Nirvana For Sale Summary

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Nirvana for Sale by Rachelle M. Scott is an anthropological investigation into the intersection of wealth and piety in Thailand Theravada Buddhism. Through ethnographic methods, the book seeks to describe this relationship in a historically situated context. Thus, the book is concerned with cultural praxis within the context of religious discourses about wealth and piety.
As a piece of ethnography, the work is competent, but draws little attention to the classic anthropological methodology of participant observation, characterized by long-term engagement with local cultural practices. Instead the claims made are gathered through an analysis of publications and dialogues within the Thailand Buddhist community, mostly centered on a
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Next Scott examines how this embracement of a modernist prosperity-gospel model of Buddhism becomes problematized within the socio-historical context of the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. After this, she expands the analysis looking at “the broader field of debate over the commercialization of Buddhism” and its commodification “as a product” as well as “the effects of consumerism on contemporary Thai society” (17). This is contextualized through an overview of the discourses of various “principle voices within this discussion” (17) such as Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, “a well known promoter of dhammic socialism. These diverse voices help to contextualize and complicate the discourse surrounding both the modernist prosperity Buddhism of Dhammakaya Buddhism through a post-modern commentary. It is this post-modern commentary that is the focus of the concluding chapter, in which she frames the commentary as a “rallying cry for religious reform” (17).
Importantly, this work avoided a Marxist analysis of the commodification of religion such as is described by the Comaroffs. In doing so it avoids claims about authenticity that end up as essentializing Buddhism, and instead shows that it “is not a static entity; it is continuously created through space and time” (16). Another important epistemological consideration is Scott’s treatment of Orientalism and the rationalization of modern interpretations
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