Sunday, 18 December 2011

Theravada Buddhism

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Theravada Buddhism, the form of Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, was the religion of more than 80 percent of the Thai people in the 180s (Girling, 11).Theravada Buddhists see the Buddha as a human being, not a god. “Buddha” is a title, not a name. These coreligionists included not only the core Thai, but most other Tai speakers, as well as the Khmer, the Mon, and some members of other minorities, among them the Chinese. Relatively few Thai were adherents of Mahayana Buddhism or other religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Taoism, animism, and Islam. Of these only Islam, largely identified with but not restricted to Southern Thai of Malay origin, was a dominant religion in a specific geographic area (Malalasekera, 60 ).

Theravada Buddhism was the established religion, in that there were formal organizational and ideological links between it and the state. Thai rulers sought, or commanded, the support of the Buddhist clergy or sangha, who usually acquiesced to the states support and protection. Buddhism is the state religion of Thailand. Under the Constitution, the King, as a symbol of the nation, must be a Buddhist (Girling, ). According to the latest census, the total population of Thailand is 6 million. Out of this number, approximately 4% of Thais are Buddhists. As of 00, there were ,000 monasteries, 65,56 monks and 87,65 novices in the Kingdom. (Thepsophon). The Crown and the State have always been involved in supporting and assisting the Ordained Sangha and in promoting Buddhism among the people. Besides numerous forest monasteries where monks may go for extended meditation, there is a monastery in nearly every village and there are many more monasteries in the cities. Schools are often located on monastery grounds, and the Sangha is actively involved in the efforts of the State to raise the educational level of the people as a whole (Lester, 85 ). Buddhism and the Sangha, therefore, are deeply intertwined with the daily lives of the people of Thailand.

Buddhisms place in Thai society was by no means defined solely by its relation to the state. The role of religious belief and institutions in Thai life had changed, and, with increasing commercialism and urbanization, some observers questioned the prevalence of Thai piety and good works. However, the peasants or villagers view of the world remained at least partly defined by an understanding of Buddhist doctrine, and significant events in his or her life and community were marked by rituals performed or at least supervised by Buddhist clergy. Often, the villagers city-dwelling siblings would return to the home village for significant events such as weddings and funerals. Buddhism inevitably involves almost every occasion such as birthdays, marriages, moving to a new house, funerals, opening business offices and buying new vehicles. Additionally, much of Thai village life - social, political, economic, and religious - centered on the local temple, or wat.

As is often the case when a scripturally based religion becomes dominant in a largely agrarian society, the religious beliefs and behavior of most Thai were compounded of elements derived from both formal doctrine and other sources. The latter either developed during the long history of Buddhism or derived from religious systems indigenous to the area. Implementation of the same Buddhist rite and tradition often varied from region to region. In Central Thailand, for example, praiseworthy priests were selected and honored by the king, whereas in the Northeast this recognition was bestowed by the people (Malalasekera, 1).

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Ever since the Sukhothai Period, Buddhism has been recognized as the states religion and significantly fundamental influence of Thai society and culture. Songha or monastic community has played a key role in Thai society since the ancient times. Temple served as an important social unit for it is the center of village; they were both spiritual and educational center. Buddhism is expressed in every aspect of Thai daily life. From birth to death, Buddhism is represented as the ceremonies believed to bring happiness to life. Although the original Buddhist doctrine does not say anything about ceremonies, people have assimilated Buddhism with the primitive animist belief, as it is easily adapted to most beliefs (Smith, 1).

Nowadays, development and technology of the modern world has somehow changed the traditional lifestyle of Thai people, especially in big cities. Despite that, with the deep perception of Buddhism within them, Thai people still adopt Buddhist philosophy of simplicity and moderate to lead their ways, making Thai society much more tolerant and peaceful if compared with those which are suffering the stress from our competitive world today.

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