Making Merit, Making Movement

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Abstract

In this era, in which social media has become a part of everyday lives, many Buddhist monastics and organizations in Thai society use social media to reach out to the public. Facebook, in particular, is immensely popular. Thai Theravada bhikkhuni (fully ordained Buddhist nuns), whose contemporary existence can be said to start in the twenty-first century and whose status remains controversial, also make use of social media. Nearly all established bhikkhuni monasteries have their own Facebook pages or accounts. This article looks at the use of social media, namely, Facebook, by the Thai bhikkhuni movement and the digital interaction of Facebook’s followers. Songdhammakalyani Monastery, of all bhikkhuni monasteries, is the focus of this study. Netnography, along with in-depth interviews and an online questionnaire, is used. A concept regarding social media in digital anthropology and that of digital religion form the study’s conceptual frameworks. I propose that social media is essential in moving the Thai bhikkhuni movement in this era and that the use of and interaction with social media are driven by Buddhist values and notions, especially merit. In brief, merit (punna) is thought to stem from meritorious actions, and it can be accumulated and shared. Making merit is a common religious act to gain merit, and it can be done in various ways such as alms giving to the monastics. I argue that the monastery’s Facebook page/accounts not only provide information and dhamma teachings to the followers but also become the places where the followers can join in the merit making and sharing with the bhikkhuni and those at the monastery, as well as making merit themselves.