Many people in Thailand, and Buddhism at large, believe us to be in a dark age, a Kali Yuga. This is a time of corruption, natural disasters, moral degradation, and decreasing quality of life. The Buddhist Commentator, Buddhagosa predicted that the Buddha’s dispensation would only last 5,000 years. During which human lifespans would gradually shrink and the quality of life would degrade immensely. At the end of this period, Buddhism would be all but forgotten. People will then begin practicing morality and harmonizing. Gradually, the quality of humanity would rise back up until the coming of the future Buddha, Maitreya (Phra Sri An in traditional Thai culture) and an individual called a Maha Jakkapat or literally “great emperor.” This will then usher into a golden age, a utopia in which all are generous, follow the five precepts (no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct ((adultery, assault, sex with minors, etc.)), no lying, and no intoxication), and people will live immensely long lifespans.
There are monks in Thailand who are widely assumed to be incarnations of this future Buddha, Maitreya. They are rebirths of this Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) here on Earth. Such individuals are said to have great Barami, or “power,” “charisma.” This concept of “Barami” is directly related to the word “parami,” spiritual perfection. They are ten qualities one is to develop along their path toward enlightenment. For a Buddha, this means developing a *lot* of Barami, almost an inconceivable amount. It just so happens that this concept of charisma, of power, of spiritual perfections, is the same language utilized in rhetoric surrounding kings.
A deep connection can be found between kings and these bodhisattva figures here in Thailand. It’s especially felt in times of unrest. When people feel the king has poor Barami, the government is failing them, or there’s a period of crisis, followings around these bodhisattva figures will increase. It just so happens that the individuals I’m coming to know here in Thailand focus their practice around these matters.
A man called Luang Ta Ma centers his teachings and sermons around his late teacher, Luang Phor Du. Luang Phor Du is widely held to be Maitreya, as well as his supposed past life, Luang Phor Thuad (another immensely famous, national hero monk in Thai history). These individuals are said to have great teaching ability, vast compassion, and magical powers (blessings, protection, miracles, etc.). The prowess of these monks precedes them and their followers seem to place great faith in their Barami. A central teaching in this tradition seems to point at living a life of moral integrity with a heart of generosity and practicing meditation in order to gain rebirth into the future period of the Maha Jakkapat, the utopia of Maitreya.
As of now, I’m brushing the surface of this unique, kind community. I look forward to learning more.
Please take care and thank you for reading,