Buddhism in Thailand – A Quick Introduction

From an early age I was drawn to the peaceful religion of Buddhism. The teachings had always made a lot of sense to me. I have since married a Thai woman, traveled throughout Thailand, and have also prayed at Buddhist temples. What exactly is Buddhism though? Seeing that I read this question often, I have attempted a quick introduction to those who may be interested. With this in mind, the Buddhism I discuss here is Theravada Buddhism, the most popular religion of Thailand.

Buddhist statues at Ayutthaya, Thailand
Buddhist statues in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Quickly, a few translations of words frequently heard in the Thai language…

To make merit – tham bun

Temple – wat

Holy, sacred – saksit

 

Thai Buddhists will go to holy (saksit) sites or temples (wats) to make merit (tham bun). Karma is a notably important belief of the Buddhist. To make merit, or to do a good deed, will in effect boost a person’s good karma. Therefore, to give is also to receive (Praying at a Buddhist temple)

Buddhist pray at Thailand temple
Flower offering in Buddhism

There are 5 basic moral precepts that every Thai knows and thus respects. Similarly, the precepts are also found in other religions in some form due to being basic moral knowledge. However, many Buddhists do not classify their beliefs as a religion, but rather as a way of life (including myself).

Buddhism Prayer at temple in Bangkok, Thailand
Praying at temple in Bangkok, Thailand

The 5 Basic Precepts of Buddhism

1 – Do not harm others

2 – Do not steal

3 – Do not engage in sexual misconduct

4 – Do not lie

5 – Do not indulge in intoxication

 

To put it another way, be moral. Others will slightly change the wording or provide more details as well, but my aim is to simplify these precepts as much as possible for an outsider learning about Buddhism for the first time. Surprisingly, very simple ideas, right? It’s for this reason I love Buddhism.

Making Buddhism merit at temple in Thailand
Making merit after praying.

The 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism.

1 – Suffering (Dukkha)

2 – Arising (Samudaya)

3 – Prevention (Nirodha)

4 – Path (Magga)

 

These Truths are summed up nicely below as can be seen in the following quote…

 

“Craving temporary things leads to constant new beginnings. Prevent repeating to find real peace and happiness.”

 

Craving – suffering

New beginnings – arising

Prevent – prevention

Find peace and happiness – path

Buddhism monk walking up stairs in roi et, thailand
Monks are seen all around in Thailand

The path to happiness and peace also has a name in Buddhism too, the Eight Fold Path. There are a few variations on this due to changes over time, however, in this case I will discuss it as I learned it.

 

The Eight Fold Wheel is the symbol of Buddhism. It is a symbol one will often see in Thailand too. First, starting from top center and working clockwise you have…

Eight fold wheel of Buddhism

1 – Right View

2 – Right Intention

3 – Right Speech

4 – Right Action

5 – Right Livelihood

6 – Right Effort

7 – Right Mindfulness

8 – Right Meditation

 

Additionally, these 8 can further be broken down into groups of three.

 

Prajna, or insight, includes 1 & 2

Sila, or morality, includes 3, 4 & 5

Samadhi, or meditation, includes 6, 7 & 8

 

In other words, while having the right view on life and intentions (insight), and speaking positive doing right actions and living good (morality), you can put in right effort and be mindful leading to right concentration (meditation).

Buddhism monk at temple in Bang Khen, Bangkok, Thailand
Monk receiving food 

 

By all means, if it seems complicated at first, read it over a few times. You may want to ultimately learn more about Buddhism. Furthermore, I suggest meditating on the path as well. All things considered, one may now begin to see the path is actually quite simple and very beautiful.

 

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