Buddhism’s temple economy shows reversal during pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic in Thailand and other Asian countries has reversed the role that Buddhist monks and laity play in supporting religious life as the former are ministering to those suffering from the virus and its effects on the economy, writes Brooke Schedneck in the online magazine The Conversation (August 5, 2020). Buddhist monks have traditionally been given offerings of food and material goods by the laity as a way of gaining merit, which negates the effect of past evil in their present and future reincarnated lives. As a result of the pandemic in Thailand and other Buddhist countries, such as Sri Lanka, monks are increasingly providing material goods, such as meals and non-perishable items, for laypeople, “thus reversing roles within this moral economy.” The “merit economy” of Buddhism is also seen as a way of being laypeople and monks together like a family, so sharing offered goods with others often takes place. But the large numbers of people—estimated at 12 percent—that are suffering economically because of the pandemic in Thailand has moved monks to create programs to distribute the goods that they receive.

In northern Thailand, monks post announcements on Facebook for community members to donate what they can, according to Schedneck. With the money and food donated, monks and other volunteers prepare the meals to feed the community. Monks usually are not allowed to cook, but given the circumstances, such work is permitted. Schedneck concludes that “This reversal of roles between monks and lay Buddhists has helped improve the image of monks in Thai media, which prior to the coronavirus had a tendency to focus on monastic excesses, such as riding in a private jet, taking trips to the mall, and embezzling money. It has also shown that material goods do not always have to flow exclusively from laypeople to monks.”

(The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/buddhist-monks-have-reversed-roles-in-thailand-now-they-are-the-ones-donating-goods-to-others-142899)