With the queen still sick from what seems to have been a stroke, the efforts to celebrate her 80th birthday have continued. PPT has commented on some of this (here, here and here) while ignoring much of the nonsensical and fantastical hagiography. However, a story at The Nation did catch our attention.
Of course, the Buddhist hierarchy must play a significant role in promoting the monarchy. There are long links between the monarchy and important temples, while back in the early 1960s, the military dictator Sarit Thanarat, as well as promoting the monarchy, established a more centralized and politically-controlled sangha.
What caught our eye was this statement by “Somdej Phra Maha Ratchamangkalajarn said yesterday in his capacity as member of the Supreme Sangha Council.” The story adds that he is also the abbot of Wat Paknam Phasi Charoen. In the presence of “[s]everal senior monks, including the abbot of Wat Saket,” he said of the queen: “She is an exemplary Buddhist…”.
We don’t know if the senior monk was quoted in full, but this is how he described the “exemplary Buddhist”: “though Her Majesty was considered the mother of the nation and had the highest status among women, she was very humble.” As well as being the top woman in the country, “[s]he has made huge contributions to Buddhism.” Those contributions are said to be setting up “a fund to help ailing monks at Siriraj Hospital and also makes monthly donations to the Monk’s Hospital…”. Finally he added that she “gave alms every Monday and Friday at the Dusit Palace.”
Our question is this: is this senior monk telling us that only the rich and highest status people can be exemplary Buddhists? It seems so. If you have lots of money and give it to things that support the sangha, one gets to be an exemplary Buddhist.
We know plenty of “lower status” women and men who wait for monks each and every morning to provide them with food and to speak with the monks. Many of these people, from poor families, can’t ever provide regular monetary donations and funds to “Buddhism.” We tend to think of these people as making merit. When they do collect money, it is often a collective effort in the local community, and in the form of a pha-pa.We’d have thought that these people, making real sacrifices, are the exemplary ones.