the great eastern religion founded by the Indian Prince
Siddhartha Gautama 600 years before the birth of Christ,
first appeared in Thailand during the 3rd century B.C. in the
area of the present day provincial capital Nakhon Pathom. Once
established, it proved such a durable and pervasive force that
some ethnic groups who migrated into that area during the
Dvaravati period readily adopted it as their state religion.
its inception, Buddhism had been a reaction against Brahmanism,
eschewing Brahmanism's emphasis on caste and dogma regarding
sacrifice and ritual. At the same time, it modified Brahmanic
concepts of karma and rebirth.
Buddhism teaches that one's life does not begin with birth and
end with death but is a link in a chain of lives, each
conditioned by volitional acts [karma] committed in previous
existences. The concept of karma, the law of cause and effect,
suggests that selfishness and craving result in suffering.
Conversely, compassion and love bring happiness and well-bring.
Therefore, only by eliminating desire can one find peace of
mind.The ideal Buddhist aspiration is to attain perfection
through Nirvana [Nibbhana], an indescribable, immutable state
unconditioned by desire, suffering, or further rebirth, in which
a person simply is, yet is completely at one with his
surroundings. After its introduction into Thailand,Buddhism
gained wide acceptance because its emphasis on tolerance and
individual initiative complemented the Thais' cherished sense of
inner freedom. Fundamentally,Buddhism is an empirical way of
life. Free of dogma, it is a flexible moral, ethical,and
philosophical framework within which people find room to fashion
their own salvation.
King Ramkhamhaeng [1275-1317 A.D.] established Theravada
Buddhism as Thailand's dominant religion. It reached its height
under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng's grandson, King Li Thai
[1347-1368 A.D.], when about 30 volumes of the Buddhist
scriptures were studied and rewritten by the king into one
volume, the Tribhumikatha, a treatise on Buddhist cosmology and
the three planes of existence-Sensuous, Corporeal, and
Incorporeal. Not only was this the first Buddhist treatise by a
Thai, but it was also the first known Thai Buddhist and didactic
literary work.The Tribhumikatha's impact on religious arts such
as mural paintings can be seen today in many monasteries in
various provinces. Through the centuries Buddhism has been the
main driving force in Thai cultural development. Much of
classical Thai art, particularly architecture, sculpture,
painting, and early literature is really Buddhist art. Then, as
now, Buddhism coloured everyday Thai life.
Buddhism became the primary and state religion, Thais always
subscribed to the ideal of religious freedom. Thai constitutions
have stipulated that Thai kings must be Buddhists, but monarchs
are invariably entitled "Upholder of All Religions".
Consequently,the government, through the Religious Affairs
Department -t; annually allocates funds to finance religious
education and to construct, maintain, and restore monasteries, ,
present Thailand is the location of the headquaters of the World
Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB),an international Buddhist
organization consisting of 98 regional centers in 37 countries
which promotes coordination and cooperation to enhance Buddhism
throughout the world. H.E.Professor Sanya Dhamasakti, former
Prime Minister and present President of the Privy Council of H.M.
the king has been unanimously elected President of the WFB twice
majority of Thailnad's 27,000 Buddhist temples are in the
located on the village outskirts, walled compound enclosing a
cluster of simple, steeply sloping, multi-roofed buildings.
Although the temple's prime function is to aid aspirants in
their search for Nirvana, it has traditionally served as the
village hotel, a village news, employment and information agency,
a school, hospital, dispensary or community centre, and a
recreation centre, place of safe deposit and refuge for the
mentally disturbed and the ages.
large towns, the temple offers hostel accommodation for students
from the outlying villages. In others, orphans and children from
poor families are admitted for free board, lodging and basic
education and, occasionally, juvenile delinquents are sent to
live in monasteries to be reformed under the benevolent
influence of elderly monks.
in medieval Europe, most early Thai scholars were clerics whose
major monastic activity was to teach the unlettered. Behind the
quiet facade of monastic life, many village boys learned the
rudiments of reading and writing Thai and Pali, simple
arithmetic and the Buddhist precepts. Education was primarily
concerned with ethical and religious instruction. Because most
early Thai literature concerned religion, literacy allowed
greater participation in religious life.
the Department (later Ministry) of Education was founded in
1887, monasteries remained centres of basic education until
nationwide primary education became compulsory in 1921. In many
remote areas today, monks conduct daily classed for village
being teachers, many of the orange-robed, tonsured Buddhist
monks are experts in the use of herbal medicines. They
distribute Buddhist amulets and perform exorcisms in a role that
survives from the antique animist period. Amulets and exorcism
represent an accretion of pre-Buddhistic animistic beliefs on
the main body of Buddhist thought. The amulets are tiny Buddha
images worn around the neck to ensure good fortune, provide
protection and enhance wealth. Although almost universally
revered in Thailand, Buddha amulets are nowhere mentioned in
vital village 'monastic service' is counselling. Abbots and
senior monks are often requested to arbitrate local disputes.
Their monastic prestige is considered sufficient guarantee that
equitable resolutions will be forwarded and accepted. Before
ordination, many senior monks have led active secular lives
raising their own families and farming. Thus, familiar with
temporal problems and able to empathize, they are uniquely
qualified to fashion and maintain
harmony, employing their considerable moral authority, if
necessary, to gently admonish miscreants before minor disputes
monks have always been accorded great respect for renouncing
worldly pleasures and seriously undertaking study of the Buddha's
teaching to attain 'perfect manhood'.
Buddhist monkhood differs from that of other religions in
severals ways. In Thailand's tropical climate, the monk's
austere life is never unduly severe. Though a monk is celibate
and may not be touched by a woman, even his mother, his life is
not totally cloistered. Meditating monks excepted, daily contact
with the laity is commonplace, mostly during morning collections
of alms beyond the monastery precincts, and at various
ceremonies and festivals.
abide by strict monastic discipline, observing 227 rules
governing their behaviour. The breaking of the four principal
rules - theft, homicide of inciting another to suicide, sexual
relations or climing magical powers - will result in immediate
expulsion from the monastic order.
other monastic regimens, Buddhist monkhood does not demand
manual labour of its monks. Physical work is recognized as
having value in allaying destructive thoughts and desires.
However, the Buddhist monk, preferring annihilation of
temptation and craving to suppress them, elects to seek and
destroy them through meditation.
of discussion is allowed. A Buddhist monk may question and part
of the Buddha's teaching - He may study parts of the doctrine he
feels important to his advancement and choose his own time to
meditate. Except fot the three months of the annual Rains
Retreat, he is free to travel, a legacy from Buddhism's earliest
days when the Buddha and his disciples led itlinerant lives.
monk may leave the monkhood andy time he wishes. The Thai
ordination is a public notice of a man's intention to follow the
Buddha's teaching. He is not obliged to remain a monk for life,
nor does any stigma attach should he decide to return to secular
Buddhism flourished during the Ayutthayan period, historically
little is known of Ayutthayan Buddhism because of the near total
destruction of the Kingdom's records. The year following 1767
found Buddhism in disarray. The situation improved when the
first Chakri king, ,
re-established religious as well as social order.
later Chakri king, , founded a new Buddhist sect during his monastic years.
The Dhammayutika sect, a basic reform of the existing Mahanikai
sect, stressed stricter interpretation of monastic discipline,
stipulated changes in ordination procedures, and emphasized
studying the original Theravada scriptures in the ecclesiastic
language of Pali.
Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of over 90% of the
Thai people, and profoundly influences everyday life. It finds
expression in the Thais' tolerance and kindness towards their
fellow men, regardless of race, creed or nationality. It is
visibly strengthened by the close daily contact the laity enjoys
with Buddhist monks during morning food collections and casual
meetings. People acquire 'merit' by donating food to the monks;
by building and renovating temples; by constructing and
renovating temples; by constructing hospitals; and by showing
kindness and compassion to all living creatures. Such merit
favourably affects one's present as well as future incarnations.
major Buddhist holy days are national holidays. These include Magha
Puja (commemorating the miraculous occasion when 1250
disciples gathered spontaneously to hear the Buddha preach); Visakha
Puja (commemorating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and
final passing away); and Khoa Phansa (the commencement of
the annual three-month Rains Retreat when all monks stay inside
their monasteries to study and meditate).
monks chant auspicious stanzas blessing the openings of new
businesses. They officiate at housewarmings. They chant and
annoint new ships, airplanes and even cars. Brides and grooms
make meritorious offerings of food on their wedding days and are
blessed and sprinkled with holy water. Monks also chant prayers
during nightly rites preceding cremations.
fundamental reason for the Thai laity'a generous support of the Sangha
(the Buddhist monastic order) is that there are few Buddhist
families in which at least one member has not studied the Buddha's
teaching within monastic surroundings. Not uncommonly, a man,
after discharging his worldly duties and family obligations,
will spend his remaining years as a Buddhist monk.
has likewise long been a Thai custom for Buddhist males over
twenty to be temporarily ordained as Buddhist monks, generally
during the annual Rains Retreat. Government offices, certain
sections of the armed forces and larger private companies make
temporary ordinations easier by granting their employees three
months' leave with full salary.
ordination, ranging from five days to three months, is not the
exclusive privilege of any one class. Everyone from a farmer's
son to royalty may take this unique change for self-improvement.
his son, Thailand's Crown Prince, H.R.H Prince Vajiralongkorn,
have been monks for short periods. Their acts continue a
tradition in which Buddhism unites all Buddhist members of
Buddhists are found primarily among Thailand's ethnic Chinese
and Vietnamese. There are some 21 major Chinese monasteries and
25 meeting halls. Mahayana monks are easily distinguished from
Theravada monks by their orange jackets and trousers. Strict
vegetarians, they eat only food prepared by their monasteries
and are not required to be celibate. Their daily routine is
concerned with elaborate rituals and with preparation for the
funerals and burials over which they preside.
monks are found in 13 major monasteries. Though dressed like the
Chinese monks, they are not subject to special dietary
regulations and make daily morning food collections.