Santi Asoke adheres to a strictly moral-based community, following the Theravada precepts with ten extra codes for monks and lay followers. It extols the virtues of an economic doctrine of 'meritism' that is anti-materialist and anti-consumerist, preaching “eat little; use little” with an emphasis that can be expressed as “work a lot, save the rest for the society”.
More radical than Dhammakaya and Buddhadasa schools, Santi Asoke is anti-establishment, actively questioning the role and actions of the Thai government. The sect split from the Thai sangha in response to disapproval regarding their independent practices, and remains a separate movement. Many Thais embraced the movement’s critique of their society, but others were put off by the “outspoken manner and flagrant disregard for Thai ecclesiastical law” that later led to Bodhirak’s arrest (Swearer,139).
While the movement initially continued to grow, in June, 1989 Phra Bodhirak and seventy-nine other ordained followers were arrested, and a number of monks were defrocked, possibly weakening the movement irreparably, although it still maintains a presence in Thai Buddhism.
The Asoke group has since formed a political party that, while ineffective in the party system of Thai politics, works on a grassroots level to promote sustainable agriculture among rural farmers. Formal statistics on population are unavailable, yet it is certain that their communities in Bangkok, Nakhorn Pathom and the Isan region continue to grow, with thousands of members. Some centers have factories and shops that produce and sell herbal products such as medicine soap and shampoo. Other locations are simply farms growing food that is prepared and given away free to anyone.
Those looking for an in-depth ethnographic studies about the Asoke ought to look for the works of Drs. Marja Leena Heikkilä-Horn and Juliana Essen. Finnish scholar Heikkilä-Horn has published a book entitled "Buddhism with Open Eyes," a reference to the Asoke group's rejection of sitting meditation in favor of work-based meditation.
"Right Development: The Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement of Thailand" by Dr. Juliana Essen draws on her ethnographic research at one of its seven communities to illustrate Asoke beliefs, and examines the Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement of Thailand as a culturally and environmentally appropriate alternative to western development programs. As an alternative to western capital-intensive industrialization, the Asoke's aim is to foster Buddhist ideals; to release attachment to the material world and attain spiritual freedom.
New Buddhist movements in Thailand: Towards ah understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke.(Book review)
Oct 01, 2007; New Buddhist movements in Thailand: Towards ah understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke By RORY MACKENZIE New York:...