Thai Buddhism at a critical juncture

Bangkok Post, June 13, 2007

Monks warn of perils of Jatukarm craze

Bangkok, Thailand -- The Jatukarm Ramathep phenomenon has become a critical issue for Buddhism as many temples have started producing the talismans without attaching enough importance to the Lord Buddha's teachings, said Phra Phaisan Visalo, a revered monk. Buddhism, he said, normally allows other beliefs and icons to coexist with the Lord Buddha and his teachings, but their status, even that of the angels, is lower than the Buddha's.

<< The Jatukham Rammathep amulet

When people hold sacred objects on their person, they will continue to more or less always have to uphold dharma.

However, the Jatukarm craze reflects how other sacred icons seem to have become more important to some people than the Lord Buddha and dharma.

While more and more temples are now taking part in Jatukarm production, with some allowing non-Buddhist rituals, Buddhists themselves are easily being drawn into just possessing the objects without attaching the appropriate emphasis to dharma, the monk said.

This is critical, the monk said, because when people hold the talismans without thinking of the Lord Buddha's teachings to remind them of their faith, they tend to be obsessed just by worldly desires.

''The big question for all of us Buddhists is whether we are losing our way or not. Whether Buddhism will last or whether it doesn't is not about it being there in the written word, but in the way we live our lives,'' said Phra Phaisan.

He said it was time for temples involved in making the talismans to come up with measures to scrutinise the process as well as exerting more effort to promote the Buddha's teachings as they have always been tasked with.

For Buddhists, they should try to understand the phenomenon and not be blinded by the popularity of the amulets.

''I just can't see a decent future for us if we don't start learning about the phenomenon and coming up with spiritual ways to deal with it,'' said Phra Phaisan.

It is not known when the amulets were first produced but, according to Phra Phaisan Visalo, they were held as one of the vehicles for Buddhism, symbolising the existence of the faith.

So, people in the past tended to keep Buddha amulets in stupas in various places, and once these stupas collapsed, people would see the scattered amulets.

''Even though 400 to 500 years have passed since then, people later on were still able to learn that the religion was once there,'' said the monk.

Nor did people tend to keep the amulets with them in those days. In fact, items related to religion were never kept at home because they were highly regarded and considered to be pure.

No one knows exactly when this trend was first changed and people began to wear the amulets, but according to a recent article by another revered monk, Mettanando Bhikkhu, it is believed that amulets became popular and entered the market for sale during the wars in Indochina, when soldiers sought what they believed was their protective power.

Even so, those who wore or kept the amulets would still mostly pay sufficient attention to dharma. Otherwise they believed the power of the amulets would fade. But this is not the case nowadays.