Religion in Thailand
Buddhism in Thailand
Approximately 95% of Thais are Theravada Buddhists. The rest are Mahayana Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Buddhism in Thailand
Theravada means 'The Doctrine of the Elder' and follows the Hindu theory of perpetual reincarnation until the person achieves enlightenment, or nirvana, and frees themselves from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Theravada Buddhists accept the four noble truths which maintain that suffering is caused by desire and this can be eliminated by following the Middle Way or Eightfold Path. These are precepts about the correct way to live, and include virtues such as compassion, self-reliance, respect and moderation, and eschew extreme or damaging behaviour.
It is believed that Buddhism reached Thailand in the second or third century BC via traders and missionaries from India. Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism was introduced at the beginning of the first millennium to make Buddhism more accessible by having a more Hindu-style pantheon with bodhisattva who had achieved nirvana but returned to earth to help others on the path.
Almost every young Thai male becomes a monk for at least three months, rather like doing National Service in Europe. They do this to gain merit and bring honour to their family. Monks are not allowed to have direct contact with women so do not sit next to a monk or touch a monk if you are female. They wear very distinctive orange, or saffron, robes.
The Buddhist temple complexes are known as wats. The bot, translated as 'ordination hall', stands at the centre of the complex and tends to be restricted to monks only. There is only one bot and it can be distinguished from the temple buildings by the eight sema or stones which surround it. These are positioned at the four corners of the bot and the cardinal points of the compass, ie North, South, East and West. The viharn, or assembly hall, is for the lay person and usually contains the temples principle Buddha image. When sitting, avoid pointing your feet at the Buddha as this is disrespectful. Sitting with your legs and feet tucked to the side is one way of avoiding this. Leave your shoes outside the hall. There is the chedi or stupa, a tower originally meant as a shrine to contain the relics of the Buddha, but has since become a place for storing the ashes of royalty. Some wats do permit tourists. Dress respectably, long trousers or skirts, and no sleeveless vests or bare chests.