In Thailand there are four allies in maintaining stability of Buddhism: Buddhist monks, the King, the government and Buddhist lay people.
1. The Order of Buddhist Monks (Sangha)
The Sangha or the Buddhist Church is a sacred and spiritual institution of Thailand. There are about 30,000 wats (Buddhist Monastery) and about 5,000 hermitages in the kingdom. There are about 300,000 monks and novices living in those wats.
In addition to monks and novices, there are about 10,000 nuns who live in their own nunneries or in their living quarters near some wats.
Motives for becoming monks
The number of monks is large because it is quite easy to become a monk and to leave monkhood. There are six important motives behind monkhood:
1. To dedicate one’s life to the earnest practice of the Noble Eightfold path to attain Enlightenment.
2. For further education for poor children from the countryside. A poor boy can work his way up to college education through the monastic curricula.
3. For short-term training in Buddhist principles and practice for a period ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months. It is believed that an ex-monk is well-matured and ready to lead family life.
4. To dedicate the merit derived from monkhood to parents, especially to mother who can not be a monk.
5. To help preserve Buddhism even for a shot period of time. It is believed that the robe itself is the symbol or sign of Buddhism.
6. For other non-Buddhist reasons such as for living, for fulfilling a vow previously made, for research and even for fun.
Duties of Monks
1. Religious Duties
1.1 To study Buddhism, Pali language (the sacred language or Theravada Buddhism) and some secular subjects. The Sangha has its own curricula.
1.2 To observe 227 monastic rules laid down by the Buddha himself.
1.3 To practice meditation.
1.4 To develop Insight into the three truths of life (imperfectness, impermanence, impersonality)
2. Secular Duties
2.1 Teaching Buddhist philosophy and morals to the public.
2.2 Conducting religious rites for people on different occasions.
2.3 Helping in rural development work.
2.4 Serving as general consultants to lay members of the Wats (Buddhist temple)
Monk’s Daily Routine
05.00am Waking up, morning chanting and meditation.
06.00am Going on alms-rounds.
07.30am First meal.
08.30am Free time to clean one’s lodging.
09.00am Morning classes.
11.00am Having lunch as the last meal.
12.00am Taking a rest and private chores.
01.00pm Afternoon classes of Pali language and other subjects.
04.00pm Cleaning and sweeping the temple ground.
05.00pm Guest’s time, private chores, or visits.
06.00pm Evening Chanting and meditation.
08.00pm Private study or chores.
Monk’s routine is flexible and divergent according to time, place and circumstances.
The Role of a Community Wat (Buddhist temple)
Every village has a Wat and the Wat and the resident monks serve the village in many way:
1. It serves as school for children and monks.
2. It serves as a medical center specializing in herbal medicine and traditional healing.
3. It serves as a public center for public activities.
4. It serves as a play ground for children.
5. It serves as community museum.
6. It serves as a venue for seasonal fairs.
7. It serves as the store house of household utensils for the public use.
8. It serves as law court (with the head monk as arbitrator) for settling conflict and sispute among the villagers.
9. It serves as guesthouse for travelers.
10. It serves as the last sanctuary for the poor and the hopeless.
11. It serves as the place of worship.
Nowadays many of the Wat’s functions have been taken over by the state but those of the wats in the countryside remain intact.
2. The Monarchy and Buddhism
In the history of Buddhism the monarchy anywhere has been a decisive factor in the prosperity or decline of Buddhism. Devout Buddhist kings caused Buddhism to prosper and non-Buddhist, hostile kings always caused Buddhism to decline. Thailand has been fortunate in that it has a continuous lineage of devout Buddhist kings for the past 1000 years. The monarchy always has a special place in the hearts of Thai people.
In the Sukhothat period (A.D. 1257-1378) kings were regarded as the First and Foremost Fathers of the nation.
In Ayuddhaya period (A.D. 1349-1767) kings were regarded as incarnations of Lord Vishnu (the Hindu god of preservation of the world).
In Bangkok period (A.D. 1782-persent) early kings were regarded as Bodhisattvas (future Buddhas).
The king’s Religious Role
Kings have been very active in their Buddhist role for the stability of Buddhism means the stability of the nation and of the throne.
1. The kings and the crown princes are usually ordained as Buddhist monks for a period of time (the present king and the crown prince were monks for two weeks each).
2. The king gives royal sponsorship to a number of selected candidates for monkhood annually.
3. The king encourages religious education and practice of monks.
4. The king bestows honorific ranks to senior monks on his birthday every year.
5. The king elevates some wats to the status of royal wats and gives them royal patronage.
6. The king performs seasonal royal functions like Kathin ceremony and so on.
7. The king encourages Buddhist study by imposing royal questions on religious matters to senior monks.
8. The king has close co-operation with the Sangha in important religious works.
9. The king studies and practices meditation in his private chapel.
3. The Government and Buddhism
The government is obliged by the Constitution to protect and support Buddhism and other religions in the kingdom. The government usually works in religious matters through the Department of Religious Affairs in the ministry of Education. The DRA works for Buddhism in the following ways:
1. The director of the DRA serves as the Secretary of the Council of the Elders.
2. Implementation of all acts and laws related to religions.
3. Appropriation and management of annual budget for the Sangha (the Order).
4. Management of temples’ properties.
5. Serving the in his religious functions.
6. Supervising moral instruction at state schools.
7. Rendering service to the Sangha in all its works.
4. Lay People and Buddhism
Lay Buddhists, the largest and most important group in supporting and stabilizing Buddhism, gain knowledge of Buddhism by means of formal as well as informal instruction.
Formal instruction at the levels of primary (6 years) and secondary (6 years) education.
1. Buddhism is a compulsory subject for all Buddhist students; a period of an hour a week is devoted to Buddhism.
2. At most universities Buddhism is offered as an elective subject.
3. Some temples have Sunday Schools to teach Buddhism to Children of the community on Sundays after the model of the Christian church.
4. Children at pre-school centers are taught and trained in Buddhist morality and culture.
5. Buddhist rituals are performed at schools seasonally and occasionally.
Informal instruction is carried out in the following ways:
1. Moral advises tinged with Buddhist moral principles are given to the young by their parents and grandparents.
2. Buddhist rites are performed occasionally at index.php or in the community, in which Buddhist principles are indirectly instilled.
3. Regular Buddhist programs is presented by the state as well as by private organizations on Radio and television.
4. Lay people visit their respected monks in local wats and learn about Buddhist teachings in their conversation.
5. Reading materials, like magazines, novels, poetry, etc are always full of Buddhist philosophical sayings.
Lay people support the Sangha (Monks) in the following ways:
1. Giving food to monks on their alms-rounds in the morning regularly or occasionally.
2. Going to the temple from time to time in order to pay homage to the main Buddha image, to make money donation, to receive religious instruction from the monks or to consult with a fortune-teller monk.
3. Going to the local Wat on Buddhist Sabbath days (four times a month according to the lunar calendar) to chant holy sutras, to observe the Five Precepts or the Eight Precepts, to make merit by giving food to monks, to listen to a sermon and to practice Tranquillity and Insight Meditation.
4. Making merit by giving requisites of life to monks and receiving blessings from them on important occasions like birthday, wedding, new index.php, new business opening and important religious holidays.
5. Having male members of the family ordained as Buddhist monks for a period of time ranging from a week to three months in order to be trained in Buddhist discipline, to dedicate merit to parent and to serve as preservers of Buddhism.
Lay Buddhist perform their religious functions in daily life as follow:
1. Performing the rite of paying homage to the Three Gems (the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha) twice a day (morning and evening) in front of the Buddha image on the altar at index.php.
2. Giving food-alms to monks in the morning.
3. Going to the temple on Buddhist Sabbath days.
4. Trying to observe the Five Precepts (not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to tell a lie, not to take intoxicants).
5. Practicing meditation regularly at the end of the daily homage rite.
6. Disseminating loving kindness (Metta) to all beings.
7. Dedicating merit to deceased loved ones.
It will be seen that these four institutions actively work together in protecting and stabilizing Buddhism in Thailand. That accounts for comparative unity and stability of Buddhism that can hardly be found elsewhere.
What an average Thai Buddhist believes?
An average Thai Buddhist believes in the following principles of Theravada Buddhism.
1. Belief in and worship of the Three Gems (the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha) as well as other objects of other religious traditions.
2. Belief in the law of Karma as the only and true life-controlling power.
3. Belief in the existence of other types of beings living in other world.
4. Belief in rebirth into other types of beings according to karmic quality of each individual.
5. Belief in the doctrine that such mental defilements as ignorance, delusion, attachment, desire, etc. are the root cause of continuous rebirth and suffering and should be uprooted if absolute rest and happiness are to be experienced.
6. Belief in the Noble Eightfold path as the correct and straight way to the complete end of suffering.