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Thai Buddhism And Buddhist In Thailand

Thai Buddhism


Thailand is home to many religions; you can find Hindus, Muslims, Christians here too, but Buddhism and Buddhist in Thailand is the largest religion that is followed there, with approximately 95% of the popular being Thai Buddhist.

Thailand is the second-largest Buddhist population globally, and Thai Buddhism, specifically the Theravada school of thought, is an integral part of their folk religion. The importance of Buddhism can easily be identified with the number of Buddhist temples and Buddha Statues all around the country, which is of utmost importance.

Thai Buddhism is not just a religion; it’s a way of life followed by every Thai resident, and to really understand the value of it, here’s a walkthrough of everything that there is to know about Buddhism and Buddhist in Thailand.

Thai-Buddhism-1

Thai Buddhism

 

A walkthrough of Thai Buddhism

There have been numerous debates about whether Buddhism is a religion or not; scholars have argued for centuries, some favoring the notion and some not, but ultimately the debate/discussion always ends up being open to interpretation.

Buddhism may or may not be a religion for some, but what is certain this way of life is one of the top followed religions in the world, especially in Asian countries such as China and Thailand. The fundamental belief system of this religion is that there is no system of Faith or worship in Almighty God.

Instead, the religion revolves around the teachings of the great Buddha and the emphasis on individuals and their doings.  Unlike other religions, Buddhism has no supernatural linkage, solutions to spiritual issues, but meditation is a substantial part of the religion through which individuals can be enlightened and find solutions on their own. 

But similar to Buddhism and all other religions are, that there are various schools of thought within the religion. For example, Buddhists in Thailand, Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka follow Theravada Buddhism.

WHAT IS THERAVADA BUDDHISM?

Theravada Buddhism is the most profound school of thought, followed by Thai Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism revolves around the teaching of the elders. It is believed that this sect has been the closest to the original teachings and guidance of Buddha himself.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THAI BUDDHISM

Buddhism originated in India and made its way to different parts of the world. Similarly, Thai Buddhism also came from India, but along the way was infused by the influence of many schools of thought, such as Theravada from Sri Lanka, which eventually came to be the most popularly followed sect by Buddhists in Thailand.

However, the history of Buddhist in Thailand is not that simple. Since many religious and historical records from the 13th to 19th century were destroyed in the Burmese destruction of Ayutthaya, the anthropologist-historian ‘S.J. Tambiah’ provided with a general pattern of that time.

This stated that in Theravada Buddhist kingdoms, the kings were the protectors of the religion and the religion was the focal point of drawing policies. However, prior to the 1800s, there were issues in the Thai kingdoms related to succession and King’s authorities. Hence some had more power than others, and there was an imbalance altogether. As kings with more power expanded their power further and take control over the religions, aka. Sangha.

Things got even more complicated when the control was supported and patronage by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. And when the King was sick or died, the Sangha weekened or decline. These fluctuations caused chaos and uncertainty in the Thai kingdom, and eventually, in the late 18th century, things started to settle down after the emergence of the Chakkri Dynasty.

But by the 19th century, things finally got streamlined as King MingKut came into power, he himself was a monk, and with his years of training and guidance in Buddhism, he channeled it into making Thailand a more centralized institutionalized and hierarchical state. Not only that, but he also played a very vital role for Buddhism in Thailand; with his 27+ years of being a monk, he was considered ti be a scholar of Pali Buddhist scripture.

King-MingKut

King MingKut

 

During that time, Mons from Burma migrated to Thailand and introduced a more regressive Buddhist discipline of the Mon sangha. This school of thought was relient in the guidance and understanding of Tipitaka, and laid the foundation of the reform movement, and laid the basis for the Dhammayuttika order of monks. The reform once again disrupted the functioning of the whole of Thailand; laws were strict, bureaucracy was at its peak. But thankfully, around 1902, King Chulalongkorn introduced a new sangha hierarchy which till this date remains the foundation of Thailand’s administration. And under this rule, Article 73 of the constitution states that “The State shall patronize and protect Buddhism.” Thailand today has a Religious Affairs Department, and all decisions and issues concerning Buddhism in Thailand are looked over by them. Also, the highest governing religious body in Thailand is the ‘Sangha Supreme Council,’ which is largely run by Thai Buddhists.

THAI BUDDHISM BELIEF SYSTEM

Thai Buddhists are devout Theravada mostly and classify themselves as adherents to Buddhism, but a lot of things they believe in or follow are influenced by other religions that we will go into later. However, they do have few distinctive traits that set them apart from other religions and other Buddhist schools of thought, such as;

Praying to Buddha

In Thai Buddhism or generally in Buddhism, there is no worshiping to God practice. They are more focused on humanity and humanitarian actions. But however, they do tend to pray on certain occasions to Buddha images and statues, which is not the same way other religions pray to their Gods.

Buddhists in Thailand know that Buddha statues or images can’t grant them any special requests or offer some sort of spiritual healing, but the reason they pray to it is to pay homage for guiding them and paving a path to the sanctuary that is Buddhism. For Buddhists, the Buddha statues are a source of inspiration and a reminder of the teachers and the noble path set by Budhha.

Praying-for-Buddha

Praying for Buddha

 

The Merit Making Concept

The concept of 'Merit Making' is a popular concept in Thai Buddhism, a daily followed concept that is believed to bring protection, prosperity, and wellbeing. Thai Buddhists believe that an external force protects the faithful, people who help one another and follow the principles of Buddhism. Buddhist festivals are considered to be very important for merit Making purposes; hence during the festival times, people go all out in helping one another and carrying out all sorts of helping actions and choruses.

Reincarnation

Every Buddhist has a different mindset; while some aim to achieve Nirvana, others strive to do as good as possible to be reborn as something higher.

In Thai Buddhism, which is Theravada Buddhism, the followers have faith in the philosophy of perpetual reincarnation. They believe that life is a cycle, and people who have achieved enlightenment can break the cycle and enter a blissful state of Nirvana.

They also believe that it takes a lot more to enter Nirvana, so being good does not guarantee entry but what is for sure is that a good Buddhist will be reincarnated in a higher position in their next life. Animals are at the bottom of the pyramid, and men at the top, and everything else in between. So reincarnation doesn't solely signify social strata in Buddhism; instead, it signifies a rebirth in different species and genders depending on the deeds of individuals.

Karma

Karma has been a popular concept in many of the religions of the world, but it plays a vital role in Buddhism. So Karma roughly translates to 'what you sow, so shall you reap,' meaning that every action will have a similar consequence. Good action will result in good Karma and vice versa.

But that's not all; Buddhist Karma is a bit different; the past actions or present doings may not have immediate consequences, but when it does, it's the grant. Good actions can bring contentment and happiness in life, while bad actions can bring suffering as Karma. Thai Buddhists and Buddhists, in general, believe that every individual is responsible for their own fate, own misery, and happiness, and all they have to do to make sure success and prosperity are by doing good throughout.

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Alms Giving Ceremony in Thailand

 

INFLUENCES ON THAI BUDDHISM

We have already covered that Buddhism originated from India and made its way to Thailand through Singapore and hence the influence of that and Chinese Buddhism too, amongst others. But there are three significant influences that Thai Buddhism sees today;

Hinduism

The first influence, as expected, comes from India, or to be more specific, Hinduism (one apparent reason for the complicated Thai history). Buddhism in Thailand can be seen to pay homage to Hinduism and Hindu entities. There are few Hindu god statues in few Buddhist temples in Thailand; there is an Elephant Park name after Hindu mythology ‘Erawan National Park’ and few other things like these.

Surprisingly, the Hinduism influence was not received heavily directly from India; in Thailand, the influences mostly came from during the Sukhothai Kingdom. Uring that reign Hinduism and its ideologies were used to create laws and the monarchy institution in the Thai Kingdom. Though eventually, Buddhism in Thailand with time become its spate entity but there are still few influences of Hinduism to date.

Hindu-Temples-in-Thailand

Hindu Temples in Thailand

 

Theravada School of Thought

Theravada school, which is primarily followed by Buddhist in Thailand, came from Sri Lanka and had Pali as its official language for the scriptures. Pāli Tipitaka is considered to be the most crucial religious text in the Thai Buddhist religion, and their monastic code also comes from the Theravada Canon.

Folk Religion

Folk religion also plays a vital role in making Thai Buddhism what it is today. The folk religion emphasizes on the spiritual aspect, which is a very unlikely thing to be considered for Budhhaism. But to please the sports is actually something observed in the Buddhist principle. Many renowned Thai Buddhists actually followed Folk religion and Folk magic prior to entering into Buddhism completely, and they bought few influences.

Either way, there is no denying that the importance of Thai Buddhism is significantly cherished and honored in Thailand, from Buddha images to Buddhism influenced Thai art and architecture, and similar instances can be seen followed across the Island, which is an incredible sight to witness. Buddhism in Thailand is not just a religion but a way of life that can be observed in every aspect of their lives, from hospitality to behavior, Thai cuisine, and more.

Thai Buddhism in Thailand

Buddhism is a very big part of the lifestyle of Buddhism Thailand, which means that meditating, being humble, helping others are few traits that can commonly be observed in their day-to-day lives. In a lot of places, whether it's a firm or a restaurant, even in a taxi, it is pretty common to see images of Senior Monks; it's a way of honoring them to keep them close by.

Meditation is something religiously followed by Buddhists in Thailand. Being an integral part of their faith, Thai Buddhists believe that it makes them ground and paves a path to enlightenment and has a lot of health, mental and spiritual benefits. Mediation is also commonly observed partially because it's a means of Self reflection, and Buddhism pays so much importance to that as of the feature of their belief system is the concept of 'Merit Making' and 'Karma.'

Thai Buddhist integral Thai people are very helpful and warm people, their hospitality is something to rave about, and they are open to teach or guide people through their culture and religion. In fact, in Chiang Mai and many other temples around the island, visitors can chat with the monks, gets insights, and learn a few tips and tricks primarily related to Meditation and self-reflection.

Buddhist-Meditation

Buddhist Meditation

 

As far as Thai cuisine is concerned, they do heavily influenced by Buddhism. In Buddhism, it's a focal point to live a down-to-earth life; hence traditional Thai cuisine serving sizes are small, ideally bute size pieces. They also don't cook a whole animal, unlike other religions do as part of the Buddhist custom. Though many Thai's eat different types of meat such as Pork, Chicken, and Fish but it is discouraged in Buddhism, and many Thai Budhaists abide by it. (A minor tweak may be excused).

But with that said, let's look at some of the other things that are part of Buddhism in Thailand.

Wats in Thailand

Wat is a Sanskrit word that roughly translated to 'enclosure. In actuality, it is a group of buildings inside a sacred precinct. Wat has portions with itself; one is a temple, the other is a quarter for Monks, a tutoring center, and a Chedi which houses Buddha Statutes and Images. Wat to Thai Buddhists is any place of worship, just like mosques for Muslims and Hindu temples.

Thailand has around 30,000+ Buddhist Wats, all ranging from different capacities to styles to when they were built. However, all following the basic principle in terms of architecture. A two-part Wat;

  • Phutthawat: A place dedicated to Buddha images with a Chedi and Viharn.
  • Sangkhawat: a place for monks to live.

The Wats are designed in a manner to foster a sense of calmness and create an ambiance perfect for meditation; from decore to symbolic representation, architecture and interior all represent the Buddhist the conception of the universe.

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Wats in Thailand

 

Buddha Images in Thailand

Buddha images are very important in the Thai Buddhist community; they are found everywhere around the country as it signifies who essential the great Bddhat is to them.

The imagery of Buddha dates back to the Dvaravati period around the 7th - 11th century, hence there is an influence of Indian and Khmer artists, and it also drives its influences Sri Vijay imagery style from the 8th and the 13th century.

However, the style changed quite a lot in the Sukhothai period, where Buddha was shown to have superhuman traits. This style was more realistic in nature, from hair to face to clothes, and is a commonly used style in Buddha images seen today.

Buddha-Statues

Buddha Statues

 

Monks in Thailand

Thai Buddhism is of utmost importance in Thailand. Being the second-largest country with Buddhist citizens, there are two popular Buddhist universities in Bangkok, Thailand, with thousands and thousands of monk students.

With over 300,000 monks residing in Thailand, visitors can see numerous men dressed in yellow and orange robes across the country. It is a common practice by Thai Buddhists to start their day by giving various offerings to these monks as donations every day.

Though it's optional to be a Monk, but it's a custom of Thailand that every man has to be a monk for a certain period of time after the age of 20. The duration is ideally around three months. This practice is shared as it is believed to bring good karma and adds to the concept of Merit Making.

Thai-Buddhist-Monks

Thai Buddhist Monks

 

Buddhist Festivals

There are many festivals all around the year in Thai Buddhism; however, two of the most important ones are as follows;

- Loy Krathong: This festival is celebrated in the 12th month of the lunar calendar (around November). Numerous Thai Buddhists set their Krathong boats with candles in the river with wishes for the future in this festival. This action is like an offering to the spirits of the water, a sight so mesmerizing that it can make anyone cry as all the water beds in Thailand are filled with candles.

- Yi Peng: is similar to another popular festival, ‘Lanna Festival.’ Yi Peng also takes place simultaneously as Loy Krathong; however, in this festival, people make their wishes and release big lanterns in the air at night. Covering the whole of the sky in an elegant way. This gesture is made in order to make merit and receive good luck for the year to come.

Loy-Krathong-in-Chiang-Mai

Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai

 

And with that, the walkthrough of Thai Buddhists and Buddhism in Thailand comes to an end. We are well aware that it does not encompass the entire Buddhism, and there are numerous other things to unfold, but this is a gist of some of the essential things that need to be known by this beautiful religion, its followers, and the lifestyle it promotes.