Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism wants police to use the Computer Crime Act, to arrest the people behind AI-generated images of monks playing rock music, drinking alcohol, smoking and singing and racing motorcycles.
Essentially, the cybercrime legislation makes introducing fraudulent information into a computer system a criminal punishable by up to five years in prison. According to the National Office of Buddhism, these viral AI-generated graphics are damaging Buddhism in Thailand.
They will fail, just like chasing “maya” (illusion) or a ghost, because even if the person behind the viral photographs is in prison, anyone beyond the authority of Thai laws may easily create a new version of “naughty Thai monks.” Furthermore, they may have never heard of the “Streisand effect,” thus they wind up increasing awareness of these usually innocent photos by making sure it becomes news, causing more others to become inquisitive and want to view it.
On Wednesday, PM Office Minister Puangpetch Chun-la-iad was more diplomatic, urging the public not to spread these photographs. But that was after many more Thais and foreigners read the news and were intrigued by the overt sensitivity of these ostensibly Buddhist defenders.
Not forgiving and attempting to imprison others for merely generating such ridiculing images is fundamentally un-Buddhist, but I do not believe they are aware of the irony. They must learn to let go and instead concentrate on what is important.
Instead of being fickle and easily triggered, the National Office of Buddhism could spend their valuable time meeting and talking to Thai youths who have become disinterested, if not alienated, by the dominant Thai-brand of Buddhism, and asking them why and what can be done to reverse the trend.
Essentially, they should convene a focus group of Thais, particularly young Thais, to discuss what is wrong with mainstream Thai Buddhism today. To be honest, “real” monks having sex is not uncommon. Some “real” monks also use alcohol and gamble. Then there’s the excessive emphasis on merit-making, with people paying more and more money to monks and temples as if good karma is something that can be bought openly and conveniently.
These are only a handful of the factors that have led some Thais to abandon mainstream Thai Buddhism in recent decades. Many young Thais are officially categorized as Buddhist, but that is about it.
The National Office of Buddhism can also spend their valuable time ensuring that more Buddhist chanting by monks, mostly in an obsolete language called Pali from ancient South Asia, is widely translated into Thai language, so that when people go to attend a funeral, for example, they will understand some of the Buddha’s teachings.
And when they chant a few times during a funeral or merit-making event, there is no reason why these monks and temples cannot shift between Thai and Pali.
Furthermore, it is conceivable that in the not-too-distant future, there will be no need for further temples to be built, and that existing temples may be abandoned as fewer young people pay alms, donate money, or ordain. What else may the physical space of some of these Buddhist temples be used for or turned into, outside from running a school, health clinic, or animal sanctuary? According to the Buddhist Monastery Department, there were 43,005 temples in May of last year.
Should the land of an abandoned temple be deconsecrated and sold in order to raise money for education and health care?
These are serious concerns that need answers, and the National Buddhism Office and Buddhists who care should spend more time thinking about them. They should, in essence, stop barking up the wrong tree and look at the big picture.