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Everyday Scandals: Regulating the Buddhist Monastic Body in Thai Media

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 June 2021

Brooke Schedneck*
Affiliation:
Department of Religious Studies, Rhodes College, USA
*
*Corresponding author. Email: schedneckb@rhodes.edu

Abstract

Although allegations of monastic financial embezzlement and sexual misconduct are the most frequent and outrageous monastic scandals reported in Thailand's media outlets, this article discusses a separate category of scandal I label ‘everyday scandals.’ This type of scandal describes the phenomenon of monks committing bodily transgressions, including inappropriate behaviours outside the temple and unacceptable presentations of the body. For Thai Buddhist laity, photos of monks taking trips to the mall and working out at a gym can be indicators that their religion is in decline. A proper male monastic body enacting acceptable behaviour signals the difference of the monastic life from the lay life, ensuring the efficacy of merit and ritual performance. The regulation of everyday monastic life is a fertile topic in Thai media. Because the Buddhist monastic institution is interconnected with the Thai nation-state, the male monastic body is a site of evaluation and critique. At stake is national Thai heritage and pride in Thailand's majority religion: Buddhism. Besides the strength of contemporary Thai Buddhism, everyday scandals also reveal continuity in the discourse of decline and anxiety over monastic behaviour, which began with the earliest Buddhist communities. The threat of Buddhism's decline is part of a continuum of debates within monastic texts and Buddhist history regarding proper monastic behaviours in public.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Institute for East Asian Studies, Sogang University

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