How to explore the world's most magnificent Buddhist monasteries and culture in Thailand
Thailand is renowned for its stunning landscapes, with each region offering its own distinct beauty. The northern part of the country is characterized by majestic mountains, boasting breathtaking scenery. These mountains are adorned with dense tropical forests, creating a lush and verdant environment. Visitors can immerse themselves in the splendor of hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, towering peaks, and enchanting caves. Moving towards central Thailand, the landscape transforms into a vast plain adorned with emerald green fields and serene palm forests. As one ventures further south, the terrain transitions to a captivating coastline, showcasing pristine sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and intriguing caves. This coastal region stands as a major attraction, captivating tourists with its stunning vistas of the ocean and beach. Additionally, Thailand is renowned for its exotic islands, boasting magnificent coral reefs and crystalline waters. These islands are adorned with golden beaches, and some are famous for their vibrant nightlife.
One of Thailand's main attractions is its vibrant night markets, which can be found in nearly every city across the country. These bustling markets offer a variety of local products, crafts, food, and beverages, creating a distinct and lively experience for travelers. Another must-visit destination is the Grand Palace in Bangkok, an ancient royal residence that can be explored to admire its beautiful gardens and traditional Thai architecture.
Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will find solace in Thailand's mountains and jungles, which offer lush and verdant environments. These areas can be explored through activities such as cycling, hiking, or trekking, providing a unique and immersive experience for adventurers. Visitors can also indulge in a variety of water sports, including diving, kayaking, and water skiing, which are popular in the Gulf of Thailand.
In the western part of Thailand, sprawling jungles and national parks await, inviting travelers to witness the wonders of wildlife and nature. This region offers a chance to observe a variety of bird species, mammals, and reptiles in their natural habitats. The national parks also provide thrilling adventures such as hiking trails, camping opportunities, and exhilarating rafting experiences.
Beyond its captivating landscapes, Thailand is also home to a multitude of temples and monasteries. These structures are scattered throughout the country, providing visitors with the opportunity to delve into Thai culture and history. The majority of these architectural marvels are Buddhist temples, with some nestled amidst the mountains, radiating exceptional beauty. Temples can also be found in bustling cities and quaint towns, offering diverse experiences for tourists to explore.
What is the significance of the Sangha?
The Sangha is the collective name given to the community of Buddhist monks, akin to the Buddhist clergy. In Thailand, the Sangha consists exclusively of men, although there have been efforts by some women to challenge this tradition. The Sangharaja, similar to the Pope, holds the position of the leader of all the monks. The Sangharaja is elected by the king and the national executive from among the oldest members of the Sangha. Together with the Department of Religious Affairs of Thailand, the Sangharaja presides over the Mahathera Samagama, a council comprising four to eight monks responsible for governing the entire Sangha.
At the local level, each Wat or monastery has an abbot who oversees a congregation of Bhikkhus (monks) and Samaneras (novices). These individuals all don robes in shades of yellow and orange. The requirements, duties, rights, and circumstances surrounding Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis (nuns), and Mae Jis (lay-religious women who observe certain vows and wear white to accumulate merit) warrant a separate discussion.
What is the concept of Karma?
To delve into the concept of karma is to explore the notions of will and cause and effect. For Buddhists, every action, whether in the present or past lives, carries consequences. Engaging in virtuous deeds leads to positive outcomes, while unwholesome actions result in misfortune. It is important to remember that the ultimate objective is to alleviate inherent suffering (dukkha) in life, attain enlightenment, and liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirth (samsara) to achieve Nirvana, if at all possible. According to this principle, one can undergo countless reincarnations, and the circumstances of one's birth serve as an indication of their past virtuousness for instance, a king and queen are believed to have been exceptionally virtuous in previous lives.
Accumulating merits is key to earning "karma points" and striving for improved future rebirths, or even liberation from the cycle of rebirth altogether. Here's where it gets interesting. Merits can be acquired by making offerings to temples and the Sangha, both in monetary and material forms. This explains the presence of packaged items wrapped in colored cellophane, containing practical items like robes, soap, and food, which can be purchased to accumulate merit for oneself. It also explains why people wake up early in the morning to offer food to monks as they go on their alms rounds. These offerings are not leftovers but freshly prepared dishes, often including the monks' favorite flavors, which women, unfortunately, are not permitted to taste for seasoning.
Merits can also be earned by rescuing or freeing captive animals (although it is suspected that some of the turtles and fish in Bangkok have been captured themselves), visiting temples to present flowers, incense, and candles, or affixing small pieces of gold leaf onto statues for restoration purposes. Engaging in monastic life, even if only for a few months, brings great prestige to one's family and an influx of "karma points." In Thailand, it is permissible for men to take a temporary leave of absence from their jobs for two to three months to become a monk, typically during the rainy season, which falls between June and September, depending on the company's policies.
When entering a temple in Thailand, observe closely, and you will witness devout individuals prostrating themselves before the statues, engaging in three acts of reverence. They kneel barefoot, ensuring that their toes never point towards the Buddha, as that would be highly disrespectful. They touch their heads with their hands, then bring their hands together at the chest and bow, or alternatively, place their hands on the ground and bow even more deeply. The first act of reverence is to demonstrate respect to Buddha as the teacher, the second to honor his Dhamma (teachings), and the third to show reverence to the Sangha (monks). In theory, Buddhism does not involve idolizing anyone. In theory. Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are regarded as the Three Jewels (The Triple Gem). Offerings made to Buddha are justified as a symbol of respect for the teacher and as support for the Sangha, which preserves and imparts his Dhamma.
Since Theravada Buddhism typically does not allow female monks, children have the opportunity to transfer "karma points" to their mothers by becoming monks themselves. It seems that the transfer of "karma points" from son to mother is more effective if the mother is alive when her son enters monkhood, even if it is only temporary. The intricacies and captivating aspects of merits, monks, and nuns will be further explored in the following chapter of the Quick Guide to Understanding Buddhism in Thailand.
How can you experience Thailand differently?
Thailand is renowned for its diverse range of tourism offerings, providing visitors with a plethora of activities, landscapes, and unique experiences. This fascinating country, rich in ancient cultures and traditions, is home to some of the world's most remarkable destinations. From breathtaking sandy beaches to historic temples and archaeological sites, there is an abundance to discover and enjoy in this captivating tourist destination.
Furthermore, Thailand offers a wide range of cultural activities, including art, music, and traditional dances. With its rich history and traditions, Thai culture provides numerous opportunities for immersion. Engaging in these activities offers visitors a unique chance to delve into the history and heritage of this captivating country.
In summary, Thailand's landscape is a tapestry of diversity, catering to the interests of every traveler. From awe-inspiring mountains to exotic beaches, captivating jungles, and sacred temples, it provides a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors. Whether one seeks natural wonders or cultural exploration, Thailand stands as the perfect destination for those yearning to discover an enchanting and exotic environment.
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