What the Buddha Never Taught
Tim Ward has a knack for telling an interesting story, and his account of his brief stay in a Thai wat is frequently amusing and informative. Although his book is relatively light in tone, Ward does manage to address serious issues at various points. He discusses, for example, some of the differences between the essentials of Buddhist practice and the cultural aspects of Buddhism as it is practiced in Thailand. He also discusses the role of Buddhism in Thai society and muses about the ways in which Thai Buddhism may change as Thai society changes.
Most of the residents of Wat Pah Nanachat, including the head monk, are Westerners, and only two of the Asians in residence are Thai. A few of the Western practitioners have been there for a number of years, but most—including the author of this book—stay only for a few weeks or months. One of the most interesting elements of the book is the discussions between the author and an American lay practitioner named Jim, who arrives at the wat at the same time as the author. These discussions shed light on the attitudes and perceptions, both accurate and inaccurate, of Westerners in an utterly foreign religious and cultural milieu. Jim has some familiarity with Thai customs, but his understanding of both Buddhism and Thai culture is as limited as the author’s.
WHAT THE BUDDHA NEVER TAUGHT is an entertaining volume that can be enjoyed by any reader. In the final analysis, however, it teaches the reader more about Western attitudes than it does about Thailand and Theravada Buddhism. Although he had had some experience of Tibetan Buddhism in India, Tim Ward was able to last only a month in Wat Pah Nanachat. One is left with the impression that Ward’s real purpose was to collect information for a book such as this, not to practice Buddhism in earnest. Such a goal is utterly at odds with the view of a Buddhist monk or even a serious lay practitioner. Ward’s view is, ultimately, that of a tourist, not that of a member of the Buddhist community.
This volume, which bears the marks of inattentive editing, contains a brief glossary and a list of the fourteen residents of Pah Nanachat and their countries of origin.