Quick Facts on Buddhism
- Thailand has a higher proportion of Buddhists than any other country in the world!
- Over 93% of people in Thailand are Buddhist
- Less than 2% of Buddhists live outside of Asia
- There are over 40,000 Buddhist Temples in Thailand
- The word Buddha means “enlightened”
History of Buddhism
Buddhism became the dominant religion of Thailand in the 12th century. The word Buddha means “enlightened.” A key Buddhist belief is to achieve enlightenment, a state of inner peace and wisdom. One follows this path by practicing morality, wisdom, and meditation.
Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Guatama over 2,500 years ago in India. Although he was born as a prince, he sacrificed a life of wealth to endure poverty. After meditating for 49 days, it was said he reached enlightenment. Then, he dedicated the rest of his life to guiding others towards the path of enlightenment and goodness.
Monks in Thailand
Monks undertake the order of monastic training by living in a temple and studying the doctrines of Buddha. There are an astonishing 227 rules they are expected to abide by. The five most important rules are: 1) Refrain from killing. 2) Refrain from theft. 3) Refrain from sexual misconduct. 4) Refrain from lying and malicious speech. 5) Refrain from drugs and alcohol. According to tradition, every male in Thailand is expected to become a monk in some point in their lifetime. I have met men in Thailand who have been monks for as little as one week, and as long as several decades. In Chiang Mai, I had the opportunity to interview a Monk during a Monk Chat, I highly encourage attending one if you have the time!
Wats in Thailand
A “Wat” is a Buddhist monastery or temple. There are over 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand, with hundreds in Bangkok alone! Wats often have very intricate architecture and ornate details. Tourists are welcome to visit Wats and learn more about the Buddist religion. However, It is important to display proper temple etiquette when visiting a wat. Ensure you are wearing modest clothing and are being mindful of those who are there to pray and give respects. Some of my favorite wats I have visited are “Wat Samphon,” (Bangkok) and “Wat Tham Sua” (Kanchanabrui),” but every temple is beautiful in its own way!
Buddhist Holidays and Festivals
There are many holidays and festivals associated with Buddhism. Two of the most well known festivals are Loy Krathong and Yi Peng. Loy Krathong takes place each November, and is also referred to as the “festival of light.” Loy means “to float,” and krathong means “banana trunk.” For this celebration, people create a lotus flower out of banana trunks, leaves and flowers, and bring it to float on the river as an offering. It is common to burn incense and light a candle on your Krathong. Releasing your krathong in the water symbolizes the release of negative energy and welcoming good fortune.
Yi Peng coincides around the same time at the Loy Krathong Festival, on the night of a full moon. During Yi Peng, people release hundreds of sky lanterns to fill the sky. Additionally, some people decorate temples or their homes with homemade lanterns. Yi Peng is celebrated to pay respects to Buddha and show gratitude for the rain and good harvest. It is a time to make merit, and wish for good fortune for the following year.
Tourists should be aware of the many laws and restrictions on exporting items with depictions of Buddha out of the country. It is illegal to export statues of Buddhas head or hands alone, and there are many other restrictions on the size or types of Buddha statues you can export. Remember, Buddhism is their religion – and Buddha is not meant to be used as a decoration or souvenir. If you do wish to purchase a Buddha statue, ensure you are buying from a licensed distributor and are obeying all laws. In regards to photography of Buddha, most of the time you are allowed to take photos of Buddha statues at temples and museums. But, be sure to check with that Wats specific rules. For example, photography is forbidden at The Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.
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