Study English in Thailand
English-language schools in Thailand
Thailand quick facts
|Full name:||Kingdom of Thailand|
I like Thai food.
|Capital:||Bangkok (Krung Thep)|
|Main religions:||Buddhist, Sunni Muslim|
|Internet country code:||.th|
|Telephone country code:||+66|
The Thais are a warm and friendly people, usually too polite to show offence. Yet, as with any nation, there are borders of behaviour that should and should not be crossed.
Thais are proud of their monarchy. It is an essential part of Thai life, deeply admired throughout the country. Visitors are well-advised to respect the reverence in which Thais hold their royal family if they wish to avoid causing offence or worse.
Buddhism is another essential part of Thai life. Monks, temples and Buddha images are everywhere and most Thais treat them with great respect. Appropriate clothing should be worn in temples, and shoes removed when entering certain areas. Thai monks are not allowed to have any physical contact with women. On a bus, for example, women will go to great lengths to avoid touching a monk. By touching a monk they commit a sin. And worse still, they commit a double sin because they cause the monk to sin too!
For Thais, the maintenance of surface calm and harmony is crucial. Loss of temper, arguing or direct criticism are best avoided. They serve little purpose in any case, since most Thai people will simply walk away from such behaviour.
The famous "wai" is a gesture of both greeting and respect. Thais usually wai one another rather than shake hands. To wai, hold your hands together, as if praying, in front of the face. When waiing people of equal or superior status, the finfertips should be closer to the forehead. When waiing children or those of lower status, the fingertips should be closer to the chin. In general, it is a mark of respect to try to keep the head at a lower level than that of a senior or older person when talking to or passing them. On entering a house, it is usual to remove your shoes. If you are likely frequently to enter private homes, it may for this reason be more practical to wear slip-on rather than lace-up shoes. The polite form of address when talking to or about Thais of similar or older age is to use the title "Khun" and the person's first name. This applies equally to men and women. For example, for Mr Ananchai Visut use "Khun Ananchai" and for Mrs or Miss Panita Promlert use "Khun Panita".
In Thailand, the head is regarded as the highest part of the body, both physically and spiritually. Conversely, the foot is the lowest part of the body. The height of bad manners is to touch or pat a Thai on the head, to use one's foot to point at something, to sit with one's feet extended or to place one's feet on a table or desk. Many Thais will be too polite to comment on such behaviour, but you should be aware that it can and does cause offence.
The Thai words khrap (said by men) and kha (said by women) are a very common way of expressing politeness in Thai. They have no exact equivalent in English. These words are frequently placed at the end of both statements and questions in Thai. If you wish to display respect and politeness when talking in Thai, they should be sprinkled liberally in normal conversation.
Looks and appearances are important to Thai people. When meeting Thai people, dressing smartly, or at least appropriately, reflects the degree of respect you hold for them.
Wat Trimmit, Bangkok
Located in the heart of Bangkok, a few steps from Hualamphong Railway Station, at the end of Yaowarat Road, is Wat Trimmit. Not a large temple, as Thai temples go, Wat Trimmit is yet home to the largest golden Buddha in the world.
The secret of the amazing 3-metre high Golden Buddha was discovered by chance in the 1950s. At that time it was covered in stucco. One day it fell and crashed to the ground. Its plaster covering cracked and revealed a statue of about 80% pure gold, making it the largest gold Buddha image in the world. Possibly cast in the 14th century, it was probably covered in plaster in the 18th century to save it from Burmese attackers.
Also at Wat Trimmit you'll find the bad giant Rahoo, who, according to ancient beliefs, sometimes eats the Sun and the Moon, and makes trouble for humans on Earth. If you visit Wat Trimmit, try to see the Prior, Jaw Khun Thong Chai, or Meta Lertpreechapakdee who can tell you the story behind the image of the god Narai riding on Garuda standing on Rahoo.
An Introduction to Buddhism
by His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara
Supreme Patriarch of Thailand
Buddhism is not something alien to people born in Thailand because they are all familiar with Buddhist monasteries (Wats), monks, novices and religious activities from their childhood. However, the familiar pictures that they have seen so far are only the superficial form of Buddhism. Sometimes other cults and beliefs have been syncretised into Buddhism, becoming part of the tradition. Traditions are observed on the basis that they have been observed by previous generations without any investigation of the essences and reasons behind them.
When foreigners witness Buddhism in Thailand they might feel it to be quite strange. Accordingly, they reach various opinions on Buddhism. But what they see may be mostly the superficialities of Buddhism with the syncretism of local beliefs and traditions. Thinking this to be Buddhism, they may end up speaking and writing about Buddhism in different ways, each having their own understanding and interpretations of Buddhism which are not homogeneous. Accordingly, this may cause others to understand Buddhism wrongly.
Buddhism has been established for a long time, more than 2,544 years as it is counted in Thailand, and it has developed into various schisms. However, there are two main schisms in Buddhism:
- Theravada or Hinayana
as is popular in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and so on
- Acariyavada or Mahayana
as in Japan, China, Tibet and so on
According to the Acariyavada, some believe that the original Buddha exists permanently in one of the heavens. This type of Buddhist belief may be easily understood when delivered to Westerners or to people who believe in monotheism.
Theravada Buddhism, on the contrary, does not believe in such an exposition, in terms of persons, that the Buddha as a person exists permanently. It also does not express an opinion on the origin of the world. However, it explains the Noble Truths of Suffering, The Cause of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering and the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering. In addition, it deals with the principle of Karma which, briefly, describes people as each having their own Karma: do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil. So Theravada Buddhism expresses more significance towards the principle of current cause and effect. Also, it aims to teach and train individuals to abandon evil and to cultivate wholesome activities in the present, as in the Three Teachings of the Buddha:
- avoid all evil
- cultivate that which is truly good
- purify one's mind or heart
Some people understand Buddhism as an ethical system or philosophy, but not according to the popular understanding of the term religion. However, Buddhism does not describe only ethical principles: there are also explanations about psychology, philosophy, wisdom and so on. Moreover, it explains vimutti or liberation. Therefore, to define Buddhism as an ethical system is not a perfect definition. Similarly, it is not accurate to define it as a philosophy either because a philosophy may still be endowed with guesswork and speculation. Clever people love to think and express certain ideologies as a result of speculation or guesswork. They might be called philosophers. On the other hand, the Buddha practised and proved things by himself for a long time, and therefore his enlightenment was not based on any speculation or guesswork, so he was not a philosopher. Nevertheless, when he was yet to be enlightened and was still searching for absolute knowledge, he was known as a Bodhisattva which means one who adheres to knowledge or one who loves and is attached to knowledge. He saw that the world is endowed with suffering, that is, to be born, to be old, to be sick and to die and son on. He wished to find freedom from those suffering. He saw that everything in this world occurs in pairs, for example dark versus light, hot versus cold, and when there is suffering there must be a way out of suffering. Thus he renounced conventional life and searched for the Dhamma that leads to the liberation from all sufferings of this world. At this stage he might be called a philosopher, as he was still speculating or guessing and not fully enlightened.
The term religion may accord with Acariyavada Buddhism, still tied to the concept of Adibuddha, which is similar to a God. This characteristic does not exist in Theravada Buddhism because it is a religion of the present. There is no reference needed to any god. In this way, Theravada Buddhism is not a religion but is pure teaching. However, for general understanding we have to use the term religion in its general sense.
Now let us look at the point as to how Buddhism suits the needs of the present world. This is a significant and essential point that should be understood because any religion or anything that is not suitable for modern needs is useless. Sometimes it may suit current needs but a person may not know how to choose aptly. Then he or she does not see its benefits and accordingly may not pay any attention to it. Some say that Buddhism was suitable for an ancient society or is suitable for old people. Some even say that it is suitable only after death and not suitable for the modern world or people of the present world.
At present, it is said that we are in a scientific age: things are developed through scientific research. There are new things all the time everywhere on earth, in water and in air. There is speedy transportation to connect the world quickly. We might ask these questions: What do we need? What stops people from achieving their wishes? How are obstacles to be overcome? When will people be contented? And so on. Answers can be found in Buddhism. Here, I present a few in brief:
Everyone wants to acquire physical and mental happiness. In other words, everyone needs something that will get rid of physical and mental suffering. One looks for such happiness conducive to benefits in the present and in the future and also requires such happiness for oneself and for others related to oneself.
To succeed in one's requirement of physical happiness relative to one's daily life in the present, he or she should be endowed with the following virtues:
- Utthananasampada: endowed with energy and industry in earning one's living properly.
- Arkkhasampada: endowed with watchfulness of the wealth one has earned righteously.
- Kalyanamittata: associated with good company.
- Samajivita: living one's life in a balanced way according to one's earning.
Whereas to succeed in one's requirement of mental happiness as well as to guard one's good results of the present for the longer period of the future, and to share such happiness with others, he or she should be endowed with the following virtues:
- Saddha-sampada: endowed with faith in right beliefs.
- Sila-sampada: endowed with morality and free of unwholesome deeds.
- Caga-sampada: endowed with generosity.
- Panna-sampada: endowed with wisdom in knowing the things that are beneficial and destructive, useful and useless etc.
Greed, anger, delusion or craving which exist in one's mind are the hindrances to success in one's good intentions. These defilements can be counteracted by the Eightfold Noble Path of:
- Sammaditthi: Right View
- Sammasankappa: Right Thought
- Sammavaca: Right Speech
- Sammakammanta: Right Action
- Samma-ajiva: Right Livelihood
- Sammavayama: Right Effort
- Sammasati: Right Mindfulness
- Sammasamadhi: Right Concentration
The result of the Eightfold Noble Path is Paramattha, or the highest gain, which will refine one's mind or rectify the false mind.
When it will be enough depends on the necessity for and the level of abstaining one's mind from unwholesomeness. For instance, food is essential for the body but when one consumes it fully one will know that enough has been eaten. However, if the body has had enough but the mind still wants to eat more because the taste felt so good, in certain cases it is not right to follow the mind. One has to stop the craving of mind. This is the principle of contentment, of mental satisfaction. Most criminals, corrupt people and war-makers lack mental contentment. When people follow the Eightfold Noble Path, they can abstain their minds and will develop mentally or live within proper limitations.
Despite individual needs, there are wider problems of social and political needs too. These answers can also be found within Buddhism. Society must be endowed with right behaviour between parents and children etc. as described in the Singalovada sutta or the discourse on the six directions. The State must support and promote such activities as agriculture and trading because when people have better lives and are happy, many crimes such as theft and robbery will be reduced as described in the Kutadanta suttau.
We are human beings, in Pali Manussa, which means possessing a higher mind. Accordingly, we know how to reason, how to use our ideas and how to develop. We have already left the status of animals or wildness a long time ago; some would say that one difference between human beings and animals is that human beings have a mind which is able to reason, and that accordingly they can develop, whereas animals do not have such a mind and reason and cannot develop. However, if the civilisation of human beings develops only superficially, it can be called only superficial development. So one should not necessarily be proud of being a developed being. There are some who say that human beings are still animals; we still have to eat, to defend ourselves and to reproduce, and we have important physical structures such as breathing, digesting and circulation of blood as do animals. The differences are that human beings have civilisation, such as language, religion, arts and many other features that reflect the minds and reasoning of human beings. So human beings are still a type of worldly animal, and the civilisation they claim to own may be a material one.
Therefore, if human beings let their minds be slaves to defilements and craving, they may use civilisation to destroy other civilisations, just like building a beautiful town and destroying it later. This can be rectified through stopping the current of defilements in the mind and by keeping up development through the Eightfold Noble Path in Buddhism, also described as the path to liberation.
The decline of religion or the destruction of civilisation may not necessarily be caused by religion or civilisation being not good in themselves. They might be caused by people not recognising their value and not protecting it. For example, everybody wishes and loves to live, but if they do not look after themselves well and behave appropriately, they might be prone to illness or shorten their lives. The sovereignty of a country if not guarded well may become endangered too. Global issues such as human rights and freedom are preferred by everybody and every country, but if they are not well-protected and endowed with Dhamma they can be similarly endangered. So we should balance and properly promote both Buddhism and civilisation at the same time.
|I hereby put my hands together, praying out loud the philosophy of Buddhism. No-one really cares to listen and follow. The philosophy of Buddhism only brings us peace and truth, happiness of life. Then why does no-one really care?|
Translated from Thai and quoted at Wat Trimmit, Bangkok, Thailand
|I raise my hands to preach the truth, but no-one seems to listen. The truth always brings peace. Why don't people trust the truth?|