indigenous Religious Systems of the Malay Peninsula”. In A.L. Becker and Aram A. Yengoyan (eds.), The Imagination of Reality: Essays in Southeast Asian Coherence Systems. Norwood, New Jersey: ABLEX Publishing Corporation. Pp. 9-25. Buss, Andreas. 1986: “Max Weber’s Heritage and Modern Southeast Asian Thinking on Development”. In Matthews, Bruce and Judith Nagata (eds.), Religion, Values and Development in Southeast Asia. Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Pp. 4-21. 7
  8. 8. Bastian Friborg040788-1907 Dentan, Robert K. 2002. “Against the Kingdom of the Beast: Semai Theology, Pre-Aryan Religion and the Dynamics of Abjection.” In Geoffrey Benjamin and Cynthia Chou (eds.), Tribal Communities in the Malay World: Historical, Cultural and Social Perspectives. Leiden and Singapore: International Institute for Asian Studies and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Furseth, Inger og Pål Repstad. 2007: Religionssociologi: En Introduktion. København: Hans Reitzels Forlag.Pp. 60-107, 175-182. Heidhues, Mary Somers. 2000: Southeast Asia: A Concise History. London, Thames and Hudson Ltd. Jagannathan, Shakunthala. 1995: Hinduism: An Introduction. Bombay: Vakiland Sons Ltd. Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn. 1986: “Buddhism and National Development”. In Matthews, Bruce and Judith Nagata (eds.), Religion, Values and Development in Southeast Asia. Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Pp. 62-63. Keesing, Roger M. 1985: Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective. Philadelphia: CBS College Publishing. Pp. 329-347. Matthews, Bruce. 1986: “Buddhism, Modernization and National Purpose”. In Matthews, Bruce and Judith Nagata (eds.), Religion, Values and Development in Southeast Asia. Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Pp. 51-61. Sharma, Sudhindra. 2003. Relationship between Religion and Monarchy in Buddhist and Hindu Societies: With Special Reference to Thailand and Nepal. Accessed at <http://www.asianscholarship.org/asf/ejourn/articles/sudhindra_sharma.doc> on 3 June 2011. Sivaraksa, Sulak. 1984: “Buddhism and Society”. In Terwiel, B. J. ,Buddhism and Society in Thailand. Ranchi, The Catholic Press. Pp. 97-120. Suksamkran, Somboon. 1984: “Buddhism and Political Authority”. In Terwiel, B. J., Buddhism and Society in Thailand. Ranchi, The Catholic Press. Pp. 25-42. Tapp, Nicholas. 1993. “Karma and Cosmology”. In Evans, Grant (ed.). Asia’s Cultural Mosaic: An Anthropological Introduction. Singapore: Prentice Hall. Pp. 287-306. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émile_Durkheim>Accessed on May 7, 2011. <http://www.monsmade.com/english/056_black_may.php>Accessed on June 3, 2011. <http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/tango/thailand1976a.htm> Accessed on June 3, 2011. <http://www.stud.hum.ku.dk/tabu/aarg15/2002dec/emile_Durkheim.htm> Accessed on May 7, 2011. 8

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