Thai Culture Ministry mulling monk zones in malls

The Nation, November 26, 2005

Bangkok, Thailand -- An exclusive corner for Buddhist monks in department stores. Sound like a mismatch?. Absolutely not, and according to the Culture Ministry’s plan, the presence of monks has nothing at all to do with shopping. In an attempt to bring people closer to religion, the ministry is considering a plan to provide “monk zones” in department stores where shoppers can meet monks.

?The project will be called ?Meet the Monks in a Quiet Corner?,? said Culture Minister Uraiwan Thienthong.

The ministry will rent an area of 200 square metres in each department store in major provinces to act as meeting rooms. People will be able participate in religious activities such as study and dharma discussion. Monks will teach dharma to anyone interested.

Popular monk Phra Phayom Kalayano from Nonthaburi?s Wat Suan Kaew supports the idea. He said it would be good to have a quiet zone in each shopping mall to provide people with religious exhibitions and interesting dharma films or cartoons to attract especially teenagers. He also suggested that the ministry invite at least three monks who were good preachers to the venues each day.

The minister said the idea had come from the private sector. ?Nowadays people have no time to go to temples, only shopping malls, so if we provide the opportunity they can get closer to religion,? she said. Uraiwan said her intention was not to ?bring temples into malls? as some might think it wrong for monks to frequent department stores; she wanted people to understand that ?goodness can be found everywhere?.

Social Development and Hu-man Security Minister Wattana Muangsook said he agreed with the idea, though it was not necessary to bring temples into department stores. ?We could campaign for religion in places where people and teenagers gather, as well as improving the way Buddhists spread the word,? he said.