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Barbara O'Brien

Born Again Buddhists?

By September 28, 2008

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Buddhist temple in Thailand is offering instant rebirth, for a fee. People line up every day to climb into big, pink coffins. Monks chant over them, and they climb out, reborn. The rebirth costs $5 and change.

While waiting in line, people also purchase amulets and other tokens hawked by monks. Maybe the temple should just open a gift shop.

"Instant" rebirth isn't as gimmicky as it sounds. The Buddha said, “Every moment you are born, decay, and die.” By this he meant that, every moment, the illusion of "me" renews itself. The sense that "I" continue through time is a delusion. This teaching is part of the Buddhist understanding of rebirth.

I can see how a "rebirth" ritual might strengthen Buddhist practice. On the other hand, the entire 36-man Royal Thai Army soccer team went through the ritual to help the team win the next day's game. That's a different kind of practice, I believe.

September 28, 2008 at 5:48 pm
(1) Lise says:

It also seems like a real trivialization of the process.

September 29, 2008 at 1:17 pm
(2) jackson says:

This reminds of what the catholic church was practicing right before (and probably during) the reformation. People used to purchase admission to an exhibit of relics, which they believed would purify them. It is said that people would also attempt to buy themselves (and their loved ones) out of purgatory. Superstition takes many forms.

October 1, 2008 at 8:09 pm
(3) jarrod says:

how does it actually work? rebirth? do they die or is it just a spiritual thing?

October 1, 2008 at 8:30 pm
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Jarrod — I believe if they physically died we would have seen bigger headlines. It’s a spiritual thing.

October 2, 2008 at 7:02 pm
(5) Bill Webb says:

My advisor when I was an anthropology major back in the dark ages*, used to say, “Show me a shaman who gains nothing from his ministry, and I’ll show you one who may be worth listening to.”

*That was the ’60′s. Looking back, that may have been the Golden Age!

October 2, 2008 at 7:29 pm
(6) Graham L Peveller says:

I am deeply saddened and shocked by your scant comments and remarks over Thailand without any full understanding. Of course they do not practice pure Buddhism, of course over years it has been adapted to their cilture, of course temples have what amount to gift shops they use them to rebuild temples they also seek out people to donate individual bricks/slates. They also sell amulates yes and at times they cheat, they have strange rituals maybe at times they abuse, maybe at times they exploit but overall they assist the community to live in peace and harmony with cultural dignity. Please go there stay live watch and experience it then you will know what I mean.

October 2, 2008 at 7:59 pm
(7) Barbara O'Brien says:

Graham, I was not attempting a comprehensive critique of Buddhism in Thailand, but only pointing to a small news item in the New York Times. And I explained that the practice, although it sounds gimmicky, could have merit, based on Buddhist teaching.

I can’t tell if you were offended because you think I dissed Thai Buddhism (I don’t believe I did) or because you want to establish your superior understanding of Thai Buddhism. I concede. Feel better?

October 2, 2008 at 8:48 pm
(8) Graham L Peveller says:


No it just seemed unfair and in my opinion, merited more comment – in fact after sending I debated whether I should have – superiority never entered into it – I still thoroughly enjoy your blog and have learned much and am sure that I will continue to do so – thank you

October 2, 2008 at 9:42 pm
(9) cheezman says:

haha online arguments over religion


October 2, 2008 at 9:46 pm
(10) jarrod elphinstone says:

did the soccer team win

October 27, 2008 at 11:29 pm
(11) Phillip says:

This is absolutely incredible. I don’t know if I have ever seen stronger evidence that the need for Christ’s salvation is encoded into our very DNA. For a country and group of people who have not heard the story of Christ and the rebirth that only comes through Him, and yet crave it so badly is a huge testimony to the void in all of our hearts and souls that can only be filled by the Holy Spirit.

October 27, 2008 at 11:42 pm
(12) Barbara O'Brien says:

Phillip: You’re joking, right? If not, sometime let me tell you the story about how Jesus led me to Buddhism.

Believe me, the Thais have heard all about Jesus. There have been missionaries in Thailand for centuries.

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