The Emotional Lives of Buddhist Monks in Modern Thai Film
By Justin McDaniel
AbstractAs Phra Tham, a forest monk from Southern Thailand, traveled by train from his monastery to his home town for his younger sister’s cremation, he is tormented by visions of Muslim passengers wanting to kill him and the site of his sister being blown apart by a terrorist bomb. He is on the verge of tears the entire trip. This early scene in Nonzee Nimibutr’s film, OK Baytong, is one of many in recent Thai films which depict Southeast Asian Buddhist monks exhibiting extreme emotional joy, anger, or distress. Other films depict monks laughing hysterically, lashing out violently, sobbing uncontrollably, or fearfully trembling. These films, a small selection described below, offer a revealing lens into the myriad ways in which monks are displayed in Thailand. They also demonstrate the value of narrative ethics in the study and teaching of Southeast Asian Buddhism.
 Theravada Buddhist monks are often described as the most orthodox and orthopraxic professional adherents of Buddhism. They are bearers of the Vinaya monastic code of 227 precepts which help them monitor every aspect of their daily lives from going to the bathroom, to walking, to sleeping. They deny themselves luxuries of any kind, go on alms rounds, shave their heads and eyebrows, wear simple robes, eat only before noon, and are perpetually shoeless, penniless, and perhaps, expectedly, joyless. Of course, the precepts do not require monks to be joyless or devoid of emotions, but this is the way they are often depicted in documentaries, coffee table books, and even feature films. Indeed, Buddhist monks are regularly depicted as quiet, peaceful, calm, and passive either living in the forest monasteries or meditating in caves. Scenes from feature films like Why has Bodhidharma Left for the East?, The Little Buddha, Angulimala, Seven Years in Tibet, among many others depict monks as calm and reserved. In the classroom, popular documentaries by Alan Watts, Harley educational films, the Long Search Series depict monks as detached ascetics. I particularly noticed the power of this pervasive stereotype after a recent field trip to a local Thai monastery in Southern California. I asked members of my undergraduate course “Introduction to Buddhism,” what surprised them about the monastery they visited. I was struck by a number of their comments. One student wondered why two monks were laughing and sharing jokes with each other. Another asked if it was alright that one monk was playing with a few children at the monastery. One criticized a monk who told the students he missed his family in Thailand. She thought he shouldn’t be so attached. I said, “Don’t you ever miss your family?” She said “of course, but I’m not a monk, he should be more detached.” ...http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol14.no2/Mc ... dhist.html