The Monkhood and Laypersons in Thailand Phra Soravit Aphipanyo (Duangchai)
Lecturer, Faculty of Education Mahachulalongkornrajvidyalaya University, Thailand. firstname.lastname@example.org
Buddhism has been the national religion of Thailand. Most of Thai people for 95% have respected Buddhism since in the past to the present time (2013). The Dhamma and the belief in Buddhism have been the base of daily living for Thai people. Thai tradition, custom and culture which our ancestors were taught and carried on to these days were all received form Buddhist culture, especially, every King of Thailand appeared to be a person who
announced himself as one of the Buddhist respecting on the Triple Gem (Ratanattaya):the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.And in every book of the constitution of the kingdom of Thailand was quoted clearly as said in “the Constitution of the kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2540,Section 9 issued that the king was one of the Buddhist and being the Chief Religious Assistance” and having steady faithfulness in Buddhism. Some of our kings were getting
ordained to become ascetics in Buddhism. They protected Buddhism and their subjects strongly and seriously. They strictly held on the principle of the ten royal virtues and also other principles, including behaved themselves as good patterns for politicians and national
executives to follow in order to seek for peace and happiness for Thai people. There fore, Thai people’s way of life was dealt with Buddhism and also Thai tradition, custom and culture were having the base from the Dhamma destination and the belief in Buddhism.
Buddhism is the core and center of Thai people’s minds. The Dhamma teachings in Buddhism has led to the development of better quality of life for Thai people and also created peace to the society and to the world which every world - Society needs such as developing people to have virtue and ethics, discipline, responsibility and unity. At the meantime, Buddhism has helped to enhance national security, politics, economics and society to meet their prosperity. It could be said that “Buddhism has been the great origin of
Thai nation and being Thai’s uniqueness.”The main point of Buddhism is the one which
praising the human’s dignity. It is believed that every human can develop oneself with fully capacity and one can also develop his own quality of life to be better, including can accept the individual differences of the others as well We have seen that those persons who were ordained to become ascetics in Buddhism came from different status in the society such as economics, working positions and different races,As soon as they became ascetics in
Buddhism, all had the same equality. Meanwhile, Buddhism emphasizes on the highest learning significantly. It is assumed that learning is the way of life for everyone. Whenever we have known the truth, we have known the right thing and we would do the right thing
finally which causing good relationship among life, society and environment as well as
creating happiness which would be the beginning of building peace into the society.
Thai people have had some favour on ordination in order to study and practice the Dhamma teachings of Lord Buddha. Thai tradition, culture and belief on ordination in Buddhism have shown that males of 20 years old need to get ordained to become ascetics before getting married and starting their new families. The ordination might take 7, 15, 30 days or even 3 months or more which depends on the individual’s faith. When any person was getting ordained to become an ascetic in Buddhism, he would study and learn the
Dhamma teachings of Lord Buddha for his real understanding to apply them into his daily life and to propagate them to other people to be recognized and brought into their practices. Male ascetic in Buddhism called a Bhikku (Buddhist monk) while female ascetic in
Buddhism called a Bhikkhuni (Buddhist nun). From the study the research paper on “The Nun’s status: Case study of the Nuns at Wat Paknum Bhasicharoen, Bangkok”which studied by Nathathai Chatrtinnawat (2009), it revealed that most of the nuns were living in the rural areas and had their residences in different provinces. Their careers were agriculturists,
farmers, gardeners, merchants and less working as a company’s employees. Most of them finished only from elementary education level and started adopting the ascetic lives when they were over 20 years of age. There were many reasons for their ordination like their own faith, needing to do the Dhamma practice, their families or friends contacted for or had
some relationship with the temples and they had been taught by their families or even they were getting ordained to continue their studies which for both studying according to the educational management for monks and novices on rules of morality: males and females can stay close ; to abstain from false speeches; to abstain from intoxicants causing heed lessens; to abstain from untimely eating (after noon to the next day); to abstain from
dancing, singing music and unseemly shows, from wearing garlands, smartening with scents,
and embellishment with unguents and to abstain from the use of high and large luxurious couches containing cotton wool inside. Nuns were living under the monks’ patronage within the temples or the head of the nun who was a senior one. The nuns’ duties were studying the Dhamma teachings, doing the Dhamma practices, helping to do any jobs of the monks and the temples, including providing some facilities for any people coming to the temples to do good merits.
The beginning to appear the ascetics in Buddhism was at the time Lord Buddha, He went from Bodhgaya to Sarnath about 5 weeks after his enlightenment. Before Gautama (the Buddha-to-be) attained enlightenment, he gave up his austere penances and his friends, the Pañcavaggiya monks, left him and went to Isipatana. After attaining Enlightenment the Buddha, leaving reveal, travelled to the Isipatana to join and teach them. He went to them because, using his spiritual powers, he had seen that his five former companions would be able to understand Dharma quickly. While travelling to Sarnath, Gautama Buddha had to cross the Ganges. Having no money with which to pay the ferryman, he crossed the Ganges through the air. When King Bimbisāra heard of this, he abolished the toll for ascetics. When Gautama Buddha found his five former companions, he taught them, they understood and as a result they also became enlightened. At that time the Sangha, the community of the enlightened ones, was founded. The sermon Buddha gave to the five monks was his first sermon, called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. When he finished the first sermon, Aññākondañña (one of the five Bhikkhus) was recognized of the
enlightenment, so he asked to be ordained to become an ascetic in Buddhism in front of lord Buddha and the lord said “ you are welcome to be a Bhikkhu” and continued saying “ I have
taught the Dhamma to you. You must remain your chastity in order to release from all sufferings.”That was the first monk or ascetic in Buddhism. However, going out to be
ordained by himself, Prince Sitthatha needed to solve the problems happened in the society of India at that time as inequality (without balance), slavery (without freedom), no opportunity to develop himself (right)of the low caste people and women,draught and poverty (economics).
Lord Buddha stated that the monks had to live their lives on the ideals like living for the unity within the group or for happiness, living to reduce Attā (personal entity) which
meant to have self-ego strength for the life-goal: Nibbana (Nirvāṇa: the extinction of the fires of greed of hatred and of ignorance) and living for the public’s benefits. ("Go forth, o
bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach the doctrine that is beautiful in its beginning, beautiful in its middle, and beautiful in its ending. Declare the holy life in its purity, completely both in the spirit and the letter." ~ Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.) Which meant all Bhikkhus or monks needed to go out for the people’s benefits, for assisting all people in the world and for the benefits, including
providing help for all fairies and humans.) Lord Buddha fixed the 9 virtues of the ascetics in Buddhism: 1. being a person of good conduct, 2. being a person of upright conduct, 3 being a person of right conduct, 4 being a person of proper conduct, 5 being a person worthy of gifts, 6 being a person worthy of hospitality, 7. Being a person worthy of offerings (giving),8.
Being a person worthy of reverential salutation and 9. Being the incomparable field of merit or virtue for the world.
The ascetics in Buddhism were the ones who needed to practice or develop themselves by leading out from the status of laypersons, living on the contrast way of defilements which could be done through practicing themselves on physical status, speeches and mental status in order to make all settle at higher and higher level till met the state of releasing from all sufferings which was the Nibbana. In fact, we could say that the ascetics in Buddhism came from ordinary people who full of faith and trust in the Dhamma teachings of Lord Buddha and they decided to be ordained to become the ascetics in Buddhism to study the Dhamma teachings and to practice according to the way of self- development dealing with the ideals and approaches in Buddhism. When they were getting ordained in Buddhism, they had to adjust and change their daily way of live which was
different from ordinary people generally, especially, self-practicing and training for cleaning up all defilements.
Thai people since in the past preferred every male to be ordained when he became old enough or before getting married and starting his new family. If the bridegroom was not ordained to become an ascetic, the bride’s relatives would not allow them to get married for
the reason that they were not certain whether the bridegroom would have the Dhamma and act as the head of the new family or not. Hence, males needed to be ordained first, even
some could not get rid of all the defilements after the ordination,it could be assured that they passed over the process of religious practicing which hopefully to reduce such greed, anger and passion that were the result of intention to fulfil the duties of the monks. We
could say that the ordination was our Thai tradition since in the ancient time. Moreover, the ordination was the indirect way to keep up and prevent any problems to happen within the family as well.
The goal of ordination to become ascetics in Buddhism was to practice and train oneself mind. He needed to have such strong faith and intended to study and practice the Dhamma strictly. However, the ordination of Thai people in Buddhism, each one had his
own intention or goal individually which was different from one another. Some people intended to be ordained in order to show the gratefulness towards their parents, so the
ordination would take only 7, 15 days or 1 month while some determined to be ordained for life. Even there were some different objectives or goals for the ordination of each people in Buddhism,the way of lives after the ordination, everyone had to follow and practice
according to the Dhamma Doctrine or the monks regulations strictly to meet happiness and peace within the groups such as doing the morning and evening chanting’s,doing the
meditations, studying the Dhamma teachings,practicing the Vipassana kammaṭṭhāna (meditation exercises to reach the insight development), propagating the Dhamma teachings
of lord Buddha and providing some help to the society. The ascetics in Buddhism of Thailand have been respected by the people generally and they would have more time to study the Dhamma teachings and practice them other people.
Form the past to the present time, the ascetics in Buddhism have played significant
roles towards Thai society for long time and acted as one of the social institutes having the duty of carrying on Buddhism to keep maintaining till nowadays. The monks have not dome only the duty of carrying on Buddhism but also providing some useful help to the society in various aspects which most of them preferred to do 6 missions: (1) good governance, (2)
Religious study, (3) Educational patronage, (4) Propagation of Buddhism, (5) Infrastructure and (6)Public patronage. The operations for the 6 aspects as mentioned were conduction
according to the regulations of Mahathera Council which was the highest administrative section (organization) of the Thai Sangha, but some roles still maintained doing according to
traditional practices, especially, the role of propagation of Buddhism which was the main role since the beginning of Buddhist era after Lord Buddha was enlightened and began to propagate the Dhamma. The ascetics in Buddhism acted as the disciples of lord Buddha and kept doing their duties continuously on both studying the Dhamma teachings of lord Buddha and bringing them the learnt of the Dhamma teachings) to propagate to the people
to recognize and could practice them in their daily lives. Such doing above was one of the various roles the monks had done to help and to provide the benefaction to the people through the Dhamma and those people supported and patronized them in return by giving 4 significant factors for living: residence, clothing, food and medicines. These performing to each other causing the way of lives and mental status of the ancient people were closely related to Buddhism. We could say that Buddhism was merest into Thai people’s way of lives without any separation. Thai people who paid respect to Buddhism, hence, had the duty of preservation the religion to its prosperity and also studied of the monks’ roles and duties to make well understanding just like the ascetics in Buddhism needed to study and practice the Dhamma teachings of Lord Buddha, being good disciples and doing the best duty of preservation in Buddhism.