Theravada Buddhism is the official religion in Thailand as well as Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Also known as Southern Buddhism, it is much closer to the original Indian form of Buddhism than its counterpart, Mahayana Buddhism or northern Buddhism which integrated more local customs from Tibet and China. With so much to write about, we have summed up what Buddhism in Thailand is like below.

The deal with monks and novices

The Land of Smiles has around 300,000 monks in its population. If you travel around Thailand, you are bound to spot these Buddhist practitioners in their bright orange garb. If you wake up early in the morning, you might catch them walking around the street, asking for alms. You would also see that these monks come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, however, not all of them are full-fledged monks, also known as “samanen” or “nen” for short. They have been ordained to become novices for various reasons.

In Thailand, being a novice is like getting into compulsory military service. One difference, however, is that a novice can choose the time frame he will be a monk. This can be as short as a day or two or as long as three months. This is done as a means of cleansing their karma. Much like in India, the Thais believe that people with good karma are born rich while those who are poor did not do as many good deeds in their past lives.

Another reason for becoming a novice is the attainment of education as they are instructed to read and write on top of their secular education. Parents who can’t afford to send their children to school or orphans who have no one to provide for their education end up as novices in a monastery.

How to become a monk

Everyone who wants to get into monkhood begins as a novice. Novices, however, do not become full-fledged monks (called Bikkhu in Thai) until they are above 20 years of age. In order to become a monk, they have to go through several rituals and ordinations.

A novice’s ordination begins when he presents himself to become a novice. He is then instructed about the Triple Gem, the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks, the benefits of his ordination, and the five objects of meditation which include body hair, head hair, nails, teeth, and skin. Then, they are asked to go outside to change into their orange robes.

When they are asked to return, they are then given their ten commandments which instructs them to refrain from killing or harming living things, stealing, lying, taking intoxicants, eating afternoon, wearing perfume or accessories, sitting on high chairs or sleeping in luxurious beds, accepting money, and singing, dancing, or playing music. In a nutshell, you won’t see an orange-robed novice dancing at a Full Moon festival or a club wearing a lot of bling. They are not even allowed to sit on bar stools.

Buddhist festivals and holidays

Despite the rules that forbid monks to party, there are Buddhist festivals and holidays that are filled with color and celebrations like the Makha Puja during the full moon in February when all Buddhists gather in temples to light candles. Buddhists also gather to pay reverence to Buddha’s footprint in early March and the celebration of novice’s ordination through a colorful parade happens in April. And then, there is the famous Songkran, where people have a huge water fight. This is a Buddhist festival that symbolizes the washing away of one’s sins and bad karma.

Other holidays include Visakha Puja in May when Buddha’s birthday, death, and enlightenment are commemorated and Khao Phansa, where monks do not move for three months. So, maybe those unmoving, life-like statues you sometimes see in temples are not made of wax?!

Clear your karma by sharing

So, this is what we know about Buddhism in Thailand. Of course, there are more facts and rituals that you may have learned while traveling. Do share it with us by commenting below.