Proposal Title

SESSION 1.3: A Thai Forest Buddhist Monastery in a British Columbian Forest: Religion and Diversity in the Birkenhead Valley

Presentation Type

Individual paper

Location

IB 1015

Start Date

3-5-2019 1:30 PM

End Date

3-5-2019 3:00 PM

Disciplines

Buddhist Studies | Ethnic Studies | History of Religion

Abstract

In June 1994, the Venerable Sona (ne Tom West), a Coquitlam, BC-born-and-bred Buddhist monk from the orthodox Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism, traveled from the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Surrey to a complex of rundown shacks on the road between Mount Currie and D’Arcy in the Birkenhead River valley near Pemberton, BC. There, he succeeded in establishing the first North American foothold of the Thai Forest tradition, which has spread globally to become the most successful Theravada monastic order outside Asia. In order for this strict form of Buddhist monasticism to take root a group of people with widely divergent backgrounds, religious and otherwise, had to intersect to serve the mendicant monks. Those who fed and otherwise sustained them included regular visitors from Vancouver – Thai Buddhist graduate students and domestic workers, as well as Sri Lankan and “convert” Buddhist professionals and academics – along with local people – non-Buddhist foresters, entrepreneurs, self-described hippies and dropouts, and a Baptist school secretary. These interactions didn’t happen in the cosmopolitan environs of a global city, like Vancouver, but rather in a rural and reputedly “redneck” place, where the Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhists who visited encountered an intensely foreign cultural and physical environment surrounding the familiar robes and rituals of a Buddhist monastery. By examining this understudied periphery we can challenge literatures that bind diversity to the urban and keep "convert" and "ethnic" Buddhists apart; we hope to use this case study to contribute to a conversation about religion, identity, and the intersections that have allowed Buddhism to become a potent cultural force in North America, and particularly in BC.

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May 3rd, 1:30 PM May 3rd, 3:00 PM

SESSION 1.3: A Thai Forest Buddhist Monastery in a British Columbian Forest: Religion and Diversity in the Birkenhead Valley

IB 1015

In June 1994, the Venerable Sona (ne Tom West), a Coquitlam, BC-born-and-bred Buddhist monk from the orthodox Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism, traveled from the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Surrey to a complex of rundown shacks on the road between Mount Currie and D’Arcy in the Birkenhead River valley near Pemberton, BC. There, he succeeded in establishing the first North American foothold of the Thai Forest tradition, which has spread globally to become the most successful Theravada monastic order outside Asia. In order for this strict form of Buddhist monasticism to take root a group of people with widely divergent backgrounds, religious and otherwise, had to intersect to serve the mendicant monks. Those who fed and otherwise sustained them included regular visitors from Vancouver – Thai Buddhist graduate students and domestic workers, as well as Sri Lankan and “convert” Buddhist professionals and academics – along with local people – non-Buddhist foresters, entrepreneurs, self-described hippies and dropouts, and a Baptist school secretary. These interactions didn’t happen in the cosmopolitan environs of a global city, like Vancouver, but rather in a rural and reputedly “redneck” place, where the Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhists who visited encountered an intensely foreign cultural and physical environment surrounding the familiar robes and rituals of a Buddhist monastery. By examining this understudied periphery we can challenge literatures that bind diversity to the urban and keep "convert" and "ethnic" Buddhists apart; we hope to use this case study to contribute to a conversation about religion, identity, and the intersections that have allowed Buddhism to become a potent cultural force in North America, and particularly in BC.