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Buddhist Customs in Thailand – Everything to Know

Hua Hin Property Partner
Written by Hua Hin Property Partner

Buddhism is the most popular religion in Thailand, with around 95% of its population adhering to the Theravada tradition. With so many followers in the country, the religion has had a major impact on Thai culture. Read on to learn about some of the prevalent Buddhist customs.

Freedom of Religion

Before discussing the following customs, it is important to note that Thailand’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion to its citizens. Buddhism is the state religion, but there is no law that requires people to adhere solely to its principles. The spirit of tolerance that stems from Buddha’s teachings is one of the main reasons this freedom is in place. The customs, therefore, are practiced out of pure devotion rather than coercion.

Men Becoming Monks

Buddhism is such an important part of Thai life that all male adherents are expected to become monks at some point in their lives. Before they turn twenty, men visit monasteries to be trained in traditional monk teachings and practices. They go through various rituals and ceremonies, such as shaving their eyebrows and heads.

They also perform daily tasks in their temples, such as collecting offerings or tidying up. Throughout their stay, they must adhere to strict rules that regulate everything from their dress to their subtle mannerisms.

Interactions with Monks

Monks are some of the most highly respected people in Thai society. People will give up their seats on buses for monks and be generally kind towards them in order to receive good karma. It is common for people to contribute to monks’ regular collections. They are easily distinguished from the rest of society by their bright orange robes.

Because monks are so well-respected, it is important for Thai people to interact with them appropriately. Women are not allowed to touch monks because of their commitment to celibacy. If a woman does happen to touch a monk, he is required to perform an intricate cleansing ceremony at the temple. Women are even expected to avoid them on the street and not give donations to monks directly.

National Pride in Thailand

Most Thai people are very proud of their established monarchy. It is not only frowned upon but illegal to openly disrespect those in power. Citizens are considerate with their words and expressions when it comes to royalty. Part of vibrant nationality is because Buddhism is the state religion. According to the constitution, the Thai monarch must be an adherent of Buddhism. People, therefore, have elevated respect for the crown.

Personal Space

In Thai culture, the feet are seen as the dirtiest part of the body. This is why shoes are removed when entering places of worship or other buildings. The head, on the other hand, is viewed as the most sacred body part. Touching anyone on the head, even accidentally, is avoided at all costs.

Traditional Greeting

When Thais greet each other, typically in more formal settings, they will press both hands together as if they are praying and bow forward slightly. Called the wai, inferiors will be the first to greet superiors.

Different elements of the greeting hold different symbolic meetings. To greet someone that deserves more respect, for instance, your hands will be held higher.

Behavior in Temples

Just like in any place of worship, it is important to be considerate and respectful. People should dress appropriately and conservatively.

When someone sits in a temple, they should sit “mermaid-style,” meaning that their legs are underneath their body. This makes it so that their feet are not pointing at other people or statues. It is inappropriate to touch certain religious objects, and one should not turn their back on images of Buddha.

Bottom Line

Thailand is the perfect place to experience Buddhism and learn about this remarkable religion. Buddhism is a highly practiced religion in Thailand that needs to be respected by all visitors, so remember these customs as you step into a temple during your stay in this remarkable country.

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