Brooke Schedneck of the blog Wandering Dhamma, gives us a taste of Buddhism in Thailand. Brooke, who was also one of the 2010 Blogisattva winners, was awarded one of the 2009-2010 Fulbright research grants, to conduct fieldwork in Thailand for her ongoing Ph.D. dissertation. Her blog contains many more excellent in-depth first hand accounts of Buddhism as it is in Thailand, and is well worth visiting.
As an American living in Thailand, Buddhism is seemingly omnipresent. From huge monasteries next to shopping malls and young novices all around to lay people offering food into alms bowls each morning, Buddhism here is lively and dynamic, even to the casual observer. However, when one looks deeper Thai Buddhism reveals a diversity of practices and ideas about this religion.
There is not just one Thai Buddhism but a number of different groups. Anyone who has studied about Thai Buddhism knows about the Dhammakaya movement and the Santi Asoke group. These two have been well-studied because of their contrasts: Dhammakaya exhibits a modern religiosity of Buddhism mixed with consumer culture while Santi Asoke, with its focus on natural, simple living and organic products is the opposite. Besides this pair, one can also contrast city temples with forest ones. The forest tradition of Thailand is also one that casual students of Thai Buddhism will be familiar with. Ajahn Mun founded this tradition and today it lives on through his student Luangta Mahabua and his temple and many branch temples in Udon Thani in the Northeast of Thailand, and also through Ajahn Chah and his western disciples, who have founded temples in many English-speaking countries. The forest temples represent an ideal of monasticism with monks who do not even accept money into their alms bowls. This is in contrast to the many monks and novices in city temples who can be seen purchasing items in malls and talking on their cell phones. Many of these monks are temporarily in robes for the education this provides, especially international monks from poor backgrounds who can attain a college degree for free. All of these groups and images of Thai Buddhism can be found in different regions of Thailand.
Another major facet of Thai Buddhism in this era is lay meditation. Throughout Thailand there are many meditation centers with a variety of methods. The most widely-used, however, would be based on the Mahasi Sayadaw technique of noting daily-life activities and following the rising and falling of the abdomen while in seated meditation. However, there are many other indigenous Thai meditation methods such as that of the forest tradition (repeating ‘Buddho’), and the Dhammakaya method of concentrating on a ball of light inside one’s body. Basic methods of mindfulness of breathing and following the four foundations of
mindfulness can be found in abundance as well.
Many Thai lay Buddhists are seen everyday in the popular meditation centers in the cities and in more remote forest temples. Lay meditators dress in white and receive the eight precepts. They stay for a course with a set number of days or come for however many days they can take off from work. The meditation centers run off of donations and often receive much from the laity they serve.
My blog, Wandering Dhamma (wanderingdhamma.wordpress.com), has many more in-depth posts about meditation methods and lay meditation in Thailand. There is certainly a plurality of practices, groups, and ideas about how to be a Buddhist and meditate effectively here. I recommend a trip to see for yourself!