Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Buddhism in Thailand: Temples, Monks, Spirit Houses and More

Integral to any cultural exploration of Thailand is a consideration of the religious heart of this land, Theravada Buddhism. Upon a visit to Thailand, whether your goal is the cities, the mountains and tribal lands or the beaches, you will be surrounded by religious and cultural icons and symbols of Buddhism.

Temples and Buddha images
Everywhere - similar to churches in the West. See pictures below for the unique Thai-style temple architecture. Inside of temples are images and icons of the Buddha. Self-awareness with regards to dress, behavior and the pointing of your feet inside temples is of supreme importance for the tourist in Thailand.

Ubiquitous – you can’t miss them if you’re near a temple. Most Thai men and some Thai women will become a monk at some point as a passage of rite, if not something more religious. Shaved heads and robes, along with the daily morning ritual of alms collection, give the monks away (but you still see them in internet cafes, with ipods dangling from their ears and carrying about casually in their daily activities).

Spirit Houses
On the grounds of many houses and virtually all businesses adhering to Buddhist principles, spirit houses are believed to be a home for the spirits who otherwise might be tempted to torment those not paying homage with the daily sustenance of food and drink and tender, loving care…

Taxi drivers and others may have fresh-cut flowers in the shape of a necklace somewhere nearby. There is no specific day of the week which Buddhists have set aside to worship, but instead do so as they please, but specific holidays are often popular times in the temples.

In general, Thai culture is very modest in clothing and behavior, which may come as a surprise to many farang (foreigner), but all the places with open consumption of alcohol and other carnal desires that Bangkok is famous for are for the purpose of, well, farang!

Pictures above:
1. Thailand's most famous sight, the Grand Palace complex, includes Wat Prat Kow, a temple of royalty.
2. Chiang Mai's highest regarded temple.
3. A Spirit House in front of a "Seven" on Ramkhamheang Rd. on the outskirts of Bangkok.
4. A taxi-driver displays a spirit necklace, fresh flowers for protection.
5. Paige and Sean catch a moment by a waterfall in Southern Thailand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is that a 7-11 I spy behind the Spirit House??? Good to see you won't miss good ol' fashioned American Slurpees!