From the hundreds of glistening temples scattered across the city, to the smiling monks visiting schools to accept offerings, Buddhism in Thailand is more than a religion; it’s a way of life.
Before I came to Thailand, I researched how the religion took root here in Southeast Asia. Theravada Buddhism is the branch of Buddhism most prevalent in Thailand. The earliest traces of Buddhism date back to the sixth and ninth centuries CE and stem from Cambodian, Sri Lankan and Indian influences.
From different religious texts and historical references, I learned that the temple is the centre of community life. Since the beginning of Buddhism, temples have been a symbol of togetherness; a gathering place for fairs, festivals, or simply meditation. I also found that Thailand follows the Buddhist calendar, which is 543 years ahead of the Western (Gregorian) calendar, placing the current Thai calendar at the year 2561. Buddhist holidays are celebrated nationally, too, especially the Songkran festival, or the Thai New Year, when Thais across the country start the new year by cleaning, blessing family and friends with water, and paying their respects to the Buddha.
When I first arrived in Thailand and began exploring my city of Korat, all I could notice were the beautiful temples. There really seemed to be one around every corner. With their towering, colourful steeples and golden Buddha statues, I was instantly drawn to them. If I was especially lucky, I’d even catch a glimpse of monks in their saffron-coloured robes, chanting scriptures in a low, lulling tone that would easily put me in a meditative mood. There is one thing that can always be found in these temples: tranquility.
Having grown up in a rural town in the northeast United States, I had never seen a temple before coming to Thailand. Back home, I would barely notice the one or two churches nearby, but I never imagined seeing a temple. If I ventured outside my town, I could find other places of worship—synagogues, or maybe a mosque— but even they were rare. In Thailand, whether I’ve been in a large city or a small town, I don’t have to drive very far to come across a beautiful temple.
There’s more to Buddhism than temples, though. Now that I’ve been in Thailand for about five months, I’ve come to appreciate the daily rituals. Even the little things speak wonders to the importance of Buddhism.
There’s more to Buddhism than temples, though. Now that I’ve been in Thailand for about five months, I’ve come to appreciate all the small daily rituals locals that take pride in while honouring their religion.
I’ve discovered miniature temple-shaped shrines Thais will set up in front of their homes or businesses to honour the spirit of the land their house or office sits on. I’ve seen the string of flowers people will leave hanging on their motorbikes or on the rearview mirror of their cars to protect them from harm. I’ve ridden a public bus with a monk and noticed other passengers moving out of their way, or even giving up their seat as a sign of respect. I’ve commented on the amulets of the Buddha or of monks that most of my students wear proudly every day. Even the little things speak wonders to the importance of Buddhism in Thailand.
Whether it’s as big as a temple or as small as an amulet, Buddhism in Thailand is as equally part of the culture as the lush landscape and the incredible food. When I do go home, I’ll start to look for the little things in my community the same way I do here in Thailand. It might not be with a temple—in every place, I can find beauty, history and culture. If I can bring that vision with me everywhere I go, everything can be a temple.Add this article to your reading list