Things change in life and there is not much we can do about it. While harvesting rice in Isaan, I was reminded of the similar rural family-farming scene in my Dad’s homeland many years ago. That latter farming scene has now disappeared, replaced by large mechanised operations with the families long gone. Thailand is heading in the same direction.
The change driven by Thai economics will also sweep away the rural religious landscape. As rural communities die so will the temples. No longer will there be several places of worship clustered within a few square kilometres of countryside.
I’ve experienced the trend of secularisation in the Netherlands and detected similar patterns ongoing in Thailand. The déjà vu feeling gives this spectator the advantage of knowing or at least sensing what will be next, along with a keen anticipation to see how it plays out in the Thai context.
Yet although I am aware that Thai Buddhism is undergoing upheaval today, I still have hope that its historical role of “teaching and guiding” can be harnessed to drive Thailand’s next-stage development. Specifically the teachings of the Kalama Sutta are a powerful tool that would help teachers carry the torch of critical thinking into the classroom to fire young minds and light the path to Thailand 4.0. Kalama Sutta wisdom could be introduced to children in their early years before slowly combining it with Socratic elements in an integrated Asian-Western educational philosophy.
Thai Buddhism is caught in the jaws of fast-changing economic realities, but the powerful tools it offers for development remain unchanged. All we need to do is pick them up and use them.