Some say Thailand is the land of Buddhism. Not just because of the abundance of temples but because more than 93.6 percent of the Thai population follows the Buddha teachings. Most Thai people are born into a Theravada Buddhist family.
The Three Jewels
Buddhists respect and regard the follow as the Three Jewels of Buddhism;
1. Buddha (พระพุทธ(เจ้า) : Prá~Póod-(tá-jâo))
2. Dharma or Buddha’s teachings (พระธรรม : Prá~Tam)
3. Songha or Monks (พระสงฆ์ : Prá~Sŏ’ng)
The Ways Thais Practise Buddhism in Recent days
At the age of 20, Thai men can ordain (บวช : Bùad) to be a monk (พระ(สงฆ์) : Prá~(Sŏ’ng)) to practise Buddhism. There are different purposes and beliefs in entering monkshood either for practising to attain a sublime state of nirvana (following the Buddha path by practising Noble Eightfold Path which is also known as the Middle Way), for education, as a custom belief to merit their parents or their relatives who passed away and some people even believe it can help reducing sin. The current king, Rama 9 also entered monkshood like his ancestors did and many ordinary men would do, when he was 20 years old. For 15 days, he was learning, practicing and following the teaching of Buddha.
Women can become a nun (แม่ชี : Mâe~Chee) to practise and help spreading Buddhism. Note: When entering monkshood or becoming a nun, men and women are not allowed to have intimate or personal contact with each other as they should practise and control their mind away from any types of desires.
Laymen (ฆารวาส : Kaa-rá-wâad) can practise Buddhism by following Buddha’s teaching of the 5 precepts which are avoiding sinful actions by NOT;
1. Killing animals
4. Drinking alcohol
5. Wrong doing in sexual acts
Laymen can support Buddhism by making merit (ทำบุญ : Tam Boon = to make/do + merit) which can be done in mainly two ways;
a) Offering food to monks (ตักบาตร : Tàk Bàad = to scoop + monk’s food bowl)
b) Donating (บริจาค : Bor-rí-jàak) some money or things to a temple to help with anything that is necessary for supporting and spreading Buddhism.
The Buddhist Calendar
The Buddhist calendar plays an important role in Thai society. On Buddhist holy days (วันพระ : Wun Phrá = day + monk), Buddhist Thais usually go to a temple for offering food to monks, donating money to the temple, praying, listening to Dharma preaching (sermons), meditate, talking about Dharma or join other Buddhist activities. Going to the temple is also the way of holding the relationship of the people in the community.
Some Buddhists would also hold the 8 precepts which are the 5 precepts (avoiding any sinful actions) as stated above with 3 more precepts (controlling their desires) which are;
6. Not eating at night time (after midday until dawn)
7. Not wearing accessories and perfume as well as Not doing any actions for pleasure e.g. singing, listening to music, etc.
8. Not sleeping off-ground and on comfy bed/mattress.
Some important Buddhist holy days are stipulated as national holidays. Government Office, Banks and Businesses are off and the sale of alcohol is prohibited during these Buddhist national holidays. Buddhist holidays are also regarded as special times to visit a temple to follow a ritual ceremony, make merit and listen to a sermon (Dharma talk).
Theravada Buddhist National Holidays in Thailand
มาฆบูชา : Makha Bucha Day
Celebrated on the 15th day of the waxing moon (full moon) of the third lunar month. Makha Bucha Day is the day where Lord Buddha taught for the first time after 9 months of his enlightenment. It is believed that there were 1,250 arhats who came to visit and show respect to Buddha without any schedule. At this teaching, Buddha concluded his teachings (The heart of his teaching) as “Do good things, avoiding doing bad things (sins) and cleanse your mind”
วันวิสาขบูชา : Visakha Bucha Day
Celebrated on the 15th day of the waxing moon (full moon) of the sixth lunar month. Visakha Bucha Day is a Memorial Day in Buddhism since there are three important incidents in the life of Lord Buddha which are the birth, the enlightenment and the death of Lord Buddha. It is also a “World Heritage Day” which is recognised by the UNESCO on December 13, 1999.
วันอาสาฬหบูชา : Asalha Bucha Day
Celebrated on the 15th day of the waxing moon (full moon) of the eighth lunar month. Asalha Bucha Day is the birth of the third jewel, Songha (monks). It is also known as Dharma Day which commemorates the “Turning of the wheel of the Dharma”
วันเข้าพรรษา : Khaw Phansa Day
Celebrated at the start of the 3 month annual retreat of monks during the rainy season (Also known as Buddhist Lent) which follows Asalha Bucha Day on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month. During this period, monks would remain in one place, typically in monasteries or temples. In the ancient times, as the rainy season is farming season, this retreat is for monks to stop travelling to spread Buddhism in order to prevent from stepping/destroying the new grows. Nowadays, as monks do not often need to travel to spread Buddhism anymore monks usually dedicate this period to meditation instead.
As for Laymen, they celebrate Khaw Phansa Day with Candle Light Ceremony by walking around the Ubosot hall in the evening. In some regions in Thailand there is a Candle Light Festival where people would gather and parade with decorated candles.
We can say that Thailand is the land of Theravada Buddhism but prior to and after the rise of Theravada Buddhism there are other beliefs such as ghost belief, Indian Brahmanic religion and Mahayana Buddhism. The ghosts of local folklore, vegetarian festival, Brahmanism shrines and tattooing are parts of mixed beliefs that Thais have adopted. There is other saying “Thailand is the land of the free” which can be interpreted in many ways. One common interpretation is “Free to believe”.
Written by Kruu Noi / Edited by Kruu Jiab