Buddhism in Thailand
Religion system is one of the fundamental parts of any society, which is the practice of that connected to supernatural beings and forces. This practice modifies human’s attitudes and beliefs that fulfills several social and psychological needs. Buddhism, one of the most worldwide popular religion, is a religious tradition that emphasizes spiritual growth at a personal level and focusses on the study of the nature of life. History of Buddhism can be traced back to the 6th century BC when it was originated in India and founded by Prince Siddhartha who later became Buddha after 49 years of meditation. Globally, the Buddhist religion has more than 350 million believers. Buddhists do not believe in the existence of a personal god; rather they believe that no change is impossible and the path to enlightenment is via the practice and establishment of wisdom, morality, and meditation (Rinpoche, 277).
They believe in the tilakhana’ assertion that life has no end and life is subject to uncertainty, miseries, and impermanence. This religion is generally popular in some Asian countries, for instances, China, Cambodia, Thailand, and has made significant impacts to these societies. This paper provides a critical analysis of how Buddhism developed in Thailand and its influences on Thai culture and traditions. Development of Buddhism in Thailand After originating from India, Buddhism became a dominant religion in Thailand and other nations like Sri Lanka and Laos by the 12th Century.
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In Thailand, the official religion is Theravada Buddhism that has many followers comprising 95% of the entire country’s population. From the vast Thai Chinese population, Chinese religion, as well as the folk religion, integrated into forming Buddhism in Thailand (Murti et al. 321). Initially, Thailand had numerous small independent kingdoms. Due to contact with neighboring nations, Thailand began feeling the influence of Buddhism, which gained influential support from the then Thai King, Ramkham-haeng.
The king invited the Buddhist monks in Sukothai to teach and spread the news about Buddhism, and he later developed relations with Sri Lanka to secure institutions of training and studying by the monks. In Thailand, Buddhism is highly revered, and its focus on the ordination of every Thai man is adhered to as every man has to practice to become a monk while still under 20 years of age. The king was considered the patron and the custodian of Buddhist religion with the responsibility of overseeing the legitimacy of religious practices.
The kings used the religious power to expand their territory and deal with the challenges of succession, which followed an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Thai society identified themselves with Buddhism in different ways. As some used to give daily offerings to spirit houses, others would feed the numerous soi dogs. Through making merit by making such offerings, Thais believed on long and happy living in return. Others may put on Buddhist amulets for identity and protection. Buddhism developed in Thailand through inclination to and spreading of cultural beliefs, traditions and religious practices, fashion and clothing, arts and architectural designs, ceremonies, and festivals among others. Buddhism played a significant role in culture restoration and societal harmony.
Through culture and traditions, Buddhist principles were used in establishing and maintaining cultural norms and traditions. Having close links with Indian culture, the Buddhist introduced arts, literature and other customs in Thai culture. Pali, which evolved to the current Magawi, was the Buddhist language that was infiltrated in Thai culture. The religious scriptures were interpreted, taught and recorded in Pali language.
The Thai society identified themselves with the Buddhist language, which supplemented their traditional script of writing styles as a form of communication. The Thai society preserved and strengthened the Buddhist culture and traditions in their system. Additionally, the Buddhist society had a strong identity of the Buddhist culture through various traditional practices such as celebrations, dances, music, food, and other cultural beliefs. Furthermore, the Buddhist cultural values and belief system were highly accepted and applied in holding cultural norms.
Various significant values acquired and upheld by the Thai community include respect, self-control, honesty, and non-confrontational attitude. The cultural values shun public exposure of emotional disdain and telling lies and only upholds maintenance of positive attitudes and happiness despite any frustration or annoyance. The Buddhist cultural values and traditions were widely applied as Thai norms and customs, and that led to the development of the religion in the region.
Apart of the Theravada school of Buddhism that enhanced the development of the religion in Thailand through the teachings of the cultures, believes and religious customs, Hindu beliefs from Cambodian territory also influenced the development and spread of Buddhism in Thai society. The Hindu beliefs and traditions strengthened the Buddhism in instituting the kingship in Thailand and facilitated the adoption of societal and religious laws and order in the entire nation.
Most of the cultural and religious rituals conducted in the Thai community by the Buddhist monks or specialists were originated from Hindu’s cultural practices. Moreover, the existence of folk religion also contributed to the development of Buddhism in Thai society. Some of the Buddhist religious precepts and rituals are used in folk religion during the appeasement of local nature spirits. Thai communities also applied Buddhist practices such as astrology, numerology, use of charms and talismans.
The influence of Mahayana Buddhism in Thailand was evident in various Thai religious architecture. The existence of images of religious structures such as the bodhisattva Lokesvara in many Thai temples or on the amulets also influenced the development of Buddhism in the region. The creation of Theravada school of Buddhism in Thailand led to spread of the religion countrywide as several monks were developed through training and teachings to spread the religion in the region. There were over 20000 monks who were staying in the Land of Smiles, Phuket and Bangkok cities.
The monks put on yellow and orange robes as a form of clothing that was also adopted by the Thai people. Buddhist influence is evident, as it requires every man in Thailand to undergo training and teaching sessions of becoming monks (Harvey, 119). The process would take an expected time of three months, and the participants must be age 20 and below. Due to the early arrival and the support from Thais Government, Buddhism significantly developed from the earliest day to 1700 CE.
As a result, Buddhism powerfully contributed in shaping the society’s traditions and values. Buddhist festivals, celebrations and holidays There are many Buddhist festivals, celebrations and holidays that influenced their adoption as the Thailand religion. For instance, during the Magha Puja, the Buddhists would meet at the temple and light numerous candles for the countrywide festival during the February full moon. Another celebration comes in early March where Wat Phra Buddaphat Fair festival is celebrated. Majority of the temples built by the Buddhism in Thailand bear the natural or artificially made Buddha footprints (Ito, 168).
The festival takes place when Buddhists gather to worship the giant imprint in the temple. Such festivals usually occur in Phra Puddhabat Temple in Saraburi where the footprints mostly exist. Moreover, during the ordination of monks in April, the festival known as the Si Satchanalai Ordinations are usually celebrated. During this festival, people put on colorful costumes and match in a parade. The Buddhists also celebrate Songkran festival which involves a giant water fight that occurs countrywide and symbolizes cleansing ones’ sins and spirit of bad luck from a certain period (McDaniels, 248). Pouring water to the statues of Buddha marked the origin of this festival.
Also, Visaka Puja holiday occurs in early May purposely to remember Buddha’s birthday, death and his pioneer of the enlightenment practices. During the holiday, Thai Buddhists gather around the main temple with lit candles to pay tribute to Buddha. Khao Phansa or the Buddhist Lent Day represents the start of the 3-month time when the monks are expected to stay immobile. The Thai Buddhists gather to provide yellow robes and candles to the immobile monks. On the other hand, Asanha Puja marks the remembrance of Buddha’s first sermon that is conducted during a full moon. The festival occurs in July in the nationwide temples.
The Sakhon Nakhon Wax Candle Festival involves the celebration of the end of Buddhist Lent and is done through a matching parade and beauty contests (Siderits, 174). Finally, Phansa holiday involves the celebration of presenting new monks with robes in October. During these festivals and holidays, candles must be lit, and no alcohol should be consumed or sold countrywide. Influence of Buddhism on Thai Society and Culture As mentioned above, since Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand with about 95% of the population, it has highly influenced various aspects of human life and activities in this country. Buddhist principles have been adopted and applied as guidelines of daily life social norms.
The people’s life has been evolved into a meditational and religion-oriented system. Buddhism has promoted the spirit of reverence towards religion in Thailand. Additionally, the religion is welcoming and tolerating of other ideologies and religions. The influence of Buddhism on Thai society is evident in how the religion upholds respect for living beings that is even displayed in architecture values. Buddhist teachings are based on the treatment of beings with uttermost respect without causing any harm. In Thai lifestyle, mannerisms, and character, it is evident Thais respect, show generosity, friendliness, no threats and violence to each other as a standard measure of religious commitment (Selvarajah, 375).
Additionally, a popular value that practicing in Buddhism is seen on their concept of karma and offering alms. The ideals of respect to each other and refrain from threats and violence is based on the concept of karma, which is a principle of cause and effect that bad dealings lead to suffering. The concept has taught Thais to remain peaceful and happy with each other. A valuable practice of this concept is offering alms like giving food to the monks at dawn were believed to help in making merit and building karma.
Another important norm of Thais is public showing of affection, which is known as condemnable in Thai customs if maintain that issues like those that touching each other in public, especially their head, is considered rude. Additionally, in Thai culture, conflicts and showing of anger is condemned while peaceful disposition is valued. The concept of Sanuk asserts that life should be full of fun and disagreements and disputes are shunned from the cultural norms. Buddhism made a huge impact in Thais and created a norm or tradition of regularly gathered in temples daily. Buddhism expansive development in Thailand relates to the several Buddhist temples built in the region.
The temples served purposes such as worshipping and teaching values as well as the development of art and architecture. The fashionable designs of such architectural temples are fascinating, stunning and welcoming hence attracted many people thus spreading the Buddhist influence. Well-known temples such as Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and Wat Phra Doi Suthep were popular and capturing (Assavavirulhakarn, 413). Furthermore, the temples were used for worship purposes, a celebration of religious festivals, housing monks, religious schooling, and for a local gathering.
Apart from being a place for worship, the temple became the cradle for Thais as a center of village life, served as an orphanage, school, theatre, and crematorium. While at the temples, respect and politeness must be upheld and no feeling of remoteness or superiority was condemned. Finally, Buddhism influence of the Thai society is evident in the type of acculturation and infiltration of religious values. Thais acquired various religious values such as respect, honesty, self-control, non-emotional attitudes that help each family in living in harmony. Thais also identify themselves with Buddhist cultural norms and customs. The Buddhist principles control the culture of the Thai community.
Another Buddhist influence on Thai society is evident in their spiritual beliefs. In every household, a special Buddhist spirit house is structured for the family to conduct any rituals and religious functions. The spirit houses are often staged in residential structures or business places. Moreover, the emic view for the installation of spirit houses inside or outside their dwellings to those spirits is to improve their happiness marks part of Thai culture.
The belief in figures such as Lokesvara formed part of Thai’s iconography and played a significant role in their folk religion. Through scales of values and customs, Buddhism influenced and promoted refined behaviors and the avoidance of coarseness as a measure of happiness among families. Buddhism fostered the use of wai in Thai customs as a means of greeting and acknowledgment (Selvarajah, 375). The greeting was done in a holy way and was done in a prayer-like gesture where both hands are raised, and palms joined while fingers are pointed upwards in a prayerful manner.
This kind of greeting was considered a show of respect. Last but not least, respect for hierarchy and concept of superiority marks part of Thai culture brought about by Buddhist influence. Parents, teachers, and guidance are considered superior and should be respected and be treated as custodian of change in behavior in the family or social settings. As part of the cultural tradition, Buddhism contributed to the evolution of marriage whose ceremonies are divided into two different parts: recitation of prayers and giving of food and other related gifts to the monks as well as to the images of Buddha. The monks were to pray for the fertility of the couples through their presence in marriage ceremonies were considered a bad omen since they were supposed to attend to the dead during funerals.
In summary, the paper analyzes how Buddhism developed in Thailand and its influence of Thais community from the earliest to 1700 CE. Some of the ways the paper discusses that resulted to the development include factors such as infiltration of culture, traditions, norms, and customs as well as arts and literature in Thai society such as adoption of Pali language and teaching of Buddhism by the monks across the country.
The existence of folk religion, Theravada school of Buddhism and the adoption of Hindus cultural norms, contributed to the development of Buddhism in Thailand. Buddhist temples, festivals and holidays, and the development of monks in the Thai community promoted the spread of Buddhism. Various effects of Buddhism in Thai society identified include acculturation, infiltration of social values, and development of art, literature and architectural designs.