Buddhism is born 2546 years ago (the official year in Thailand is the year 2003 and the traditional year is the year 2546). Buddhism is linked with the historical Indian prince, Siddharta Gautama, who became the Buddha and reached the enlightenment (“NIRVANA” – นิพพาน). Now his teaching are still followed. His teachings say that people suffer because they are attached to material things, to women or men by heart links. These links cause suffer, jealousy so pain. People are never satisfied, i.e. they want more money, more power.
The aim of Buddhism is to get rid of these pains and of these links. There are several kinds of Buddhism. Thai Buddhism is called Theravada Buddhism.
Everyone can hope to reach one day enlightenment but path shall be long. It takes many lives. Each time somebody or an animal dies, it reincarns in something else. It is the endless cycle of existence (“SAMSARA” – สังสารวัฏ). The rebirth depends on your “KARMA” (กรรม). If you have done good deed in your life, next life will be better. If you have done bad deeds, next life will be harsh.
The Lotus is important in Buddhism. It symbols the enlightenment because the lotus blossoms on dirty pool. It symbolises the passage from darkness to light, the passage from ignorance to wisdom.
Thai Buddhism is fascinating because it is mixed with older religions (Animism, Brahmanism), which were present before the introduction of Buddhism in Thailand. Nowadays the influence of the previous religions is still present.
Monks are more suited to reach the enlightenment because they follow a strict way of life far from material attachment. Their life is based on 227 monastic rules and 5 major precepts, i.e. no sex, no lies, no robbery, no alcohol, no killing.
In a temple, some men are monks since decades but there are also some men who are monk only during a short time. They do it in order to bring merit to their parents (“THAM BUN” – ทำบุญ). A boy is not a man until he hasn’t been a monk once in his life.
Even the King of Thailand Rama 9 has been a monk during one month. In old days this period was three months. Now it can be only a few weeks or a few days. Some families still refuse to marry their daughter if the future husband hasn’t ever been a monk. It means that he isn’t ripe enough. Ordination is an important part of life in Thai society. A boy that becomes a monk (“PHRA” – พระ) for a few months is making a really good action towards his parents.
Monks wear a robe color saffron. Monks have few possessions : a bowl for eating and getting food every morning, a water filter in order not to eat small insects, robes.
Vocabulary used when speaking with a monk is not the same as everyday vocabulary. Monks deserve respect. Depending on the age of the monk different words are used when talking to a monk.
- หลวงพี่ or “LUANG-PHI” is used for young monk.
- หลวงพ่อ or “LUANG-POR” is used for middle aged monk.
- หลวงปู่ or “LUANG-PU” is used with an old renowned monk.
- หลวงตา or “LUANG-TA” ( often a man that did become a monk when he was quite old ) is less respectful that “LUANG PHO”.
- หลวงเถระ or “LUANG-THERA” is used for a man being a monk for 10 years.
Monks represent Buddha. When Thai people greets a monk or even a novice, they greet Buddha’s teachings.
A man can stop to be a monk at any time. It is his own choice. In Thailand, there is a tradition implying that a high rank person, who has done big mistakes, retires in a temple for a while. He “washes” his errors. For example F.M. Thanom Kittikachorn, who presided over a repressive military regime between 1963 and 1973, returns in 1976 from overseas exile in the robes of a monk. It provoked the anger of pro-democracy students who had overthrown him and suffered scores of casualties the 14 October 1973.