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Page updated: 2017-05-29

Sawadee kha, Sawadee khrap

Buddhism

Home - Travel stories - Buddhism - Buddhism


Most people living in Thailand are Buddhist.
There are a lot of books that explain what Buddhism means. We're not going to do that yet another time.
What we are trying to do is to give an impression of the way Buddhism is often practised by ordinary people in Thailand.

The most important influence on Thai Buddhism is the Theravada school, which came from Sri Lanka to Thailand. The Hindu belief also is a major influence, a number of rituals clearly have a Hindu origin. There are also animistic influence like rituals and amulets.
Monks in Thailand belong to a certain order. The most important order is the Mahanikaya order, to which almost 90 percent of the monks belong. Other orders are Dhammayuttika Nikaya, Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke.

The interior of Wat Luang Pho Sothorn

The interior of Wat Luang Pho Sothorn in Chachoengsao.

One of the first things you see in Thailand are the temples, or wat in Thai. Every place has at least one tempel, some places hundreds. Some temples are lavishly decorated, there may be hundreds of monks living there, and some temples are very simple, with only a few monks. Temples may be located in the centre of a city, and others are in the forest. Some temples are rich, some are poor.

A temple in Ubon Ratchathani

A temple in Ubon Ratchathani.

Visitors are always welcome in a temple. Visitors must obey some rules, like wearing decent clothing, taking of their shoes when entereing a building, and showing respect for the Buddha and the monks. And women are not allowed to touch a monk.
The religion of the visitor is not important.

Temples in small places also have a social function, common activities, like festivals are often organized on the temple grounds. The local school is mostly located next to the temple.

What strikes us when we visit a temple is that is is very peacful on the temple ground. There may be a lot of people, in cities there may be a lot of traffic. And still it is peaceful, it gives us a feeling of well-being. The sound seems te have gone, and you don't see or hear the people.

Monks during tambun baan

Monks during tambun baan.

Monks do not just stay in the temple they live in. They travel around the country, to see things or to study. And they visit people.

Guests during tambun baan

Guests during tambun baan.

One of the reasons to visit people at home is tambun baan, the blessing of a house, restaurant or shop. For Thai people, it is very important that the house they live in is blessed by monks. This is happening in Thailand, but also with Thai people living abroad.
The ceremony starts in the morning, because monks are not allowed to eat in the afternoon.
The ceremony is performed by an odd number of monks. The monks chant (reciting boeddhist texts), sprinkle holy water and place symbols above the door of the building. Apart from the monks, there are a lof of people, family, friends, neighhbours, ....
After the ceremony, food is offered to the monks. When the monks are finished, the other people start to eat and drink.
Tambun baan is not restricted to buildings only, a plane, or a car, or even a motorcycle can be blessed by monks.

Tambun means doing a good deed. Tambun baan, the blessing of a house, is doing a good deed for the house. There are a lot of other ways to make tambun in Thailand. But very often, it means giving some money to a temple, but a temple is very important for the community, so it is ok to do so.
Early in the morning, the monks are walking along the street, their begging bowls in the arms. People put some food in the bowls, the food is not just for the monks, but for everyone who has no food. You are doing a good deed by being generous.
In almost every temple, you will see wooden boxes with a glass front. There is money in these boxes, coins and bank notes. Its is up to the visitor to donate some money to the temple.
Sometimes people ask you to make a donation to a temple somewhere in Thailand. This can happen everywhere, in a shop, restaurant or even abroad.

In Thailand it is common practice for young men to enter monkhood for a couple of month. By doing so they do something good for their parents, and they learn something about Buddhism.
Thai people living abroad follow this practice as wel.
Entering monkfood is a very festive occasion.

Every man can enter monkhood if he wishes so. It's up to each person to decide when and how long. Some people become monk for only a few days, others stay mong for the rest of their life.
Even a married man can enter monkhood, but he needs permission from his wife, and, like all monks, a married monk is not allowed to touch a female, not even his own wife. Married monks live in a temple, just like unmarried monks.

In a lot of temples you see very young monks, sometimes even small children. Very often the parents of those children don't have enough money to pay an ordinary school.
If the children enter monkhood they do get a good education, because the temple takes care of that.
The children appear to be happy, they get enough attention and they still can see their parents.

Apart from monks, there are also nuns in Thailand. Monks are ordinated, nons ain't, and their role is subject of discussion in Thailand.
A pity.

We mentioned before that temples perform an important social function in Thai society.
A special part of it is giving shelter to dismissed pets. In every temple you will see dogs and cats, that are not very cuddlesome anymore. The monks give food to these animals, that is good.
Of course it's beter to bring animals to a temple instead of kicking them out on the street. But we think that if you take an animal, you must take care of it, whether it looks noce or not.
Maybe we live in western Europe to long.


Disclaimer

When we write about a place, we write about what we saw and did there, and what we think about it; no more and no less.
This is not a travelguide (we are not complete), and it is neither an advice to visit or not to visit a place. Other sites can give you that information.
Our opinion about a hotel or restaurant is not ment to be a (positive or negative) review, you can find that information on other sites.
It is our description of a situation on a certain moment, influenced by our mood.