Thailand - Buddhism

Therveda Buddhism - old school of Buddhism - is practiced by about 95% of the Thai people. There are temples and monks nearly everywhere you go in Thailand.

We can't even begin to explain Buddhism here, but some things travelers may be exposed to are listed.

Monks are normally addressed as phra - their collective order is the sangha

Temples are called wats and most temple grounds are community centers for everything from sermons to celebrations to schools, markets and meeting places.

Some of the elements of Buddhism include:

The Five Precepts

  • Abstain from harming sentient beings
  • Abstain from taking what is not given
  • Abstain from sexual misconduct
  • Abstain from false speech
  • Abstain from intoxicants (drugs and alcohol)

If Following the 8 Precepts, include:

  • Abstain from eating meals at inappropriate times. (Usually after 12 noon.)
  • Abstain from entertainment, including dancing and singing, as well as using beauty products and perfumes
  • Abstain from using luxurious beds. (This generally includes western style beds.)

Making Merit

Making merit entails doing something good. This can mean doing things for other people, animals or the environment.

While it is easy to interpret this as a kind of bank account of good deeds, actually, making merit should be done for unselfish reasons. Of course, mere mortals, being what they are, often do turn it into a kind of spiritual bargaining.

One of the most common ways for lay Buddhist to make merit is to give food to monks on their morning alms rounds. If you get up early enough, you will probably catch a glimpse of this procedure. It is also a common practice to make donations to temples.

Other ways of making merit include helping the poor, taking care of stray dogs and lending assistance to those in need.

One somewhat unusual, and somewhat controversial way, of making merit is to buy animals, usually near a temple, and set them free. While this practice is not as common as it used to be, you still occasionally see fish, turtles or birds for sale at temple grounds.

One purchases, say, a fish, and then sets it free in the nearby river.


Buddhist Nuns

The Theravada (Old Tradition) School of Buddhism at one time had a monastic lineage for males and a separate one for females. Bhikkuni was the name assigned to the nuns. Mae chii is Thai for nun and means "mother priest."

The original female lineage of nuns was lost during the course of Buddhism spreading from India to Sri Lanka and then Thailand. Since there is no officially recognized female lineage in Thailand, the nun hood is not as highly regarded as the monkhood.

The general belief is that monks make merit for their families - especially their mothers - since women can't become an official part of the Sangha (order of monks).

The approximately 15,000 nuns in Thailand shave their heads and wear white, rather than saffron, robes. They take vows and undergo an ordination similar to that monks do. Nuns meditate, study dharma and lead a hermit type life. Generally speaking, they do not perform Buddhist ceremonies, as do the monks.

The issue of restoring the Bhikkuni Sangha comes up from time to time and some women now go to India or Tai Wan to be ordained because the lineage in those countries has not been broken. After their ordination, they return to Thailand, often to Watra Songtham Kalyani, as Bhikkuni.

The Buddhist establishment, however, does not recognize their status, but there is an Institute of Thai Mae Chii located at Wat Bowonniwet in Bangkok. The wat has a number of foreign nuns and monks.

It is possible for foreign women to become Buddhist nuns in Thailand.

See our link for foreigners becoming monks.