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The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk

The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand

Justin Thomas McDaniel
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk
    Book Description:

    Stories centering on the lovelorn ghost (Mae Nak) and the magical monk (Somdet To) are central to Thai Buddhism. Historically important and emotionally resonant, these characters appeal to every class of follower. Metaphorically and rhetorically powerful, they invite constant reimagining across time.

    Focusing on representations of the ghost and monk from the late eighteenth century to the present, Justin Thomas McDaniel builds a case for interpreting modern Thai Buddhist practice through the movements of these transformative figures. He follows embodiments of the ghost and monk in a variety of genres and media, including biography, film, television, drama, ritual, art, liturgy, and the Internet. Sourcing nuns, monks, laypeople, and royalty, he shows how relations with these figures have been instrumental in crafting histories and modernities. McDaniel is especially interested in local conceptions of being "Buddhist" and the formation and transmission of such identities across different venues and technologies.

    Establishing an individual's "religious repertoire" as a valid category of study, McDaniel explores the performance of Buddhist thought and ritual through practices of magic, prognostication, image production, sacred protection, and deity and ghost worship, and clarifies the meaning of multiple cultural configurations. Listening to popular Thai Buddhist ghost stories, visiting crowded shrines and temples, he finds concepts of attachment, love, wealth, beauty, entertainment, graciousness, security, and nationalism all spring from engagement with the ghost and the monk and are as vital to the making of Thai Buddhism as venerating the Buddha himself.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52754-5
    Subjects: Religion, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 1928 those Siamese lucky enough to own or live close to a radio heard, through intermittent static and crackly dialogue, a sinister tale of loss, vengeance, and murder. A female ghost terrified a small village in the still thickly forested suburbs of Bangkok. With her long fingernails she gutted any person who attempted to tell her husband that she was merely the specter of his wife. All the while her husband, Mak, a poor soldier and woodsman, lived unaware that his beautiful and caring wife was indeed a ghost whose throat was coated with the blood of his friends...

  6. 1. Monks and Kings
    (pp. 23-71)

    The first time I heard about Somdet To was in a barbershop. I was staring up at the top of the wall while getting a shave and noticed a framed photograph of a monk surrounded by cloth phra yan (Sanskrit yantra, “mystical” protective drawing). Below was a small, wall-mounted altar replete with plastic flowers and an incense bowl, hanging prayer beads, and dust. I had seen photographs of this monk in many shops, bookstores, monasteries, and taxicabs, but I had never thought to ask who he was. In between swipes of the razor and with my eyes watering from the...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 2. Texts and Magic
    (pp. 72-120)

    There is a health club in a wealthy residential district of Bangkok where anyone can make an appointment with one of Somdet To’s biggest fans. In one of the office suites on the fourth floor of the nondescript modern building is the Arogyasathan Health Clinic run by Dr. Supachai Charusombun.¹ In July 2006 I made an appointment, walked through the glass doors, filled out the medical-history form given to me by one of the six friendly nurses and technicians on staff, sat down to browse through the coffee-table books. There were books on cancer treatments, healthy lifestyles, and stress relief...

  9. 3. Rituals and Liturgies
    (pp. 121-160)

    In the Rietberg Museum in Zürich there is a bronze sculpture depicting half-human, half-chicken creatures and a saw cutting off a man’s head. This small statue tells us much about ritual and liturgy in Thai Buddhism.¹ The small, cube-shaped piece is missing its top, which originally depicted the powerful, enlightened arhat Phra Malai looking over various scenes of various hells. Circular saws cut off people’s heads in one hell, the metal beaks and talons of humanoid chickens tear the flesh off of other sinners. In another, emaciated, naked men beg for their lives before hot irons stab and brand them....

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 4. Art and Objects
    (pp. 161-221)

    Silpa Bhirasri was born Corrado Feroci in Florence in 1892. He moved to Thailand in 1923. This Italian national ended up becoming a Thai citizen in 1944, adopting a Thai name, and having a state funeral in 1962. He is a national hero in Thailand. He founded and directed the first professional art school and eventually the first university dedicated to the arts in Thailand. He is considered the father of Thai art. He designed many of the prominent statues of the royal family and a number of important Buddhist and national monuments. He believed that traditional Buddhist arts in...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 222-230)

    The following lofty reflection appears in the introduction to the jubilee catalog celebrating the “Primi Decem Anni” of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a rather peculiar little museum in Los Angeles:

    In its original sense, the term “museum” meant a spot dedicated to the muses—“a place where man’s mind could attain a mood of aloofness above everyday affairs” … However … in the city of Philadelphia in America, Charles Wilson Peale was forming a museum that was to become a model for the institution for years to come. Mr. Peale’s museum was open to all people (including children and...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 231-282)
    (pp. 283-314)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 315-328)