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Thailand Religion

Thailand Religion

Buddhism is by far the dominant religion in Thailand, with around 95% of Thai people practicing it, and in particular, practicing Theravada Buddhism. Thailand is the only country where the King, protector of all religions in the Kingdom, is required by the constitution to be Buddhist.

Islam makes up another 4% and is mainly practiced in Southern Thailand where many of the Thai people are of Malay descent.

Thailand's Christian population is proportionally the smallest amount of any Asian country, this is largely due to the fact that Thailand was never colonised by a Western nation and despite missionaries coming to the country in the 16th-17th Century to spread the religion. The 1688 expulsion of foreigners from the Thailand was a major setback for foreign religions.

The last religion practiced in Thailand is older than Hinduism and Buddhism, and is called Animism; this is mainly practiced among the tribal people of Thailand.

History of Buddhism in Thailand

This is one of the oldest sects of Buddhism, and less common throughout the world though it dominates in Thailand. History states that Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century by Indian missionaries sent to Thailand by the Buddhist Indian emperor Ashoka.

As Thailand's territory spread further south it came into contact with the Buddhist sect, called Theravada.

Theravada Buddhism differs from Mahayana Buddhism in that it borrows heavily from the Hindu Caste system, and that only people that are born to a certain status can achieve true enlightenment.

Theravada Buddhism also believes that there was only one Buddha, a historical figure from about 2500 years ago, as oppose to a continual line of Buddha’s.

Many sects of Buddhism were absorbed by Mahayana Buddhism as it was considered a bigger vehicle for Buddhism, mainly because it didn't use the caste system so much and all could become enlightened. Throughout history Theravada Buddhism never become absorbed and always kept its identity, and when Buddhism died out in India in the 12th Century, Theravada kept strong in Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Sri Lanka had a Theravada reform movement in the 10th century that established the country as a Theravada monarchy. This movement spread throughout S.E.Asia to Thailand, and even on to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

During the Sukhothai period (A.D.1238-1378) Theravada Buddhism gained the support one of Thailand history’s strongest figures, King Ramkhamhaeng. He sent monks to study in Sri Lanka and invited monks to Sukhothai to further establish the religion in his country. Buddhism flourished in this time and despite the decline of Sukhothai and the subsequent rise and fall of Ayutthaya and destruction of virtually all of the sacred writings, Buddhism kept a strong hold and grew stronger within Thailand.

Buddhism Beliefs

The 5 basic teachings of Buddhism are:

  • Do not kill.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not lie.
  • Do not intoxicate your body.
  • Control sexual desire.

Everyday Buddhism in Thailand.

Buddhism is such a dominant religion in Thailand you can observe people practising it in everyday life throughout the country, as well as Buddha images everywhere, from shrines in the street, to amulets hanging from a mirror in a taxi.

The Thai people will call for a monk's help and Buddhism on many occasions, whether it is for the traditionally religious acts of marriage, a funeral, or ridding the house of ghosts to the less orthodox needs such as buying a car, moving house and even opening business offices.

They will often have their own shrine at home, with a Buddha image and everyday this will be giving fresh water and food to please the Buddha. These shrines are not restricted just to the home but in bars, and shops and businesses, and all over Thailand you will notice the Buddha Image high up on the wall.

Temples are visited on special occasions and religious days to make offerings and listen to sermons. Also in times of family trouble and advice needed many a Thai person will turn to the temple and their local monks first.

At sunrise everyday monks do the morning alms rounds, passing through villages and towns receiving offerings of food from the people.

In rural areas the monks do particularly well, as many of the housewives will be up and cooking at 5 am specifically to make an offering to the same group of monks they have fed for many years past.

In modern fast paced Bangkok it is harder for the monks, as many people do not have time for this morning practice as well as their busy work schedule. The monks have to walk long distances and have to compete with monks from many other monasteries and it is generally a tougher life for them in the city.

You will see many of your own touching things in Thailand when it comes to Buddhism and it's a special touch to the country that is hard to find in the Western world.