Lao buddhism, mental health, and contemporary implications

Joseph Westermeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

In the absence of mental health workers, the people of Laos effectively support one another through crises and role changes. They accomplish this by employing social institutions and traditions that have been present in their culture from antiquity. Central to these traditional social resources are religious ritual (especially the baci), community "elders", and homecentered religious activities involving the extended family, neighbors, and friends. We in the Western world can learn from Lao Buddhism. As mental health workers have displaced religious leaders, our standards for behavior have moved from "what is right" toward "what is done". Life-change events have increased in our lives, but rites de passage have atrophied. At times of crisis, neighbors, relatives, friends, and clergy often fail to lend support when it is most needed. Religion can and should contribute to the mental health of a people. It cannot accomplish this by larger churches, more elaborate theology, or an isolated clergy. Instead, simple home-centered ritual, conducted by leaders whom participants know and with whom they can identify, should be adapted to the crises and role shifts in our lives today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-188
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Religion & Health
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 1973

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