Buddhism is Thailand's main religion. 94 % of Thai people are Buddhist. The other are Muslim, Catholic or Chinese.
Buddha's teachings say that people suffer because they are attached to material things, to women or men by heart links. These links cause suffer, jealousy so pain. People are never satisfied, i.e. they want more money, more power (ต้องรู้จักเพียงพอ).
Everyone can hope to reach enlightenment but path shall be long. It takes many lives. Each time somebody or an animal dies, it reincarns into something else. It is the endless cycle of existence ("SAMSARA" - สังสารวัฏ). The rebirth depends on your "KARMA" (กรรม). If you have done good deeds during your life, next life will be better. If you have done bad deeds, next life will be harsh.
Thai Buddhism is fascinating because it is mixed with older religions (Animism, Brahmanism), which were present before the introduction of Buddhism in Thailand. Nowadays the influence of the previous religions is still present.
Monks are more suited to reach the enlightenment because they follow a stricter way of life far from material attachment. Their life is based on 227 monastic rules and 5 major precepts, i.e. no sex, no lies, no robbery, no alcohol, no killing.
Even the Thai King Rama IX had been a monk during one month. In old days this period was three months. Nowadays it can last a few weeks or a few days. Some families still refuse to marry their daughter if the future husband hasn't ever been a monk. It means that he isn't ripe enough. Ordination is an important part of life in Thai society. A boy that becomes a monk ("PHRA" - พระ) for a few months is making a really good action towards his parents.
Vocabulary used when speaking with a monk is not the same as everyday vocabulary. Monks deserve respect. Depending on the age of the monk, different words are used when talking to a monk.
- หลวงพี่ or "LUANG PHI" is used for young monk.
- หลวงพ่อ or "LUANG PHO" is used for middle aged monk.
- หลวงปู่ or "LUANG PU" is used with an old renowned monk.
- หลวงตา or "LUANG TA" (often used for a man that did become a monk when he was quite old) is less respectful that "LUANG PHO".
- หลวงเถระ or "LUANG THERA" is used for a man being a monk for 10 years.
A man can stop to be a monk at any time. It is his own choice. In Thailand, there is a tradition implying that a high rank person, who has done big mistakes, retires in a Buddhist temple for a while. He "washes" his errors. For example F.M. Thanom Kittikachorn, who presided over a repressive military regime between 1963 and 1973, returned in 1976 from overseas exile in the robes of a monk. It provoked the anger of pro-democracy students who had overthrown him and suffered scores of casualties on 14 October 1973.
In a bus, seats in the back are reserved to monks. If a woman is sitting, she should leave because a woman cannot touch a monk.
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