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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Boom in Buddhist websites
Thais without access to temples visit the websites
Young Thai Buddhists are increasingly taking to the internet for spiritual guidance.

In the past year, Buddhist websites have tripled on the internet, with about 2,000 websites now online in Thailand.

Internet experts say page hits on Buddhist websites have more than doubled in the past year.

The websites - mostly targeted at the young - explain the religion and the teachings of Buddha. Meditation masters are online to instruct followers about the power of prayer.

There are also chat rooms for people to share views and experiences with other Buddhists around the world.

Monks - for centuries, the traditional spiritual guides - have been forced to adapt to the change, as fewer young Thais visit temples or ordain as monks.

Overseas Thais

Thai businessman and devout Buddhist Luenchay Vongvanij said he created one of Thailand's most popular Buddhist websites to adapt the religion to today's world.

Young children in a temple
Fewer young people are visiting temples today

"We were thinking how can we adapt the words of Lord Buddha to the world," he said. "Not just putting the words on to the internet, but adapting Buddhism to different target groups and the different needs of different people,"

The websites keep the religion alive for Thais living abroad, says the Bangkok Post newspaper's computer editor Tony Waltham.

"[They] now have a chance to access information," he said, adding that many websites provided good advice.

Mr Vongvanji said he had received many e-mails from grateful followers abroad.

Temples are here in your mind, but if the website can help you to purify your mind, that is okay

Sulak Sivaraska
"The little that we did, it touched them and they appreciated it so much because maybe in Poland or Holland they don't have a temple," he said.

Some are drawn to the websites for other reasons.

Sulak Sivaraska says technology is a vital resource for those disillusioned by the excesses of today's Buddhism.

"In this country, temples on the whole have become fairly awful - a source of commercialism, uncleanliness, exploitation.

"Now we are separated from temples. Temples are here in your mind, but if the website can help you to purify your mind, that is okay.


But some question whether the internet is a suitable spiritual medium.
Websites may give an oversimplified version of this complex religion

Nantasarn Seesalab, head of the Bangkok-based World Fellowship of Buddhists, believes websites give an oversimplified version of a complex religion.

"They can learn something, but that does not mean that they understand thoroughly," he said.

He said followers needed someone such as a parent to provide guidance.

Buddhist monks and scholars encourage followers not to cut traditional links with temples.

They insist that human-to-human contact is still the most powerful spiritual medium.

However, with the internet's potential to reach millions, it is likely that technology will be a driving force behind one of the world's oldest religions for generations to come.

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