Manusya, Journal of Humanities

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Dhammakaya, an active, affluent and expanding Buddhist religious movement, became a focus of public attention and media scrutiny in the quarter of 1998 due to its controversial practice of dogged solicitation for donations to build a grand Maha Dhammakaya Jedi structure worth nearly one billion US$, in the face of severe economic recession. Some Buddhist monks and scholars, both orthodox and radical, attacked the movement as a distortion and commercialization of Buddhism. If the Dhammakaya movement offers a novel religious package as alleged by some critics, it is worth examining why this consumer product has gained an upsurge of popularity among urban middle classes in modern Thai society. This paper argues that even though capitalistic as the Dhammakaya has been viewed, it is ironically one of the most successful resurgent Buddhist movements in contemporary Thailand. It offers the urban middle classes and alternative path to realize their novel vision of Buddhism and construct their new identity. The popularity of the movement, in turn, manifests the failure of the Sangha in coming to terms with changing Thai society. The first section of this paper discusses how Buddhism has been transformed in the process of modernization. In the second section, I examine the case of Wat Phra Dhammakaya as a new religious movement in contemporary Thailand. The last section discusses the Dhammakaya controversy and its implications.

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