Buddhist temples in Thailand are characterised by tall golden stupas, and the architecture is similar to that in other South Eastern Asian countries such as Cambodia and Laos.
Thai Buddhism was based on a religious movement founded in the sixth century B.C. by Siddhartha, later known as the Buddha, who urged the world to relinquish the extremes of sensuality and self-mortification and follow the enlightened Middle Way.
The focus of this religion is on man, not gods. The assumption is that life is pain or suffering, which is a consequence of craving, and that suffering can end only if desire ceases. The end of suffering is the achievement of nirvana (in Theravada Buddhist scriptures, nibbana), often defined as the absence of craving and therefore of suffering, sometimes as enlightenment or bliss.
Theravada Buddhism was made the state religion only with the establishment of the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai in the thirteenth century. Three major forces have influenced the development of Buddhism in Thailand:
The most visible influence is that of the Theravada school of Buddhism.
The second is Hindu beliefs received from Cambodia.
And finally, Folk religion attempts to propitiate and attract the favor of local spirits known as phi.
Whilst Western observers draw a clear line between Thai Buddhism and Folk religious practices, they are clearly widely intertwined in all areas of the country. Many Chinese immigrants have converted to Thai Buddhism, many others still maintain their own separate temples in the Mahayana tradition.
Like in most other Theravada nations, Buddhism in Thailand is represented primarily by the presence of Buddhist monks, who serve as officials on ceremonial occasions, as well as being responsible for preserving and conveying the teachings of the Buddha. Young men will often go and serve as monks for a period of time, usually for one rainy season (known as vassa or phansa). Those that remain as monks beyond their first vassa or phansa , will often remain monks for 2 or 3 years, after which they will return to everyday life. Young men who have been ordained are considered better candidates and more suitable for marriage. Those that have never been ordained are considered ‘raw’ whilst those that have are considered ‘cooked’.
If you have not been ordained for a period of time, you are unlikely to get a position of leadership within the village hierarchy. Most village elders, doctors, spirit priests, astrologists and fortune tellers were once monks. Monks who do not return to everyday life, but remain monks, usually specialise in scholarship or meditation.
There’s a widespread perception among Thais that women are not meant to play an active role in monastic life, instead, they are expected to live as lay followers, making merit in the hopes of being born to a different role in their next life.As a result, women primarily participate in religious life either as lay participants or by doing domestic work around temples. A small number of women choose to become Mae Ji, non-ordained religious specialists who permanently observe either the eight or ten precepts. Mae Ji do not generally receive the level of support given to ordained monks, and their position in Thai society is the subject of some discussion.
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