The Not So Groovy State Of Thai Buddhism…..

(The following article/blog was published yesterday in The Nation. Below however, is the original un-edited submission)

Monks taking to the streets protesting for Buddhism to be declared The National Religion

All very interesting and even rather amusing to see masses of monks demanding that Buddhism be adopted as the national religion. Many must have been surprised to see these supposedly-enlightened ones getting their noses stuck in politics, taking to the streets like floods of Thaksin supporters. But who knows, perhaps some of them are taking generous donations from some former disgruntled politicians hoping to create even more national turmoil.

On the other hand however, it is no darned surprise – monks have been involved in politics for donkey’s years. Take the good-old days in the countryside, respected for their worldly advice, some revered ones would knowledgably inform their followers on the best choice for village headman in the local election. Maybe the wanna-be village headman wasn’t exactly ‘flashing the cash under the table’ but you could call it ‘flashing a handsome amount in the donation box’. Of course, many a villager, believes anything coming from the mouth of their favourite robed-one, and especially some old abbot who spends his days reading the daily newspapers and drinking green tea down at the local corner-shop. Rumours are rife that local wanna-be politicians used to and perhaps still are following in the fancy footsteps of the village headman, but that’s a story for another day.

I am a little sad to see former PM Thaksin in exile as I would, with coffee in hand, always look forward to reading up on his latest scenario, and he too enjoyed using the Buddhist institution for support. Take his ripping rally at Wat Dhammakaya in Pathumthani last year, when he invited tens of thousands to take part in a wonder performance at this very controversial temple. Wise move, especially when this gaff claims to have a few hundred thousand followers. What the heck the monk committee was thinking when they allowed this political fiasco to be held in their ‘flying-saucer’ arena beats me! Or perhaps, they had come across something in some ancient scripture which no-one else had found, which reads “It is a duty of the holy one to afford a political leader the opportunity to voice his ambitions in the shadow of the The Lord Buddha”.

And thinking about Thaksin and his multi-million bucks money-making schemes, the land’s temples have been involved in reeking in wads a cash for decades. Now, one of the most classical holy ways of managing to fill ones revered bank book is the production and sales of supposedly miracle amulets. Have the monk say a prayer, spray on a bit of holy water and abracadabra gobble-me-knockers you instantly find out that a deceased relative you had never met has left you ten million in his will! Then, for any police officer or even gunman, he can visit some miracle monk and ask for an amulet so amazing that even if he is shot at point blank range, the amulet with its groovy powers will be sending the bullet back in the opposite direction. For such heavenly protection however, a nice donation of a few thousand baht to the monkly fund is deeply appreciated.

(Known for its amazing ‘get-rich-quick’ powers. The latest craze, the Jatukram amulet)

The recent sensational story of the miracle ‘get-rich-quick’ Jatukram amulet is a fine example of a highly successful holy business venture. Evolving in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat after the death of an old respected police officer aged a whopping 106, this amulet (not even Buddhist!) is being produced by the hundreds of thousands all over the country. This business conducted by temples has become so lucrative that just last week the Tax department decided to make investigations into whether or not to tax the holy producers and their billion baht industry!

Besides the production of amulets to stimulate the Buddhist economy, another great technique a lot of monks use to rake in stacks of cash is by predicting the lucky government lottery number of the fortnight. Pay a donation to some business-minded monks and hocus-pocus style with the use of some tea leaves, holy water and a magical Buddha Image they’ll be able to conjure up the winning number. Should you be successful, they’ll be expecting you back to give them part of the prize money. Some of these monks just can’t go wrong, predict a 2 digit number for 2-3 years and it’s almost guaranteed that he’s gonna fluke it once. Should the lucky number monk fluke it twice in a row, then he’s in for the jackpot after the villagers inform some national Thai language newspaper and scores of wanna-be winners arrive by the truck load from all over the country. Of course, such heavenly forecasting doesn’t come free and a donation of 20 baht from each player is much appreciated.

A lot of monks especially in rural areas really take advantage of some folks’ beliefs. While some families are poor enough as it, barely getting by, some temples are advising them to ‘give donations’ ‘make merit’ and so secure a better next-life. In fact, some folk believe monks so much that if they were told that meditating standing on their head made their skin whiter, they would do it. Let’s have a look at the folks’ belief in giving lots of alms to the monks. The people are taught that if they wish to have plenty to eat in their next life, then it is mandatory to give plenty of food to the monks in this. So, while the folk are busy dishing up steamed fish and roasted lobster for the monks, they themselves make do with a boiled egg on rice.

In fact, in the countryside many of the saffron ones don’t just eat better than the local villagers but they also earn more money. While a poor farmer has to slave away on his farm all day long for a measly one hundred baht, the local monk is getting paid two hundred for every wedding, funeral and new-house party he attends, chants and sleeps through. Actually not a bad job! After work in the morning, he is then free to sit around all day, play computer games, go window-shopping in town or read comic books, then in evening after a bout of chanting he can lay back and watch a couple of counterfeit DVD movies. Besides the absence of women, much of the monks’ daily routines aren’t really that much different from our weekend ones upcountry.

In the Thai press, it is guaranteed that there is at least one juicy story of some scandalous goings-on in one the nation’s temples each week, and last week was no exception. With evidence in the form of a handful of gory pics, it was found that a temple fair in Samut Sakhorn was the setting for some saucy striptease where the dancers whipped of their undergarments and exposed their privates. In fact, temple fairs have for ages, been putting on naughty shows of girls bopping away in three-inch skirts and see-through spaghetti tops. Made even morally worse when some of the girls are still in Junior High. The Culture Ministry throws a frenzy and the girls and event organizers get themselves in trouble. As for the head monks behind the scene however, they are let off scot-free and left to happily count the profits made.

The current state of organized religion in Thailand is pretty much in shambles and these protesting holy ones are just making it worse. What is needed, is a complete revamp from top to bottom. The education authorities have to take the first step and introduce the young to the essence of Pristine Buddhism and not say… boring tales of Buddhist legends which sends the kids to sleep. Next, monks found to be corrupt, ought to be immediately dismissed from the monkhood and brought to justice. As for temples which have been caught scamming their followers, they need to be closed down just like any old dodgy back-alley company.

“There are different kinds of monks here. Some are serious about being a monk. Others are here because they cannot do anything else. If you stay in the right temple, it can be quite a comfortable life. Good food and good money. I think most monks make about 10,000 baht a month. There are of course some bad monks. I know that the ones in the kuti next door to mine take drugs. They order the drugs by mobile phone and it is delivered to their door by motorcycle taxi in the evening. Talking about delivery. Guess what I had for lunch today? My aunt ordered pizza for me!” “Gor” Panrit

31 responses to “The Not So Groovy State Of Thai Buddhism…..

  1. I like the first pic where the monks and elephant caused major traffic jam. Next time someone asked me why I’m late, I’ll show them this pic.

  2. The monks and the King should start becoming criticizable. You are spot on in your article and it is sad seeing so many Thai people succumb to this sort of crap. You can’t say how insanely ridiculous all of this is without someone chiding you for “disrespect” or deciding to arrange a lynching, though, whether it was constructive, honest criticism or not. Same with the monarchy, no man is perfect, His Majesty has also said it himself that he needs to be constructively criticized. Hopefully as a nation we will grow up out of this.

  3. I’ve often wondered if it would be worth my holistic sole to repent and spend a month in the local wat. I often feel tired about September each year when there are no holidays, and as it’s Thai law that I must be allowed to go, why not, the company can keep me seat warm while I go of for spititual clensing, and a couple of weeks by the beach, fishing and bla bla blubidy blahing.

  4. All of your examples of corruption and ignorance within Thai Buddhism are perfectly valid and you do us all a very great service by finding them and presenting them to an English-speaking audience. Thank you.

    And of course you are right that better education, in both schools and temples, is the only long-term solution to the problems in Thai Buddhism.

    But I must make the (fairly obvious) point that these examples are certainly not the entire story! I’d be afraid that someone might read your aricle and think Thai Buddhism holds no real value at all – they might miss the fact that it is the faith of millions that provides meaning and depth to their lives.

    And whilst your call for reform – a complete revamp I think you say – is surely well meant, I imagine that reform is already coming from within the Thai Buddhist community itself. In fact, it would be nice if you could provide a follow up article showing positive developments currently underway in the Thai Buddhist Community.

    I’m confident that for every negative thing you’ve written about in this article, you could find positive examples of reform and practice in Thai Buddhism for your next.

  5. All humans are fallible, including the Ayatollahs, the Pope, the church elders, Chief Monks, and Rabbis, etc.

    All power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  6. Cliche spotter

    Thank you Khun Chin for the above cliche. Nice work.

  7. I had a slightly negative reaction when I first read this, but, to be fair the nature of Steve’s column in The Nation is that it has to be a bit of a rant.

    His quote from Gor is undoubtedly true:
    “There are different kinds of monks here. Some are serious about being a monk. Others are here because they cannot do anything else.”

    The interesting question is what the proportion is and the main problem I have with this blog is that it makes it sound like the vast majority.

    None of the monks that I know personally are in the second category, but of course there’s a selection process going on there. It’s reasonably obvious to me from visiting a few Wats that some monks (particularly the young ones who have no intention of spending the rest of their lives at it) are not as committed as others.

  8. Steve is right with most of the points. There are a lot of monks out there conducting sinful businesses like ‘fortune telling’ which has nothing to do with Buddhism.
    He uses the words ‘some’ and ‘a lot of’ so he is not talking about every monk. So, he can argue that he is being positive too.
    But as for monks making money even Gor said that that was true and it is everytime I have seen the monks at a ceremony they get paid.

  9. A few guys recently have tried to debate my writing credentials just cause there was a pic of me reading the Lonely Planet and drinking a Beer Chang in my last profile pic. Can’t believe that some folk actually did think that i got all my knowledge from the Lonely Planet and alcohol!

    Well, i was out on Sukhumvit the other night with a whole bunch of well-known writers/authors based in Bangkok, and gobble-me-knockers everyone of them drank!

    Perhaps next time i’ll do a photo-shop job of
    myself smoking a 12 inch Bob Marley special! In the meantime however, ive posted one of me and a scammer tuk-tuk driver instead.

    Anyway, thanks for the analytical comments posted.

    Not really commenting on the comments left here but certainly to others on other Forums etc… in regards to this article.
    Most foreigners coming to Thailand with an interest in Buddhism dont really get to see much of the normal temple life. I mean, most find a decent reputable temple for their meditation practice etc…and so base their knowledge of the life of a monk on their positive experience there.

    They never really experience the goings-on at your average place of worship where the likes of ‘Gor’ ordained…twice.

    Besides my own translations from the daily Thai newspapers(for thai-blogs/winthailottery etc..) about fortune telling monks and the amulet business etc… i dont know many other foreigners who translate/read this stuff or in fact, has much idea at all (Very very little is mentioned in the English language press compared to the Thai press). So, most guys dont really have a clue that happenings like this go on.

    Again, i’ll say that a lot of foreigners, because of their positive experience at decent meditation/dhamma/forest temples believe henceforth that all the other temples are just the same.

    Of course, there are plenty of excellent monks out there and i know that. The Ven. Ajarn Buddhadasa, my first Buddhist teacher, always complained about the things mentioned above. And he taught that none of this is Buddhism

    Dont get me wrong, i have written a lot of decent stuff about Buddhism etc…. and even the revered American monk Ajarn Santhikaro, just recently posted a comment here, complimenting my blog on helping to spread the teaching of Bhikku Buddhadasa.


  10. I think the beer thing was because it’s not really a very good idea to criticise the moonkhood whilst openly breaking one of the five precepts yourself!

    But, yes, I’ve looked at some of your previous posts and can see that you do a wonderful job and give a largely balanced view of Thai Buddhism. For which we owe you thanks.

    Still, I for one would be interested in what you have to say about movements for reform – if any! – currently underway withing the temples.

    Thanks again,


  11. In a Buddhist Country

    Steve makes some undeniably true points in his posts, and it’s interesting that the majority of negative reaction — not so much here, where it was constructive, but elsewhere — has come from foreigners. Thais know all of this to be absolutely true and don’t question it for a moment. If you want really interesting reading about the shenanigans that Thai monks get up to I suggest the Thai novel (English translation available) called “Snakes”. Brilliant.

    Someone should write a book, or an article on “Farang Buddhists”, they are an interesting lot and more often than not quite hypocritical. They will preach the “five precepts” for example and scold anyone who lets liquor touch their lips but will at the same time be absolute sleaze bags, sleeping with any girl who buys their line about them being devout Buddhists who live a pure life. Then, to deal with the pesky emotions that such liasons often stir up they will trot out “non-attachment”, and how they are working to perfect themselves in the Buddhist way and can’t be distracted from that path.

    It’s as manipulative as any tactic used by players the world over yet they are able to wrap themselves in some sort of holy shroud and are walking on the “noble path.” It’s sickening really.

    And Steve Suphan tells it like it is!

  12. Dear “In a Buddhist Country”,

    I presume that by putting “Farang Buddhists” in quotes you are talking about Farang who are, in fact, not Buddhist at all…

    Steve, I enjoyed (re)reading some of your older blogs on Buddhism, particularly the account of your meditation retreat: thank you for reminding us about them.

  13. In A Buddhist Country


    By “Farang Buddhist” I mean those farang who claim to be Buddhist, who have even gone so far as to formally accept the five precepts, and who consider themselves Buddhist — but who are full of the moral hypocrisy outlined above.

  14. Hi,

    I’m interested in what you have to say here:

    “Someone should write a book, or an article on “Farang Buddhists”, they are an interesting lot and more often than not quite hypocritical.”

    I’m especially interested that you say this happens “more often than not”.

    This goes totally counter to my experience as a falang Buddhist. Of course I can only speak for myself and recount what I know of my friends in the Sangha, but I’ve never come across a falang Buddhist who merely uses his Buddhism to pick up girls!

    I wonder where you meet these people? In temples, or in bars? Are these falang Buddhists people you met in meditation groups or in nightclubs?

    But, you know, without actual solid examples anything we say here is a waste of effort!

  15. In a Buddhist Country


    Actually I can think of two examples off of the top of my head and I met neither of them in bars. The first I met in passing in an old neighborhood. He has a PhD in Buddhist studies from a Thai university, gives instruction to foreigners in meditation techniques. As for the second guy I actually met when I attended one of his lectures at a temple. He’s written books about Buddhist meditation and is well respected in Buddhist circles, though not by me.

    It’s probably more common than you assume. I’ve heard countless other stories similar to this. It’s easy enough to gain the confidence of women when they think “Hey, look at this guy, he knows more about Buddhism than the Thai men! What a good man!” And then… Chapter 2 as outlined above.

  16. In A Buddhist Country

    One more thing Marcus, I was not saying that these guys got into Buddhism solely to meet girls. They actually are serious about the meditation study etc., I was just pointing to the hypocrisy of these guys pointing out faults in others and claiming themselves to be purer than the driven snow when they use that image to bed more girls than sailors on shore leave. And still end up feeling themselves less sleazy than a guy who hangs around a go-go all day — at least the latter is honest!

  17. I don’t really understand the point of the way this conversation is going.

    Back in New Zealand we have had cases of Catholic priests abusing young boys, a respected doctor (and candidatate for mayor) admitting to abusing female patients, and a counsellor having affairs with his patients.

    Is that acceptable behaviour? Of course not. Is it typical of New Zealand priests, doctors, and counsellors? I think not. Do I expect some Buddhists to behave badly? Of course. What does this imply about other Buddhists? Nothing, so there’s no reason for me to get upset. 🙂

  18. In A Buddhist Country

    How did I know Catholic priests would be brought up my someone? All I’m saying is that I have no more respect for your average “devout farang Buddhist” than I do anyone else, because often it is more pretense than substance.

  19. I’m also confused about this. If there were a book written about falang Buddhists, I somehow doubt that one of the major findings would be that they “use that image to bed more girls than sailors on shore leave”.

    It’s awful if some Western Buddhists do engage in this behaviour, but I hardly think that it’s indicative of the norm.

  20. Marcus, Perhaps he’s run into some of the monks I’ve seen criticised on another forum (by a western-born monk):

    Back then [70 and 80s]only a minority of western monks in Thailand had any substantial background in Buddhism prior to ordaining. This minority was greatly outnumbered by footloose hippies, backpackers and sex tourists who would flee to places like Wat Nong Pa Phong or Wat Suan Mokkh after their appetites for cheap drugs and cheap sex had become jaded. Being almost wholly ignorant of the Dhamma they just swallowed hook, line and sinker whatever flapdoodle their ajahns told them, supplementing it only with readings of pop Zen books and Carlos Castaneda…

  21. True, but it would be quite unfair to condemn the current crop of Western Buddhists on a few chance meetings thirty years ago!

    ‘In A Buddhist Country’ wrote:

    “Someone should write a book, or an article on “Farang Buddhists”, they are an interesting lot and more often than not quite hypocritical.”

    ‘In A Buddhist Country’ used “Farang Buddhists” in his sentence. But what
    if that phrase was replaced with any other set of ethnicities and religions?

    Imagine he’d written about “Thai Christians”, or “Chinese Hindus”, or “African Jews”, or “American Muslims” as being “more often than not quite hypocritical”.

    In those cases his sentence would probably be condemned as outright prejudice.

    But, I suppose, in this case, all the Falang Buddhists are too busy with the impressionable young ladies to really care! LOL LOL LOL!

  22. Bhikkhu Pesala

    The article itself is spot-on, though inevitably focuses only on the negative side of Thai Buddhism. Sigh! Such is the nature of journalism.

    The one reform that might have some effect on the Thai Sangha is for lay Buddhists to stop giving money to the monks – which is not allowable for monks, and the giving of which is a demeritorious deed, not a meritorious deed.

    Any riff-raff who joined Wat Pah Nanachat in the 70s and 80s did not last long. The monks there have to follow the Bhikkhus’ training properly, though they could do with a bit more study. Ajahn Pasanno who was the abbot when I was there in the 1980s was always reading the Tipitaka. He may not be a Pali scholar, but he has a sound knowledge of Dhamma/Vinaya. He is now the joint abbot of Abhayagiri in USA.

    Other bhikkhus who have stayed the course and fulfilled the Bhikkhus’ training properly such as Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Khemadhammo, Ajahn Brahmavamso, and Ajahn Amaro, are all doing very valuable work propagating Buddhism in Western countries.

    Neither should one overlook the good work done by many well-trained Thai monks. An article on the positive sides of Thai Buddhism might help to alleviate your terrible kamma in writing this one (~_~) Only kidding!

    I don’t follow the Thai Forest tradition, but I have a profound respect for Ajahn Chah. My preceptor was the late Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma.

  23. Enter Rome and do as the Romans.

    You think that’s bad try visit their Southern neighbour where everything is lovely but so long as you belong to the state religion. You figure that out yourself.

  24. Steve Suphan

    Much thanks for all the comments.

    A special thanks goes to Bhikkhu Pesala, great to get such a comment from a well-known Buddhist monk.

    Me too, i have met a lotta foreigners who claim they are Buddhist but live the same kinda drunken hetrosexual life as a lotta other folk.

    As killing is also wrong in Buddhism, what is worse – drinking alcohol or swatting a mosquito?

  25. Bhikkhu Pesala

    “As killing is also wrong in Buddhism, what is worse – drinking alcohol or swatting a mosquito?”

    Buddhism is a profound teaching. If one wishes to understand it, one must study its teachings thoroughly. There are no simple answers.

    One who has faith in the Buddha’s Enlightenment should abstain completely from killing living beings and from taking intoxicants, then he or she might have a clear mind capable of understanding what the Buddha taught.

    The greatest sin in Buddhism is ignorance. Eradicate ignorance, and you won’t do any unwholesome kamma.

    The one reform that might have some effect on the Thai laity is for them to abstain completely from taking intoxicants. With clear minds they might be able to distinguish the true Dhamma from the counterfeit Dhamma.

    If they understand the true Dhamma then they will practise mindfulness meditation (satipatthana) as taught by the Buddha for the removal of all ignorance and craving that leads to suffering.

  26. Well, just in case Bhikkhu Pesala stopped by again, I would like to ask the big question.

    I was raised a Buddhist. I still consider myself one even though in the not strictest of sense. I believe in Buddha’s path to nirvana. I’m doing the best I can to “be good” and keeping things in balance. But there are things that bother me about Thailand’s Buddhism as I grow up.

    With all the rules for women to follow at the temple, I felt alienated and uncomfortable. I’ve grown up to be scared of the temple, afraid to do the wrong thing or act improperly. And as I’ve grown up enough to question things, I did have an issue.

    I don’t like the fact that women don’t have equal footing in the religion. What do you mean, only a man can achieve nirvana? I don’t like that at one point I was told that women are the “enemies of the religion because they are tempters” and yet we are expected to go to the temples in droves.

    I don’t know if it’s just Thailand’s Buddhism or it’s across the board. Doesn’t India allow female monks?
    Am I going to hell for questioning the religion? And even with all of my questionings, if I follow the words of Buddha without ever setting foot in the temple again, does that make me less of a Buddhist?

    I’m sorry. I had to ask. I would never dare to ask this question to a monk in Thailand. I’d get chased out of the temple, I should think.

  27. Bhikkhu Pesala

    Some monks are sexually repressed and so feel uncomfortable around women. They are the one’s who are sexist and treat women unjustly. Those who practise properly are comfortable with women, though they are still cautious and may seem rather aloof. It is harmful for all when monks and ladies become too intimate and friendly, therefore the Buddha laid down some rules such as not talking alone with women, not arranging to travel with woman, not touching women, etc.

    It is difficult – on the one hand we wish to practise metta, but on the other hand metta easily turns to affection and lust.

    There is no text that says women cannot attain nibbana. Judging from my observations in Burma, women are perhaps more likely to attain nibbana than men. Why do I say that? They seem to have better morality, they are more obedient, and they have more faith (saddha) in the Buddha’s teachings.

    I might be totally wrong of course. Without the Buddha’s powers no one can tell who has attained nibbana or not; who is getting close to nibbana and who is still very far away from attaining it.

    The Buddha did teach that it is impossible that a woman could be a Fully Enlightened Sammasambuddha. He did not teach that women could not attain the highest goal of Arahantship in this very life. It is no harder for woman than it is for men. Since women have to overcome a lot of prejudice, perhaps they will try a lot harder than men. To attain nibbana certainly requires courageous effort and keen wisdom.

    The Buddha did permit the ordination of women as Bhikkhunis during his life. However, the Theravada lineage of the Bhikkhuni Sangha has died out and cannot be revived. That is the orthodox view in Thailand and Burma. In Sri Lanka, the monks have revived the Bhikkhuni Sasana from a Mahayana lineage. I believe that Thai and Burmese Sanghas are strongly opposed to Bhikkhuni ordination.

    It would be better to travel to Burma or seek out tolerant monks in Thailand to practice with. My own meditation teacher, Chanmyay Sayadaw U Janaka has a centre in Thailand and travels there sometimes. His meditation centre in Rangoon is full of Buddhist thilashins (nuns), and women who practise meditation intensively with a view to realising nibbana in this very life.

  28. Bhikkhu Pesala

    P.S. The one’s who are going to hell are the one’s who don’t question the religion. The Buddha was clear that one should make a thorough investigation and ask questions. See the Kalama Sutta. Asking pertinent questions leads to being intelligent.

    The only thing is to avoid fault-finding and skepticism that would prevent one from actually practising the religion.

  29. Thank you for the answer, Bhikkhu Pesala. Definitely the answer I have been looking for. Thank goodness for the internet or else I would’ve never been able to ask such a question!

    Sorry Steve if I took this away from your original topic. Thought I’d take the opportunity to go into some Dhamma talk I can’t usually get from a temple. 🙂

  30. Marcus,

    IABC might be wide of the mark with “more often than not” but she/he is right on the mark with the portrayal of men who profess their devout Buddhism and spiritual advancement as part of their shtick for serially seducing women then casting them aside.

    The number one place to meet them is at yoga classes. Quite often they are the teachers.

  31. It isn’t surprising at all that an e-Sangha moderator would consider the words of the Buddha, straight out of the suttas, as being “flapdoodle”. Tells any intelligent reader all they need to know about e-Sangha, for sure.

    Comment from: Mike (mikenz66) [Member]
    Marcus, Perhaps he’s run into some of the monks I’ve seen criticised on another forum (by a western-born monk):

    Back then [70 and 80s]only a minority of western monks in Thailand had any substantial background in Buddhism prior to ordaining. This minority was greatly outnumbered by footloose hippies, backpackers and sex tourists who would flee to places like Wat Nong Pa Phong or Wat Suan Mokkh after their appetites for cheap drugs and cheap sex had become jaded. Being almost wholly ignorant of the Dhamma they just swallowed hook, line and sinker whatever flapdoodle their ajahns told them, supplementing it only with readings of pop Zen books and Carlos Castaneda…