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Buddhism in Thai History

Author: Arjanyai

The third son of Phoh Khun Sriindraditya, Phoh Khun Ramkamhaeng, succeeded to the throne of Thailand in B.E. 1820 (1277 C.E.) and ruled as the third king of Sukhothai. In this reign Sukhothai was at its height of power and prosperity. His kingdom extended in the north to Prae and Nan, in the east to Vientiane, in the south to the extreme end of the Malay Peninsula and in the west as far as Hongsavadi. It was he who invented the Thai alphabet to replace the old Khmer alphabet and who introduced the present form of Theravada Buddhism to the Thai people.

By this time Buddhism had disappeared in India and the centre of the religion moved to Ceylon where, under the patronage of King Parakramabahu the Great who emulated King Asoka, the monks were united and the sacred texts were reestablished in their original purity. A Council generally known as the Seventh Buddhist Council was held under the presidency of Kassapa Thera in about B.E. 1720 (1176 C.E.).1

With the influence of this revival, Buddhist monks were sent from many countries to study the newly revised Doctrine and Discipline there. These monks were reordained and took back home the revised ordination procedure (Upasampadavidhi) later known as Lankavamsa. Some of them even invited Ceylonese monks to accompany them to teach the pure form of the Dharma in their countries.

In Thailand, the monks of the Lankavamsa sect settled first in Nakorn Sridhammaraj and their fame soon reached Sukhothai. King Ramkamhaeng then invited a dignitary called Phra Mahaswami to his capital and gave him royal support in propagating the Doctrine. It is said that the image of Phra Buddha Sihing was transferred from Ceylon to Thailand at this time.
After that the Theravada Buddhism of the Lankavamsa tradition became popular and was more and more widely practised in Thailand. Some of the Thai monarchs such as King Lithai of Sukhothai and King Borom Trailokanath of early Ayudhya even entered the Order and lived for some time as Bhikkhus. This later resulted in the custom of Thai youths entering the Order for at least a short period in their lives. Pali was studied and used as the fundamental language of the Scriptures instead of Sanskrit. The monks of the older sects gradually joined those of the reformed tradition into one single sect. The Mahayana Buddhism adopted under the Srivijaya and Khmer rule declined and finally disappeared. This marks the period in which all Buddhists in Thailand were unified under the one single faith of the newly revised Theravada Buddhism.

In B.E. 1893 (1350 C.E.) another Thai kingdom called Sriayudhya was founded in central Thailand by King Uthong of the Chiengrai dynasty. By the middle of the next century, the three Thai kingdoms had been unified under the rule of Ayudhya.

During the Ayudhya period, a Buddhist Council generally known as the Tenth Council, the first to be held in Thailand, was called by King ,Tilokaraj of Chiengmai in B.E. 2020 (1477 C.E.). At that time the Lanna monks were very famous in the study of Pali and many scholarly works in Pali were produced in Lanna.

In B.E. 2296, in the reign of King Boromkos, the king of Ceylon wished to revive Buddhism in his land and sent to Thailand for Bhikkhus who could re-establish the higher ordination. A group of monks headed by Phra Upali was sent there and the Siamese ordination has been in use in Ceylon to the present time. There also developed a Buddhist sect called Syama Vamsa or Upali Vamsa or Siyam Nikaya which is still the major sect in that country.

In B.E. 2310 (1767 C.E.) Ayudhya fell under the attacks of the Burmese. Though the Burmese were repelled, the country was disorganized and Buddhism declined. King Taksin and King Rama I did very much to revive the religion. The second Buddhist Council of Thailand was held in the reign of King Rama I. The Tripitaka and commentaries were collected, revised and established. The Emerald Buddha, the Buddha Sihing and many other priceless Buddha images were collected and enshrined as national treasures in various temples in Bangkok.

King Mongkut was a monk for twenty-seven years and knew the doctrine well. Seeking to give monastic life its former strictness, he founded a new movement within the Order and called it the Dhammayuttika sect to distinguish it from the original Sangha, which was later called the Mahanikaya sect. Time went on and there have been movements, changes and improvements in both sects so that at present the two sects do not differ substantially in any way from each other.
The reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) marks the period of great changes and progress both in secular and in religious affairs. The third Thai Buddhist Council was held in B.E. 2431, where the Thai alphabet was used in making copies of the Tripitaka instead of the modified Khmer script. By royal command the revised version of the Tripitaka was published for the first time in modern book form. Two Buddhist universities were founded for the higher education of Buddhist monks, Mahamakut, in memory of the Royal Father, and Mahachulalongkorn, to perpetuate the memory of the Founder himself. In B.E. 2446 (1903 C.E.) the Sangha Administration Act of R.E. 121 was passed to provide officially a separate government for the Order and to achieve perfect harmony between the Sangha and the State.

Thus has Buddhism prospered and become firmly established in Thailand.

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Thai Buddhism - Thailand Buddhism in Present Day

Author: Arjanyai

Looking back on Thai history, we see clearly the close relationship between Buddhism and the Thai nation. The history of the Thai nation is also the history of Buddhism. The Thai nation originated over 2,000 years ago. Also in that same period Buddhism came and has played an important part in the Thai history ever since. The Thai nation settled firmly in present-day Thailand 700 years ago. Also seven centuries ago it adopted the present form of Buddhism.

Buddhism is still the state religion of Thailand. Under the Constitution, the King, as a symbol of the nation, although protector of all religions, must be a Buddhist. According to the latest census, the total population of Thailand is 48 million. Out of this number, 93.4 percent are Buddhists. Buddhism has had a deep influence in the Thai arts, traditions, learning and the character of the people. It has modelled their manner of thinking and acting. In short, it has become an integral part of Thai life. The charm that has caused Thailand to be called the Land of Smiles undoubtedly comes from the influence of Buddhism over her people. Realizing these facts, the Thai rulers have taken the responsibility for the protection and promotion of Buddhism.

The rulers of Thailand have encouraged and supported Buddhism by building and maintaining monasteries, by providing the monks with material necessities and facilities for performing religious duties, by patronizing their educational activities such as the Buddhist Councils for revising the Tripitaka and having the scriptures translated into Thai, and by reforming the Sangha and appointing able Supreme Patriarchs to govern the Order. Since B.E. 2446 (1903 C.E.) the State has even enacted the laws forming the Constitution under which the Sangha governs itself.

The Department of Religious Affairs has been established in the Ministry of Education to achieve close cooperation between the Order and the Government and to provide a channel through which the Sangha can communicate with government authorities and through, which the State can promote the well-being of the Sangha.

Four Buddhist holy days are recognized by the Government as nationalholidays, namely, the Magha Puja Day, the Visakha Puja Day, the Asalha Puja Day and the Khao Pansa Day. Nearly all state and public ceremonies are blessed by the participation and chanting of senior members of the Order. The people also invite monks to chant the Sutras and protective formulas for their blessing and protection in all household rites such as housewarmings, birthday celebrations and weddings, and especially to conduct funeral rites and memorial services for the benefit of the deceased. Even lustral or consecrated water is used at most of the auspicious ceremonies. Other forms of animistic and Brahmanic beliefs can also be seen mingled with these popular Buddhist practices.

In Bangkok, the skyline is pierced by the spires of pagodas and stupas, especially those of Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and the Golden Mount. "In the rice lands a traveler is seldom out of the sight of a phra chedi (Cetiya) or stupa towering above the village trees. In the less populous sections of the countries are sacred caves, 'footprints' of Buddha, and on many a steep and isolated hill a greying cetiya visible for miles around."1 Bronze and stone images of the Buddha are constantly found in unexpected places while digging the land for irrigation, road-construction and other purposes. Buddhism has thus become rooted in the soil of Thailand both literally and metaphorically.

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