Thai Religion, Buddhist Culture and Customs

Thai Religion overview: The biggest religion in Thailand culture, by an overwhelming majority, is Buddhism, or Theravada Buddhism to be precise. Almost 95% of Thai people class themselves as belonging to the Buddhist faith. For the remainder of the Thai people, most are Muslim, and less than 1% are Christian. With the figures so heavily weighted towards Buddhism, the rest of this report will relate to that religion alone.

The origins of Thai Buddhist culture in Thailand date back to the 3rd century B.C., it is thought to have spread across Asia from India. India was not the birth-place of Buddhism though, that honour goes to what is now modern day Nepal - it started there in the 6th century B.C.

The Buddha, which translates as 'the enlightened one' was born a wealthy prince named Siddharta Gautama, but he rejected his privileged lifestyle and instead took up the search for 'enlightenment'. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to reach the state of Nirvana - which roughly translates as 'to extinguish'; once this state is reached, the process off birth, death, and being reborn ends and a state of bliss, or peace, is achieved. The Buddha's teachings spread from Nepal to India and then further afield.

The Buddha's teachings were focused on man himself, not on gods, and in this way it is unique amongst the religions of the world. Thai Buddhist culture asserts that life itself is all about suffering because man has desires that simply cannot be satisfied; the path to salvation requires that man put aside all of those desires! By doing so he also puts aside all his worldly suffering and thereby achieves the state of Nirvana.

Most males in Thailand spend some time, usually a few months during their teenage years, as a monk. In Thai religion and society, monks are held in high regard, and respect is shown to them at all times. Sexual relations are prohibited for monks, and women are not allowed to even touch a monk or spend time alone with one.

Altogether, there are 227 rules that monks must follow, and there are four in particular that cannot be broken.... you get expelled if you do break them. These four no no's are sex, theft, homicide, and claiming to have magical powers!

For the most part, you will likely not have much contact with monks in Thailand. You will be able to talk to them, however, if you decide to enter a temple during your vacation. You can enter any temple you like in Thailand, but you should try to make sure that you are appropriately dressed. Shorts and T-shirt are often not allowed. Also, make sure you remove your footwear before entering a temple.

If you decide to get married in Thailand, and go for a Buddhist ceremony, there will be 9 monks that carry out the formal ceremony.

Thai Religion; Spirits and the afterlife

Whilst being quite contrary to the teachings of Buddhism, you will find that Thai people also take the issue of the afterlife and the spirit world very seriously indeed. As you wander around Thailand, you'll notice countless 'spirit homes' in the gardens of people's homes. This is because the spirits, especially the angry ones known as phis, need to be appeased. After all, you've put your home up on their land, so it's only right you should put up a spirit home for them too! Don't go thinking about adding extensions or things like that to your home without also planning an extension for the spirit home!

I was woken in the middle of the night on one occasion by my Thai wife, we'd been watching a late night horror before retiring and she was struggling to sleep - as with most Thais, she takes the whole spirit world thing very seriously! Naturally I took my chance to have a bit of fun.... big mistake!

Top Tip: whatever you do, don't tell your Thai lady that you can see angry dead people pointing at you in the bedroom. If you have any intention of getting some sleep anytime soon, you will be disappointed! Kind hearted, well meaning words such as "for f*** sake woman, pull yourself together" just won't get through to her....

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