Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thailand – a spiritual sanctuary: By Rajan Datar

BBC World News presenter Rajan Datar traveled across Thailand for a documentary for his show – The Travel Show – to find out whether there is still room for spirituality in the 21st century with growing consumerism and economic growth. He makes a few interesting observations based on his experience in the country.

Thailand – a spiritual sanctuary
By Rajan Datar

Thanks to its Buddhist traditions, Thailand has also retained a reputation as a country where spirituality is of big part of everyday life. As a result it's become a destination that's visited by many travellers who want to disengage from the pressures of everyday life and reconnect with something altogether more meaningful.

Thailand portrays itself as a devout Buddhist country but our experience is that is not so true anymore in the big cities and on the holiday islands

* Young people, especially in the capital Bangkok, are increasingly turning away from orthodox, “organized” Buddhism, questioning the values of their parents and pursuing education and career goals. 

* The monkhood or Sangha is struggling to recruit novices and some monks are setting very bad examples with allegations of corruption, getting intoxicated and generally breaking many of the Buddhist precepts. There is even now a 'Monk Police' to help root out the bad apples.

Meeting Thailand's first female Buddhist nun, the remarkable Bhikkhuni Dhammananda.  She is not officially recognised by the Thai Buddhist hierarchy and had to be ordained in Sri Lanka

* What’s more the country’s political elite haven’t always covered themselves with glory. A military coup in May has led again to the abandonment of democracy until stability is restored. And then Thailand’s international reputation frequently suffers with stories about sex tourism, sleaze and even murder. 

The Chivasom International health resort in Hua Hin in Thailand is a luxury exclusive upmarket spa and well-being centre with over 200 different treatments and services

* The journey included visiting leading figure in Theravad Buddhims, Phra Anil Sakya from the Wat Bowon in the capital. He was assistant secretary to the late Supreme Patriarch, who died last year at the age of 104. Phra Anil was a sympathetic and genial guide, accepting many of my reservations about the state of Buddhism today but explaining that the original pillars of the faith still hold true. 

The Travel Show team spent two days at the Wat Boonyawad forest monastery in the east of Thailand, meeting the Abbott and several foreign monks with colourful backgrounds

* Visit to a forest monastery to experience life there which I did but not before visiting the other two types of escape for Westerners in Thailand: the luxury health and wellbeing resort Chivasom where high achievers come to find peace and restoration in a very comfortable, and expensive, climate; and then the party island Koh Samui, where” most visitors find what they come for: revelry and release.

* But it was time at the Wat Boomayad monastery in the east of the country that left the biggest impression on me. I met some interesting foreign monks there, one of whom had left a life as a highly successful fashion photographer in Germany. No electricity, Wi-Fi, TV, soft bed…only one meal a day…you can imagine it’s a journalist’s nightmare! 
Interviewing Phra Anil, a senior monk in Bangkok at the first anniversary of the death of Thailand's Supreme Patriarch of 24 years.  Phra Anil became my Buddhist advisor on my journey

* I did gain a little insight into the Buddhism approach to life there and its values which I believe are even more relevant in this modern, overloaded world. I understood the notion that we would all benefit from having fewer empty choices to make and that an obsession with the “self” is a very unhealthy one. Live for the now is also a very powerful message that makes you stop and realize how brief our life on this plane is.    

* The big issue though is when you get back to the big city, how you can translate these glimpses into enlightenment at peace with oneself…and that is the big challenge for so many of us ahead…

Photo credits to BBC World News

1 comment:

Jayakrishnan GK said...

Wat Boomayad sounds interesting. Please share more details regarding the same. I am unable to find it on a map and it would be great if you could guide me how to get to there.