Q: Who is bossing these forest monks around?
A: In Thailand, the Buddhist monkhood was divided into two sects during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV). He sought to return monastic life to its former strictness, so initiated a new movement called the Dhammayutii. The other one, the larger of the two sects, is called the Maha Nikaya. Both sects have forest monks, and both are headed by top monks in Bangkok who have authority over the forest monks. The monks being picked on in this particular incident are from the Dhammayutti sect.
Q: What's the Bangkok monks' beef with the forest monk robes?
The new regulation plans to synchronize all the colors of the robes worn by monks belonging to different sects of Buddhism, from brown to saffron orange. They intend to have the color coordinated nationwide by the time Visakha Bucha Day arrives on May 13. This looks like a bit of muscle flexing to us: a reminder to all their monks that orders come from Bangkok and everyone must fall in line. This could also be linked to the protests, which has seen a rogue monk lead protesters despite the monkhood's tradition of political neutrality. The forest monks, many of which are in Isaan, are also seen as politically closer to the government than the monks in Bangkok.
Q: Why are the forest monk robes darker anyway?
Forest monks naturally dye their own robes with an extract from the jackfruit tree. Learning how to make and dye their robes is a part of their traditional lifestyle.
Q: Are the forest monks going to give in?
It's not entirely clear. Forest monks massively rejected the order, and Phra Dhamthitiyan in Roi Et, who is a Dhammayutti region chief, said forest monks could continue to wear their brown robes. Then some other senior monks said they could wear them while in the forest, but must wear the bright orange robes if attending any ceremony in town or even just visiting the city.