Spiritual Quest and the Family in Buddhism
This paper offers an interdisciplinary portrayal of the relationship between Buddhism as a spiritual quest and the family, drawing on Buddhist canonical texts, a rereading of the most popular birth story of the Buddha, anthropological research and statistics on the Thai labor force. Buddhism is ambivalent about the family. On the one hand, the family is a major institution which is central to the laity, whose members are crucial for the prosperity of the religion; while on the other hand, the family is the deepest seat of human attachment which needs to be transcended in order to attain enlightenment. This paper attempts to explicate this ambivalence and argues that Thai Buddhism, especially the historical absence of the fully ordained women order (bhikkhuni sangha), has generated a cultural condition where women, as mother, wife and daughter, have shouldered the triple burden of nurturing the family, bearing economic responsibility and supporting a male-monk-only religion. Thus, a key feminist concern in the Thai cultural world is to open a debate in the re-establishment of the fully ordained women.