Cross-Border Exchanges in the Western Mekong Region: The Role of Monks and the Laity

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This paper, by Pramaha Min Putthithanasombat, Petcharat Lovichakorntikul, Sirirat Ngamsang and myself, has been accepted for presentation at the forthcoming ICGBE Conference to be held in June here in Bangkok.

Abstract:

The legacy of history, nationalism and lack of trust have contributed to the comparatively poor cross-border relations in the Mekong Region and, in particular, between Thailand and its majority Buddhist neighbours Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These relations tend to obscure the common features that unite the people of the region. Principal among these commonalities is the tradition of Theravadin Buddhism, which is the form practiced and which places particular emphasis of the role of monks and the importance of doing virtuous works as part of the process of spiritual development that will eventually lead towards nirvana. Linguistic differences across borders are mediated by the underlying reliance on the Pali language, which is used to record and transmit Buddhist teachings. Many cross-border activities take place on an informal basis in which individual learn how to communicate with each other. One aspect of this is travel for pilgrimage and knowledge-seeking purposes, both monks and lay people cross the borders concerned, although little research has been conducted into this form of tourism. Using personal interviews of people concerned, this research study has been intended to delineate the extent to which these kinds of cross-border movements take place, their impacts in terms of improving social relations and economic growth and, also, the opportunities for enhancing educational opportunities for those involved.

Keywords: Buddhism, cross-border travel, Mekong Region, Thailand.

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