Yesterday I attended the second day of the International Conference “Trans-Asian Mobilities and Encounters: Exchange, Commodification and Sustainability” at Chulalongkorn University here in Bangkok. I presented this paper:
Putthithanasombat, Phramaha Min, Petcharat Lovichakorntikul and John Walsh, “Cross-Border Mobility of Buddhist Monks and Laity in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region,” paper presented at Trans-Asian Mobilities and Encounters: Exchange, Commodification and Sustainability (Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Jan 23rd-24th, 2017).
Warfare and privations of various sorts in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) have taken a toll on the capacity of Buddhist monks and their supporters to provide sufficient spiritual assistance to the laity. One response to this has been to increase the mobility of monks across borders to add technical capacity to communities lacking it. This occurs in addition to and sometimes complementary to international religious pilgrimages in the GMS that have been facilitated by improvements in transportation infrastructure. When, where and how do such forms of travel take place and what are their effects? This paper uses an ethnographic approach to understanding the nature of monk and laity mobility in the research area and the issues arising from it. Monks and indeed spiritually aware laity must behave in an entirely ethical manner but, it is shown, they still have some scope to compromise with the constraints placed upon them according to the concept of everyday political behaviour – that is, choosing how to comply with restrictions in ways which are conversant with spiritual and practical goals. Their movements transform space temporarily into sacred space and they generate good karma which is distributed among followers. Around these activities, space can become commercial space as followers need to buy items and donate money to practice their beliefs.
Keywords: Greater Mekong Sub-Region, laity, monkhood, Theravadin Buddhism, travel