BANGKOK, October 13 (Reuters) – Two Buddhist monks in Thailand have become social media stars with live Facebook broadcasts that combine traditional teachings with non-traditional jokes and laughter. Some religious conservatives across the country, however, are not so amused.
With an impressive mastery of youth slang, Phra Maha Paiwan Warawanno, 30, and Phra Maha Sompong Talaputto, 42, have captured the imagination of a generation that finds the formal decorum of the temple and the Sanskrit chants of Buddhism. traditional outdated and inaccessible.
On a recent Friday night, a bespectacled Paiwan set up his phone on a tripod and attached a microphone to her saffron robe, sitting next to Phra Maha Sompong in a small study at Wat Soi Thong in Bangkok.
In the livestream that followed, the two discussed a myriad of issues, mixing Buddhist teachings, known as Dhamma, with modern living advice and a healthy dose of humor.
“I want Dhamma and the younger generation to coexist,” Paiwan told Reuters. “Without reaching out to young people, what will be the place of religion in the future?”
Paiwan and Sompong’s weekly live broadcasts attract hundreds of thousands of viewers within minutes, peaking at two million.
Paiwan, whose number of Facebook followers soared more than 800% to 2.5 million in just over a month, said he wanted Buddhism to remain relevant to Thai society in the wake of the scandals in temples for murder, drugs, sex and money laundering.
The optimistic sessions have also brought much-needed relief to many Thais confined to their homes during nighttime curfews to quell the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
“We have bad days and are stressed out about work, money, family, the pandemic and everything that is going on with the lockdown,” said Onravee Tangmeesang, 32, who has watched every Friday night session since. his bed.
“Those laughs can really brighten up my day.”
But the weekly livestreams have not been so favorably received by Buddhist conservatives concerned with respecting the conventions and formalities of religion.
The two monks were summoned to a parliamentary committee on religion last month to explain their online activities, while senior government officials warned them to moderate jokes and “inappropriate behavior.”
“The behavior of monks should be respectable in the eyes of the public. It should not change over time to appease the young,” said Srisuwan Janya, head of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution.
“This will lead to the decline of Buddhism, which has already existed for almost 2,600 years without needing to change beforehand.”
Paiwan responded with typical levity when asked to comment on the summons, “Laughter has become a national problem!
Buddhism is one of the three traditional pillars of Thai society, alongside the nation and the monarchy, but it has largely become performative, with its role in society largely reduced to one-off events such as funerals, religious holidays and royal events.
For many fans, the monks’ willingness to break down conventional barriers to reach them and speak their language makes them worthy of reverence.
Live broadcasts allow the couple to engage directly with their audience, read comments, and answer questions, a tactic that shatters the long-held Buddhist convention of one-sided preaching.
In a recent livestream, the couple riffed on the concept of “merits” and whether they could be shared.
“The Lord Buddha said that merits are like candles,” Paiwan said. “You can light other candles without lowering the flame of the first one.”
Sompong, who has 1.4 million Facebook followers, replied, “Just be careful not to burn your friends.”
The two men burst out laughing.
Pongsak Sangla, 36, said the couple have made it possible for people to find a place for Buddhism, without tedious rituals, in their busy modern lives.
“Times have changed,” Sangla said. “Reality is what people want.”
Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um; Additional reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Artorn Pookasuk; Written by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Kay Johnson and Jane Wardell
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