Buddhism has always been a part of Thai culture since the beginning of the first era of Sukhothai. Now in the glorious period of Ratanakosin, Buddhism still plays a major role in almost every Thai’s life and most Buddhists are true to their religion, strictly following the teachings and the practices from the Lord Buddha.
The practice of Buddhism here in Thailand is associated with the Theravada sect of ‘old school’ Buddhism, a part of which was derived from Hinduism in India. Thai Buddhism shares the practices, mythical characters and aspects with Buddhism originated from India with the God being Lord Buddha – a prince who wanted to discover the ways to better the world and later became the Buddha, gracing the world with his enlightenment.
The statues of Lord Buddha can be found in almost every Buddhist’s house. Some houses have a small table with many Buddha statues in different attitudes. They usually put two vases of flowers – the most common being lotuses – on the table as the offerings for the Lord. Thais also usually pray to the Buddha at night before they go to sleep.
The bigger size of Buddha statues can also be seen in every temple in Thailand. Bangkok boasts many exquisite temples which are regularly visited by pious Buddhists on special religious occasions. The most famous one is the Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), situated within the Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha acts as a sacred symbol of the Rattanakosin. Thai people always go to the temples to offer food, candles, incense sticks and lotus flowers to the Buddha statues and also give money to make merit to the temple and monks. Some also receive blessings from the monks which they believe will bring good fortune and prosperity.
Anything associated to the Buddha and Buddhism is respected by Thai Buddhists. Thai people usually give a quick wai to Buddhist symbols, such as the shrines, temples, statues and spirit houses. Buddhist monks are also highly respected as they serve as the representatives of the Buddha who carry on the teachings in Buddhism. The monks leave the temple barefoot in the morning to get food from the residents and walk back to the temple to have their only meal at 11:00
Some houses and properties also have a small, ornately-decorated spirit house seated on plinths in front of the buildings. The spirit houses are set up in order to place offerings to the spirits residing around the areas. The spirits are common beliefs in Buddhism and are also included in Buddhist prayers. Thai people, including metropolitan Bangkok residents, are superstitious and believe in things that cannot be seen. They also wear amulets acquired from revered temples as well as little Buddha or their respectable monk rockets over their neck.
Buddhism is no doubt an indispensable part of a Thai’s life no matter how civilised or Westernised one can be. More than 90 per cent of Thais are Buddhist, from the King and his Royal family down to the humble rice farmer. Buddhism is something Thais hold on to and also plays an important role in uniting all Thai people from different parts of the country together.