Where the Faithful Worship Among the Tourists

JUST before midnight, the monks were still arriving. Dressed in long, flowing white robes, they resembled fireflies as they rode through the darkness on their motorbikes, descending on the towering temple at the heart of the Cao Dai holy land in southern Vietnam. Many were attending their fourth service of the day.

Removing his sandals and smoothing down his robes, Vo Huu Nghia, 60, who had befriended me that day last year, joined them. He silently entered the cavernous temple and, finding a spot, knelt down and began to chant his prayers. Above him were the serene faces of Jesus, Confucius and Buddha, while a giant all-seeing eye stared down at the few hundred worshipers.

“We are Vietnamese, this is our religion,” Mr. Vo told me later in halting English.

For 70 years this elaborate, dragon-adorned temple outside the small city of Tay Ninh, about 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) near the Cambodian border, has been the center of Cao Dai, which has five million adherents. While it is not the country’s dominant religion, it has the distinction of being its largest homegrown one.

Every year tens of thousands of visitors, pilgrims and tourists, visit the temple to worship or simply to gaze in awe at its vaulted ceilings, vibrant color schemes and praying masses. And then there’s its unusual collection of saints, prophets and religious iconography, which in range, kitsch and spectacle presents an impressive cross-section of religious and aesthetic styles. But that’s befitting a religion that aims to unite all of humanity through the common vision of an individual creator — the same God honored by most major religions. The protagonist of Graham Greene’s “Quiet American” (1955) described the temple like this: “Christ and Buddha looking down from the roof of a cathedral on a Walt Disney Fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in Technicolor.”

I had been drawn to the temple after coming across a list of Cao Dai (pronounced gao-DIE) saints that included Joan of Arc, Thomas Jefferson, Sun Yat-sen (the revolutionary father of Chinese republicanism) and Victor Hugo. This diverse group was apparently drawn from those spirits who reached out to Cao Dai priests during séances to impart wisdom and guidance. Some, like Victor Hugo, were said to have regularly communicated with the Cao Dai from beyond the grave.

Visitors to the compound today won’t see a séance — the government banned the practice in 1970s — but there is more than enough to thrill and confuse even the most temple-weary tourist.

The compound has two ornate temples, and a pope’s office, in front of which believers subjugate themselves out of reverence for the first, and only, Cao Dai pope, Pham Cong Tac. (He died in 1959 in exile in Cambodia after running afoul of the South Vietnamese government.) The 188-acre grounds include dormitories and kitchens for the hundreds of resident priests, a high school, a hospital, forests and a large area for religious processions.

I decided to forgo the $6 daily tour buses from Ho Chi Minh City for a three-hour trip by crowded public transport to the nearby town, a journey that still afforded a view of the city’s vast sprawl giving way to miles upon miles of paddy fields. Tay Ninh is in a tropical, agricultural area, and besides the Cao Dai temple and the nearby Cu Chi tunnel system left over from the Vietnam War, there is little to draw tourists.

Checking into the nearest hotel in the small, ramshackle town that has grown around the outskirts of the temple complex, I quickly headed out for what would be the first of many Cao Dai services, which are held every six hours throughout the day and night.

Inside the main temple, worshipers and priests were already bowed, their heads planted firmly on the cool stone floor as they chanted words of praise, accompanied by a single drumbeat and a few stringed instruments.

Closest to the Divine Eye above the altar, several priests in bright red, yellow and blue robes adorned with a large eye and with elaborate headdresses led the worship. On the balconies above, foreign and Vietnamese tourists watched in silence, a concession made by the temple priests, who allow tour groups in exchange for much-needed dollars. (Every day, about a half-dozen busloads of visitors come to see the noon service before heading to the Cu Chi tunnels and then back to the city.)

Thirty minutes after the chanting had begun, it was over, and with that the worshipers stood up and quietly filed out. The priests and student priests remained, enjoying the cool temple air rather than braving the outdoor heat; some went to their rooms to rest.

Soon the tourists were gone too, and the only people left beside me were a handful of sun-worn priests occupying the temple, constructed to be the center of a holy land for a religion created from the vision of a civil servant in 1919.

Today’s striking multicolor, dragon-adorned temple was built from 1933 to 1955, and in architectural terms, is part church, part pagoda, crammed with ornate drums and gongs, haloed statues of saints and other holy figures, and lavish and colorful symbols of other religions. There’s also a sphere depicting the all-seeing Divine Eye — Cao Dai’s offering to the religious cornucopia.

Beyond the four daily services there is little for visitors to the temple complex to do but wander the well-kept grounds, talk to — or simply smile at — the priests and practitioners, and seek shelter from the scorching heat in one of the airy temple buildings. Despite this, I found that the hours drifted by in peaceful contemplation.

I also struck up conversations with a few of the faithful, aided by a translator. Most of the worshipers and temple leaders were long past retirement age, perhaps a sign of the decline of the religion or simply a natural byproduct of people raising families and working. It also seemed to be an egalitarian faith, with just as many of the priests and student priests older women.

“I was born into the faith but had a family life and raised six children,” said Ho Huong Pham, 82, a student priest. “When my husband died 20 years ago, my children were grown up and I came here to devote myself to the faith.”

On the final morning of my two-day stay in Tay Ninh — during which I had left the complex only to eat nearby street food or sleep — I was invited to drink tea with one of the temple’s bishops. A quiet, elderly man, he smiled and explained to me the importance of the various robes (yellow represents Buddhism, blue Taoism and red Confucianism). After a while we sat in silence until it was time for him to put on his yellow ceremonial robes to lead the midday service. As I got up to leave he shook my hand and invited me to come back, before slowly making his way toward the temple a hundred yards away.

On the cramped, un-air-conditioned bus that took me out of town, I remembered a conversation with a man at the temple worshiping with his granddaughter. “Cao Dai is a collection of the best parts of many religions,” the man, Huynh Van Hgoat, 53, had told me.

Despite this, he was doubtful about the future of the religion.

“Ninety percent of believers live in the Mekong,” he said. “Of course I hope the religion is growing, but I doubt it. One day there might be only tourists here.”

A History of Cao Dai

In 1919, Ngo Van Chieu, a lowly Vietnamese civil servant working for the French colonial administration, received a vision of God and, following the heavenly message, began preaching a credo based on the unity of world religions. According to his new doctrine this would be the third alliance between god and mankind, the first coming at the time of the founding of Judaism and Hinduism, and the second around the time that Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism began. Cao Dai would be the third and final alliance, the religion that would unite and prove the unified message of all of these earlier religions.

The new religion followed the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation, drew upon the ethical precepts of Confucianism, had an ecclesiastical hierarchy similar to that of the Roman Catholic church and yet preached the Taoist concept of yin-yang, of two balancing forces, good and bad.

Cao Dai spread quickly through Vietnam, and by the 1950s it was such a force that it was said to command an army of 25,000 in the Mekong region during the turbulent and uncertain days at the end of the French occupation and claim an eighth of the country’s population as believers.

This rapid growth wouldn’t last. After the Vietnam War — during which Cao Dai priests refused to side with the Vietcong, even after their military had been subdued by the South and their pope exiled — the religion had all of its land confiscated. The land around the temple was returned in 1985.

Cheaper healthcare outside US.

Why is Healthcare So Much Cheaper Outside the U.S.?

A recent survey reported that a single day in a hospital in the U.S. costs, on average, $1,514 (up to as much as $12,537), while in France it costs $853.

An appendectomy in the U.S.—including physician and hospital bills—costs $8,156 on average (up to as much as $29,426). The same procedure in France costs $4,463.

Hip replacement surgery costs an average of $25,061 (up to $87,987) in the U.S., but just $10,927 in France.

Median price for routine heart bypass surgery in the U.S. is $46,547 (up to $61,649). In France the average cost is $22,844.

A routine doctor’s visit in the U.S. costs an average $95 (up to as much as $176). In France, though, you’ll pay just $30.

And why do prices vary so greatly in the U.S.? Because they’re mostly paid through insurance claims, and prices are negotiated by insurance companies. You pay what they say you’ll pay. The prices you pay can vary greatly from region to region, from market to market. And don’t be fooled into thinking you’re paying more for quality for a name-brand hospital. Because that’s not necessarily the case.

(By the way, if you live in a U.S. city that’s experienced a lot of hospital mergers, you’re probably paying more than you should be…that’s the nature of monopolistic pricing.)

In other words, it can pay to move overseas or to shop around internationally for your healthcare. You’ll see some huge savings, as the pricing examples I’ve just given for the U.S. and France clearly show.

 

“The Low Cost of Healthcare Literally Saved my Life”

International Living’s Colombia correspondent, Nancy Kiernan, and her husband Mike moved from Maine to Medellín four years ago. As well as enjoying the great climate and the lower cost of living, Nancy speaks from experience when she says she’s impressed with the healthcare in the city.

“We are very satisfied with the city’s health and dental-care systems,” Nancy says. “From something as simple as getting a blood test or your teeth cleaned, to surgery and root canals, healthcare professionals in Medellín provide excellent service.”

Curt Noe, a retired traffic engineer from New Jersey, moved to Medellín in 2007. “I arrived with a pre-existing condition of cancer,” he states. “I expected to have a problem getting health insurance here and was pleasantly surprised that I was completely covered by the national health plan (EPS) after only a six-month waiting period.”

During his first few years in Medellín, Curt flew back to the U.S. for second opinions and follow-up appointments.

“I realized I didn’t need to spend the money to do that, after my U.S. doctors said that the care I am receiving in Medellín is on par with what they would do.”

Healthcare costs are far lower there too. In 2015 the cost of a hip replacement in the U.S. averaged just over $40,000. In Colombia, the same procedure averages only a little over $8,000.

In Southeast Asia, the story is the same. “Not only were the meds I needed easily available, but the low cost of healthcare literally saved my life.”

That’s what expat Roger Carter has to say about the excellent healthcare he’s found in Southeast Asia. And Roger is just one of the growing number of expats discovering the excellent (and highly affordable) care that this region has to offer.

In Southeast Asia today, you can access English-speaking doctors trained in Western hospitals—often without an appointment. Hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International (the gold standard of healthcare accreditation) are common. Expats report receiving equal (or better) care here than they did in the States.

Healthcare in this region is stunningly affordable. You can see a specialist for $20 or less. You can get prescriptions for as little as 5% of the U.S. cost. And you can complete a hospital stay with top-of-the-range treatment for a fifth or less of the price back home. Need surgery? No problem. A procedure that would cost you $18,000 or more in the U.S. will set you back $2,000 in Southeast Asia.

The top notch but low-cost medical care available in Costa Rica is a huge draw for retired expats and also makes it one of the world’s top destinations for medical tourism.

“One of the most important reasons we moved to Costa Rica was the low-cost medical care,” says International Living editor Jason Holland. “And not just that it’s cheap but that it’s good, essentially North American standard.

“My wife was pregnant. And after being laid off in the U.S., the cost to have the baby there was astronomical. In Costa Rica, the total cost was $3,000—the obstetrician, anesthesiologist, hospital costs…everything. And the care was excellent.

“After that we had plenty more opportunity to use both the public and private healthcare system. Through the Caja government-run system, we paid $180 a month for full coverage for our family of four. And when we visited private doctors it was $50 per visit, cash.”

 

Spend Less on Your Prescriptions, too

In most of the rest of the world, healthcare prices are established centrally by the government. Laws and court systems don’t allow for frivolous lawsuits. Suing someone can take years and judges have no incentive to dole out multimillion-dollar awards. So malpractice insurance is very low, as are doctors’ and health workers’ fees and hospital and clinic charges—savings that are passed along to customers.

  • You’ll get not only excellent quality medical care but you can buy your prescriptions for much less than in the States:
    In Malaysia, the high-cholesterol medication Zocor will cost you less than $22 a month, while the generic, simvastatin, costs less than $5.50 a month. Private hospital-room charges there start at $28, but for $90 a day you can have an en-suite room with cable TV.
  • A prescription I take costs $30 a month in Ecuador and $80 in the U.S. A full dental cleaning in Ecuador costs just $30 to $45. Partial plates run about $325, and a complete set of dentures costs about $900, including office visits, fittings, lab work, and impressions. Teeth bleaching costs $25. A porcelain crown is just $250.
  • In Nicaragua, you can have lab work done for as little as $8—and as in most all of the rest of the world, you take the results with you to whatever doctor you choose. An overnight stay in an internationally accredited hospital costs about $100. An electrocardiogram is only $25. And a doctor’s visit routinely costs as little as $10.

Importantly, you’ll find that in most of the rest of the world, healthcare expenses are relative to the local cost of living.
It just costs less to live in Asia, Latin America, or certain parts of Europe than it does to live in the U.S.

Housing and construction costs are lower. Taxes are lower. Food costs less. And salaries are lower. Foreign doctors often make a sixth of the salary of their U.S. counterparts.

Healthcare plans, too, can be amazingly affordable outside the U.S. In Panama, Costa Rica, or Mexico, for example, a couple might spend $250 a month—depending on age and other factors—for comprehensive, low-deductible private health insurance. In Ecuador, you can join the IESS social security plan—despite pre-existing conditions. A couple will pay just about $80 a month for that…and it includes prescriptions.

When you retire overseas, you’ll save on both healthcare costs and on general costs of living. So why wouldn’t you at least consider it?

Get Your Free Healthcare Report Here:

Learn more about where to find the best-quality, most affordable healthcare in the world from our expert expats, who share their overseas healthcare experiences. Simply enter your email address below to sign up for IL’s free daily postcard e-letter and we’ll also send you a FREE REPORT – How Americans Save $15,000 a Year on Healthcare… by Looking Abroad.

Thailand diseases and dangers.

There are diseases and other health issues to watch out for if you are visiting or living in Thailand. Yes Thailand has malaria in some places but personally I have never had preventative injections before visiting and touch wood have not had any serious disease in the 26 years of visiting Thailand. I have family and friends that have contracted dengue fever over the years and I know it isn’t a pleasant experience and can be costly for a non Thai to get medical aid. However there are other things healthwise to watch for and a major one for visitors is caused by food and water. Most Thais are well protected from stomach problems simply by becoming immune to the bugs present in street food where utensils and dishes are washed in cold water (I notice in many  street restaurants they use the plastic dishes because they don’t break like ceramic but they get a stain from frequent use and those stains can harbour germs -I personally would soak the dishes in a bleach solution to remove the stains and improve the look and safety for customers after rinsing thoroughly of course). Chopsticks are another thing I watch for for the same reasons and prefer to use spoon and fork unless a place has throw away ones.   Raw food like “somtam” is probably one to steer clear of for a “farang” and the novelty of eating insects can also be dodgy as most contain a parasitic worm. Ice can be a problem as many street food places have a “gradic” or “ice box” which is opened and closed many times a day allowing bacteria and other things to fall in plus many are not cleaned out but ice is regularly delivered and placed on top of old ice. I always make my own ice or buy in sealed bags from seven eleven and other shops. Some places may even use tap water which can cause problems as well. I never have ice in my drinks but prefer to buy a drink from the fridge. If a stomach problem occurs it is advised to go to a doctor or even a chemist will sort you out -diarrhea can be stopped by buying “imodium” but a very cheap local version is exactly the same called Noxzy and only @ 10 baht a dose but also an antibiotic may be prescribed for more serious cases. 

Other things to be aware of for visitors are the suspect alcoholic drinks served at bars and particularly the beach parties. However common sense can save you from many problems -the old saying is “do not leave your brains at the airport” watch what you put in your bodies and a great holiday will be the outcome.

Diseases and deaths.

Population: 69,892,000
Per capita income: $7,640
Life expectancy at birth women/men: 77/70 yrs
Infant mortality rate: 12/1000 live births

Top 10 Causes of Death

Source: GBD Compare, 2010

  1. Cancer 19%
  2. Ischemic Heart Disease 12%
  3. Stroke 10%
  4. Lower Respiratory Infections 9%
  5. HIV 4%
  6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 4%
  7. Diabetes 4%
  8. Road Injuries 4%
  9. Chronic Kidney Disease 2%
  10. Cirrhosis 2% ——–Although not a disease as shown road injuries are quite high and visitors need to take great care traveling or crossing roads. 
  11. As mentioned above Dengue fever is becoming more common and other mosquitoes born diseases like – malaria and Zika- although malaria doesn’t seem to be a big problem these days it is still in some places so avoid being bitten by them. Zika virus is a risk in Thailand.
    • Pregnant women should not travel to Thailand because Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects.
    • Partners of pregnant women and couples planning pregnancy should know possible risks to pregnancy and take preventive steps. Before travel, those planning pregnancy should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider.
    • All travelers should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during and after their trip. Travelers should also use condoms during and after their trip to prevent sexual transmission of Zika and other sexually transmitted disease.
    • Although not a disease but a danger is the presence of box jellyfish that sometimes frequent the sea around Southern coasts especially during the rainy season so watch for local news and flags pointing out the dangers.
  12. Dog bites/cat bites and other animal bites can be a serious problem and must be treated however small because of “rabies”. Rabies requires a series of anti-rabies shots @ 5 shots but this will also give a few years protection as well -it is well to stay clear of the many stray street dogs -most are friendly but you never know.
  13. Dangerous Animals in Thailand
    • Poisonous Snakes.
    • Giant Centipedes.
    • Jellyfish.
    • Coral.
    • Mosquitoes.
    • Scorpions.
    • Spiders.
    • Ants. Yes there are some things that can be a danger to life in Thailand although the possibility is small it is better to stay clear of these animals -my own farm has regular visits from venomous snakes and I have become quite an expert at removing them with professional equipment but I always treat them with great respect and as a Buddhist do my best never to kill them. Most visitors will never come across these things if they are in tourist areas but visitors to wildlife parks can come into contact with any one of these and also wild elephants -monkeys -crocodiles and other animals and once again common sense is needed (this year a tourist lady tried to take a selfie with a sleeping crocodile in Khao Yai national park and she slipped next to it so it grabbed her by the leg. Fortunately it let her go instead of dragging her into its pond). Driving as well in these areas takes caution as elephants are easily spooked and can wreck a car and you inside -always be quiet and non threatening especially if babies are with mothers.
    • Apart from animals people can also become a problem. Thais are wonderful and have a lifestyle which is geared around non-conflict and as long as respect is shown you will get along well with Thais -however they have a breaking point and will not be pushed beyond -beware of upsetting a Thai-man or woman as my wife of many years says “we are gentle people with hot blood” once a Thai is pushed too far it is atomic -always wai and smile if in a difficult situation -better to be safe than brave. Having said that I have found Thais very friendly even drunken ones if you handle them right -remember “psychology every time”. 
    • Attitude. Yes attitude can make all the difference when the traveller comes across a problem and a calm non confrontational approach works every time -aggressive-shouting-angry  attitude will work against you in fixing a problem. I remember a British guy who had slept in and missed his van to Ban Phe yet another companies van took him there as a concession to the first company but he arrived without the ferry ticket to the island of Koh Samet and  he was shouting red faced at the young girl of the company he had originally booked at. The girl was straight faced and obviously under pressure while the young guy got angrier. I approached to see what the commotion was and he told me about sleeping in and not getting his boat ticket. I asked him “is this your first time in Thailand”, “yes my first time”. “Do you know that shouting and being angry will make your problem worse and cause the Thai girl to lose face”? “The best thing is to keep calm and smile-yes I know it is hard” . “Have you been to Kho Samet before” I asked him. “No never”, “well it’s like bloody paradise with white sands-clear blue sea and palm trees -you are standing here wasting time when you could be laying on those sands”. “Do you know you can go over the road and jump in a boat and be on Samet in 30 minutes and the ticket is only 25 baht”? “REALLY” he said excited -“YUP”- he patted me on the shoulder and said “thanks mate” and was off like a shot haha. I saw him a few times on the island and he always gave me a thumbs up.
    • There are other things in the sea besides jelly fish but mostly it is safe -no recorded shark attacks despite the movie “The Beach” but there are things under the sand that can hurt as my son-in-law found out on Koh Samui when he stood on something that stabbed under his foot -whether it was a sting ray or shellfish we don’t know but it became infected and very painful and he had to go to hospital and get whatever it was out and have injections as well -his language was a bit ripe as the poor doctor dug into his foot with a scalpel but he was in great pain.
    • The wasps here are lethal especially the large Asian hornet so best to keep away and same with the awful looking centipedes that have a bad bite (the long brown round ones are harmless).
    • All in all Thailand is very safe and you will not have a problem but as the old motto when I was in the “observer corps” “forewarned is forearmed”. It is best to adopt the Thai attitude summed up in these phrases “jai yen yen” (keep a cool heart) and “mai pen rai” (never mind everything is OK). Have a great trip and “Chok dee krup”  (be lucky).

Mae Kuan Im Goddess of mercy

Kwan Yin (Mae Kuan Im)
The Goddess of Mercy

In the past ten years, the Kwan Yin or (Mae/Mother) Kuan Im cult has become more popular among Thai people. There are now many more Kuan Yin images both inside and outside Theravada temples in Thailand. Many temples also have a “Welcome” sign related to the worship of Mae Kuan Im to attract tourists. These Kuan Yin images are not only in the southern provinces of Thailand where there are a lot of tourists from Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong but also in other provinces. The largest Kwan Yin image in Southern Thailand is located in a municipal park in Hat Yai.

Generally, when we think about Kuan Yin, many people think only in terms of “Chinese” people as worshippers of Kwan Yin. For Mahayana Buddhists, Kwan Yin is an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara in female form, also known as “The Goddess of Mercy or Compassion.” In Thailand, however, this cult is not only popular for Thai-Chinese but also other lay people who may not even be sure of their Chinese ancestry.

There are many Kwan Yin centers (samnak) in Thailand. Each center may maintain its own ceremonies, observances, and practices, which are related to Buddhism. We may say that the cult of Kwan Yin constitutes a bridge between Thai traditional belief and (Mahayana) Buddhism. Most Thai people worship Kwan Yin because they expect good luck or fortune. Perhaps they believe that Kuan Yin can give them a lucky number for their next lottery, or some people believe that Kwan Yin can give them some good advice for their business, family, health, or any of life’s problems. Other people may just want a peaceful place to “rest,” a refuge from the world, which they may not be able to find in some Thai temples.

The fascination with Kwan Yin also involves a strong belief in “karma.” To attain one’s wishes or expectations, people must practice “good karma.” Believers pray (phawana) using Kuan Yin chants. Such practices constitute a form of meditation. This meditation involves cleansing the mind as well as the body. Kwan Yin believers abstain from beef and often work their way towards becoming vegetarians.

Some observers have pointed out the importance of the new interest in Kwan Yin:
1) Such centers may be viewed as a new kind of gathering place for people to get together and exchange their experiences. This phenomenon creates a new “community,” which is not very different from people who use to frequent Buddhist temples in the old days;
2) Kwan Yin imagery and practices can be viewed as extension of Buddhist beliefs and practices, with Kwan Yin becoming a part of the Thai Buddhist pantheon;
3) Kwan Yin may serve as a surrogate mother for some Thai women. The movement is of special interest to women because for most Buddhist practices the role of women is subservient to men. Many other Thai spirits are female, such as The Goddess of Rice, Mae Phosop. Kwan Yin may be viewed as an extension of this tendency to deify female spirits of nature.

The history and evolution of Traditional Thai massage.

“Thai massage” or “Thai yoga massage” is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures.

In the Thai language it is usually called nuat phaen thai (Thai: นวดแผนไทย; lit. “Thai-style massage”) or nuat phaen boran (Thai: นวดแผนugfgoโบราณ, IPA: [nûət pʰɛ̌ːn boːraːn]; lit. “ancient-style massage”), though its formal name is nuat thai (Thai: นวดไทย, lit. Thai massage) according to the Traditional Thai Medical Professions Act, BE 2556 (2013).[1]

The Ministry of Health’s Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine regulates Thai traditional massage venues and practitioners. As of 2016 the department says 913 traditional clinics have registered nationwide.[2]

Traditional Thai massage uses no oils or lotions. The recipient remains clothed during a treatment. There is constant body contact between the giver and receiver, but rather than rubbing on muscles, the body is compressed, pulled, stretched and rocked.[3]

The recipient wears loose, comfortable clothing and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. In Thailand, a dozen or so subjects may be receiving massage simultaneously in one large room. The true ancient style of the massage requires that the massage be performed solo with just the giver and receiver. The receiver will be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, that is also combined with deep static and rhythmic pressures.

The massage generally follows designated lines (“sen”) in the body. The legs and feet of the giver can be used to position the body or limbs of the recipient. In other positions, hands fix the body, while the feet do the massaging. A full Thai massage session may last two hours and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body. This may include pulling fingers, toes, ears, cracking knuckles, walking on the recipient’s back, and moving the recipient’s body into many different positions. There is a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage, which the giver will adjust to fit the receiver.[4]

Traditional Thai massage vs ancient Thai massage[edit]

There are two main variations of the healing art: a traditional form which can be found most prominently in Thailand, and an ancient form which is more common in Nepal and northern India. Although the two forms may appear similar to an observer, there are differences that will be felt by the receiver. Ancient Thai massage starts with meditation performed by both the giver and the receiver. The giver will then recite a special mantra.

The variations in the two styles can be attributed to the loss of ancient texts and teachings that occurred in Thailand during the numerous wars between Thailand and Burma, during the course of three centuries of the Burmese–Siamese wars. This loss of information gave rise to traditional Thai massage. The ancient style has no corresponding breaks in its historical lineage.

The founder of Thai massage and medicine is said to have been Shivago Komarpaj (ชีวกโกมารภัจจ์ Jīvaka Komarabhācca), who is said in the Pāli Buddhist canon to have been the Buddha‘s physician over 2,500 years ago. He is noted in ancient documents for his extraordinary medical skills, his knowledge of herbal medicine, and for having treated important people of his day, including the Buddha himself.[5]

In fact, the history of Thai massage is more complex than this legend of a single founder would suggest. Thai massage, like Thai traditional medicine (TTM) more generally, is a combination of influences from Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian cultural spheres, and traditions of medicine, and the art as it is practiced today is likely to be the product of a 19th-century synthesis of various healing traditions from all over the kingdom.[6] Even today, there is considerable variation from region to region across Thailand, and no single routine or theoretical framework that is universally accepted.

There are various styles of Thai massage with clear distinctions. The royal style (“rajasamnak”) historically is only used to treat the aristocracy and royal family. It is a very codified style involving acupressure on specific points and a clear distinction between giver and receiver. The popular-style (“chalosiak”) with its many regional variations, is what is commonly known as Thai massage. There is also the traditional regional medicine-style, which differs in content and practice, and is what would have been practiced by traditional doctors outside Bangkok in the past. Today, Thai massage is one of the branches of Thai traditional medicine now recognized and regulated by the government and is widely considered to be a medical discipline used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. On the other hand, Thai massage is also practiced and taught by a number of non-medical massage technicians in the spa and tourism industries. In North America and Europe, an increasing number of practitioners and teachers of Thai massage have emerged since the 1990s, most of them teaching the simplified officially sanctioned interpretation as found in the courses available to foreigners in Thailand.

Training.

A traditional massage practitioner is required to complete at least 800 hours training.[2]

Wat Pho, the center of Thai medicine and massage for centuries, opened the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School in 1955 on the temple grounds, the first such school approved by the Thai Ministry of Education. Wat Pho offers four basic courses of Thai medicine: Thai massage, Thai midwife-nurse, Thai pharmacy, and Thai medical practice.[7]

Thousands of students from around the world have studied at Wat Pho and subsequently gone on to work in massage, spa, and wellness centers in many countries.[citation needed] TMC is also one of the best schools in the north part of Thailand. ( Chiang mai ).

Mechanism of action

Generally speaking, givers of modern Thai massage operate on the hypothesis that the body is permeated with “lom”, or “air”, which is inhaled into the lungs and subsequently travels throughout the body along 72,000 pathways called “sen”, which therapists manipulate manually. This belief likely originating in Indian yoga, and was promoted by the government and schools, the sen being understood as either physical or non-physical structures depending on the interpretation. Traditional regional medicine, however, follows a different theoretical system, which involves the manipulation of the five body layers (skin, tissue, channels, bones, organs) to influence the relationship of the four body elements (earth, water, wind, fire), within this system, the sen are defined as tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels, and the element “lom” or “wind” is understood as the property of movement. This understanding derives from Buddhist medicine which has its roots in ancient Indian medicine.

All types of massage, including Thai massage, can help people relax, relieve aching muscles, and temporarily boost a person’s mood. However, many therapists make claims that go far beyond what massage can accomplish. It does increase circulation, gives temporary relief of pain, provides a sense of well-being, and promotes relaxation, but there is little evidence of further benefits.

Box jellyfish in Thai waters.

The magnitude of severe box jellyfish cases on Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan in the Gulf of Thailand

BMC Research Notes20169:108

DOI: 10.1186/s13104-016-1931-8

Received: 2 December 2015

Accepted: 10 February 2016

Published: 17 February 2016

Background

Despite recent deaths caused by box jellyfish envenomation occurring on the islands of Samui and Pha-ngan in the Gulf of Thailand, many people do not believe box jellyfish can kill humans and many people dismiss the problem as insignificant. More evidence has been requested from the communities in order to evaluate the need for and the implementation of sustainable prevention measures. We aimed to determine the magnitude of cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish and describe the characteristics of these cases on the islands of Samui and Pha-ngan in Surat Thani Province from 1997 to 2015.

Methods

Various strategies were integrated prospectively. Toxic jellyfish networks and surveillance system were established. Outbreak investigations were conducted retrospectively and prospectively from 2008 to 2015.

Results

There were 15 box jellyfish cases. A small majority of them were women (60.0) with a median age of 26.0 years (range 5.0–45.0 years). The highest incidence by month were August (33.3 %), September and October (20.0 %), and July (13.3 %). Eight cases occurred on Samui (53.3 %), 6 cases on Pha-ngan island (40.0 %), and one case on the boat. All cases developed symptoms and signs immediately after being stung. More than half of the cases were unconscious. There were six fatal cases (46.7 %). The wound characteristics had an appearance similar to caterpillar tracks or step ladder-like burn marks. Almost all cases involved Chirodropidae. One fatal case received fresh water and ice packs applied to the wounds (16.7 %). Among the cases with known first aid, only one out of six fatal cases had vinegar applied to the wounds (16.7 %), while haft of six surviving cases received the vinegar treatment.

Conclusions

The islands of Samui and Pha-ngan have the highest incidence of fatal and near fatal box jellyfish cases in Thailand. There is an urgent need for informed pre-clinical emergent care. Optimal pre-clinical care is an area of active research.

Background

It is widely known that box jellyfish are one of the most venomous marine animals in the world [1]. Envenomation involves the physical discharge of venom into tissues. The venom is a complex mixture of polypeptides and proteins, including hemolytic, cardiotoxic and dermatonecrotic toxins [2, 3, 4]. There are two major families of box jellyfish, are Chirodropidae and Carybdeidae [5, 6]. The most lethal member of Chirodropidae is Chironex fleckeri. Envenomation by Chironex can lead to “rapid cardiorepsiratiory depression”. The injured person who received a high dose of toxin can die within a few minutes [2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10], Local physicians, nurses and other health personnel still lack the necessary knowledge regarding box jellyfish, despite there being reports of envenomation incidents in Thailand. Thus, diagnosis of Irukandji syndrome (often associated with carybdeid stings) and other box jellyfish envenomation sequelae has been rare in Thailand [1]. According to Thaikruea et al. [11] a study of the morbidity and mortality rates of toxic jellyfish stings from thirty-three health services in the southern provinces of Thailand (Surat Thani, Krabi, Phuket, and Satun), there were 381 cases involving toxic jellyfish between 2003 and 2009. However, only 51 cases were diagnosed as being in the toxic jellyfish category, one case of neuropathy from the neurotoxin of a jellyfish, and one case of suspected Irukandji syndrome. While the Thai surveillance system of toxic jellyfish injuries and deaths that was established in 2009 identified at least 38 toxic jellyfish cases within 1 year period, Thaikruea et al. [12] reported at least four fatal and four near fatal probable box jellyfish cases in Thailand. Three out of four fatal cases occurred on the islands of Pha-ngan and Samui in the Surat Thani province. These islands are located in the Gulf of Thailand. With the sparsity of information the magnitude of the problem is likely to be underestimated.

Proper first aid carried out at the scene is crucial for the survival of an injured individual who has been stung by a box jellyfish. Household, food grade vinegar (4–6 % acetic acid) is effective in acid fixation based inactivation of unfired nematocysts. It should be poured continuously on the wound for at least 30 s [5, 13]. One of the two latest deaths which was probably due to a box jellyfish sting was on July 31st 2015 and was quite naturally of great concern to the public (Nation TV. August 1st 2015. http://www.nationtv.tv/main/content/social/378466023/). This Thai woman aged 31 years was diagnosed as “Cardiac arrest with anaphylaxis following contact with a venomous animal”. One of the concerns about jellyfish envenomation is that a wrong diagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment [14]. A marine biology expert recently announced in the press the need to use seawater splashing on the tentacle marks before pouring vinegar as a first aid treatment for box jellyfish stings. This news introduced confusion among both professionals and the public, in particular it has caused great concern for the people who live on the islands where the majority of the incidents have taken place. The local people tried to keep people safe. One protection measure used was the erection of warning signs saying “bluebottles” on the beaches that are famous for the “full moon parties”. This warning sign was wrong because the danger was ‘Box Jellyfish Species Present’. There are many cubozoan species linked to lethal stings. Both Chirodropids and Carybdeids can cause death. Signage should include images of both families of cubozoa and there was no education message written in the sign

The islands of Samui and Pha-ngan locate next to each other (20 km) in the Gulf of Thailand. A travel time is about 15 min by ferry. There are various conflicts of interest among stakeholders such as business owners, hotel/resort owners, fishermen, tourist guides and non-government organizations. Many people do not believe box jellyfish can injure or kill human based on interviews, meetings and workshops carried out over the past 7 years. Even of the people who accept the fact, many of them still think that the problem is small. More evidence is requested from the communities in order to implement sustainable prevention measures. This study aims to determine the magnitude of cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish and describe the characteristics of these cases on the islands of Samui and Pha-ngan in Surat Thani Province from 1997 to 2015.

Near fatal case: a 26 year old American woman stung by a multiple tentacle box jellyfish on September 3rd 2010 at a beach on Pha-ngan island. She lost consciousness and revived following resuscitation. Vinegar was applied (Source photo: case).

Various strategies were integrated prospectively. The strategies included establishing toxic jellyfish surveillance system, establishing toxic jellyfish networks, conducted case investigations, performed studies (about the situation in Thailand, existence of deadly box jellyfish, and first aid and treatment), participated and supported communities to create innovations (vinegar first aid pole and sting net), and implement prevention measures. The toxic jellyfish network was established in 2008 by this team of authors in order to ascertain whether box jellyfish could cause death in humans and whether this is a threat in Thailand. The initial members included a journalist and experts from universities in Australia and the Divers Alert Network (DAN). The membership expanded to stakeholders such as resort/hotel managers/owners, divers, speed boat/long-tail boat groups and biologists in order to gather more information (interviews and focus group discussion), build knowledge and collaborate regarding possible prevention programs. Toxic jellyfish surveillance was begun in 2009 to identify venomous jellyfish incidents, collect information regarding the cases and implement prevention measures. The team prospectively and retrospectively investigated all suspected cases box jellyfish sting outbreaks, which were detected by toxic surveillance system and networks. Only severe cases involving admission into the hospitals or health services in Samui and Pha-ngan islands between January 1997 and October 2015 were included in this study. Descriptive analysis was done, including proportion (%) and median (range: minimum to maximum). The investigation was under the government service policy of emergency and public health problem. The ethics submission was not applicable. The descriptive analysis was done as group average and could not identify each individual. For participants who provided photos, we obtained consents to publish from them (or legal parent or guardian for children) to report individual patient data and photos.

Results

Demography

There were 15 cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish admitted to hospital from 1997 to 2015. The majority of them were women (60.0 %) and the median age was 26.0 years (minimum 5.0 years and maximum 45.0 years). The highest frequency of nationalities included British (20.0 %), American (13.3 %), German (13.3 %), and Italian (13.3 %). The other nationalities included French, Australian, Russian, Swiss, Chinese and Thai.

Incidence by time

The highest incidence by year were 2012 (20.0 %), 2015 (20.0 %), 2014 (13.3 %) and 2002 (13.3 %). The highest incidence by month were August (33.3 %), September (20.0 %), October (20.0 %), and July (13.3 %). Two cases occurred in December and May.

Incidence by place

Among eleven cases with information of incidence places, eight cases (53.3 %) occurred on Samui island and another six cases (40.0 %) occurred on Pha-ngan island. One case did not occur on the beach, the man took off his wet suit after diving and a tentacle attached to the wet suit stung his left elbow.

Results

Demography

There were 15 cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish admitted to hospital from 1997 to 2015. The majority of them were women (60.0 %) and the median age was 26.0 years (minimum 5.0 years and maximum 45.0 years). The highest frequency of nationalities included British (20.0 %), American (13.3 %), German (13.3 %), and Italian (13.3 %). The other nationalities included French, Australian, Russian, Swiss, Chinese and Thai.

Incidence by time

The highest incidence by year were 2012 (20.0 %), 2015 (20.0 %), 2014 (13.3 %) and 2002 (13.3 %). The highest incidence by month were August (33.3 %), September (20.0 %), October (20.0 %), and July (13.3 %). Two cases occurred in December and May.

Incidence by place

Among eleven cases with information of incidence places, eight cases (53.3 %) occurred on Samui island and another six cases (40.0 %) occurred on Pha-ngan island. One case did not occur on the beach, the man took off his wet suit after diving and a tentacle attached to the wet suit stung his left elbow.

The highest number of cases occurred on East Rin beach of Pha-ngan island (27.3 %), Chawang beach of Samui island (27.3 %), and Bo Phut of Samui island (18.2 %). Two cases occurred on Lamai beach of Samui island and Khuat beach of Pha-ngan island, subsequently.

Severity

All cases developed symptoms and sign immediately within 1 min after being stung. More than half of the cases were unconscious (53.3 %) within 2–3 min. There were eight near-fatal cases (53.3 %), six fatal cases (46.7 %), and one case was discharged against advice (6.7 %). The wound characteristics had the appearance of caterpillar tracks or step ladder-like burn marks.

Box jellyfish

Nine lethal jellyfish stings were reported as confirmed cubozoan stings. Of these, 5 or 55 % were reported as confirmed Chirodropid stings, three were reported as suspected Chirodropid stings and one case was due to a either a chirodropid or a carybdeid sting.

First aid

Twelve cases were included in analysis where the first aid history was known. Of the six fatal cases, only one had vinegar poured on the injury (16.7 %) as first aid and one had fresh water poured on the wound followed by application of an ice pack (16.7 %). Among the six surviving cases, three received the vinegar treatment (50.0 %). One of them who was stung by Chirodropidae. He lost consciousness and was admitted to Intensive Care Unit, requiring use of a respirator. He received vinegar as first aid at the hospital after 10–15 min being stung.

The incidents occurred more frequently in the southen part of Pha-ngan island which face the northern part of Samui island. However, the northern part and other areas also had incidents (data not shown for mild to moderate cases). Based on the experience of investigating the box jellyfish problem for this study on both Pha-ngan and Samui islands, it was found that people do not believe or do not know that the incidents are more prevalent than their perceptions. These perspectives were demonstrated at several meetings and workshops carried out over the past 7 years. After the death on July 31st this year, another severe case occurred on the island of Samui on September 12th 2015 at Chawang beach on Samui island. This occurred to a 31 year old Chinese male, who was stung by Chirodropidae. He lost consciousness and was admitted to Intensive Care Unit, requiring use of a respirator. He received vinegar as first aid at the hospital after 10–15 min being stung . Stakeholders start to concern about this health problems and want to know more about the magnitude in these islands.

The infamous box jellyfish developed its frighteningly powerful venom to instantly stun or kill prey, like fish and shrimp, so their struggle to escape wouldn’t damage its delicate tentacles.

Their venom is considered to be among the most deadly in the world, containing toxins that attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells. It is so overpoweringly painful, human victims have been known to go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before even reaching shore. Survivors can experience considerable pain for weeks and often have significant scarring where the tentacles made contact.

Box jellies, also called sea wasps and marine stingers, live primarily in coastal waters off Northern Australia and throughout the Indo-Pacific. They are pale blue and transparent in color and get their name from the cube-like shape of their bell. Up to 15 tentacles grow from each corner of the bell and can reach 10 feet (3 meters) in length. Each tentacle has about 5,000 stinging cells, which are triggered not by touch but by the presence of a chemical on the outer layer of its prey.

Box jellies are highly advanced among jellyfish. They have developed the ability to move rather than just drift, jetting at up to four knots through the water. They also have eyes grouped in clusters of six on the four sides of their bell. Each cluster includes a pair of eyes with a sophisticated lens, retina, iris and cornea, although without a central nervous system, scientists aren’t sure how they process what they see.

How Buddhism came to Thailand by Karuna Kusalasaya

Buddhism in Thailand
Its Past and Its Present
by
Karuna Kusalasaya
Alternate format: [PDF icon]

People all over the world who are interested in Buddhism and keep in touch with its news and activities must have heard of the Buddha Jayanti celebrations held a few years ago in all Buddhist countries, including India and Japan. It was in 1957 or, according to the reckoning of some Buddhist countries, in 1956, that Buddhism, as founded by Gotama the Buddha, had completed its 2,500th year of existence. The Buddhist tradition, especially of the Theravada or Southern School such as now prevails in Burma, Ceylon, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, has it that on the completion of 2,500 years from its foundation, Buddhism would undergo a great revival, resulting in its all-round progress, in both the fields of study and practice. Buddhists throughout the world, therefore, commemorated the occasion in 1956-57 by various kinds of activities such as meetings, symposia, exhibitions and the publication of Buddhist texts and literature.

As to whether or not the tradition mentioned above has any truth behind it, the future alone will testify. However, judging from news received from all corners of the globe, it is no exaggeration to say that mankind is taking an ever-increasing interest in Buddhism. As a matter of fact, since the end of the Second World War interest in Buddhism as evinced by people in Europe, America, and Australia has reached a scale unheard of before. Any casual perusal of journals on Buddhism in any of these continents will convince the readers of this statement. It is a matter worth noticing that after the end of the First World War also, Buddhism made great headway in Europe and elsewhere. This phenomenon can perhaps be best explained by the fact that mankind’s spiritual thirst is more sharpened by calamities like war, and that in times of distress mankind realizes Truth better.

The Land of Yellow Robes

Thailand is perhaps the only country in the world where the king is constitutionally stipulated to be a Buddhist and the upholder of the Faith. For centuries Buddhism has established itself in Thailand and has enriched the lives of the Thais in all their aspects. Indeed, without Buddhism, Thailand would not be what it is today. Owing to the tremendous influence Buddhism exerts on the lives of its people, Thailand is called by many foreigners “The Land of Yellow Robes,” for yellow robes are the garments of Buddhist monks. In view of the increasing interest the world is taking in Buddhism and in view of the fact that Thailand is one of the countries where Buddhism still exists as a living force it will not, perhaps, be out of place to know something of the story of how this great faith reached that country.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past

Different opinions exist about when, exactly, Buddhism reached that part of the world now officially known as Thailand. Some scholars say that Buddhism was introduced to Thailand during the reign of Asoka, the great Indian emperor who sent Buddhist missionaries to various parts of the then known world. Others are of the view that Thailand received Buddhism much later. Judging from archaeological finds and other historical evidence, however, it is safe to say that Buddhism first reached Thailand when the country was inhabited by a racial stock of people known as the Mon-Khmer who then had their capital, Dvaravati, at a city now known as Nakon Pathom (Sanskrit: Nagara Prathama), about 50 kilometers to the west of Bangkok. The great pagoda at Nakon Pathom, Phra Pathom Chedi (Prathama cetiya), and other historical findings in other parts of the country testify to this fact as well as to the fact that Buddhism, in its varied forms, reached Thailand at four different periods, namely:

  1. Theravada or Southern Buddhism
  2. Mahayana or Northern Buddhism
  3. Burma (Pagan) Buddhism
  4. Ceylon (Lankavamsa) Buddhism

We shall now proceed to study each of these periods in detail.

I. Theravada or Southern Buddhism  

That the first form of Buddhism introduced to Thailand was that of Theravada (The Doctrine of the Elders) School is proved by various archaeological remains unearthed in the excavations at Nakon Pathom, such as the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law), the Buddha footprints and seats, and the inscriptions in the Pali language, all of which are in rocks. Such objects of Buddhistic veneration existed in India before the introduction of the Buddha image, which appeared later as a result of Greek influence. Buddhism, therefore, must have reached Thailand during the 3rd century B.C., and it must have been more or less the same form of Buddhism as was propagated by the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka. This form of Buddhism was known as Theravada or Hinayana (The Lower Vehicle) in contradistinction to the term Mahayana (The Higher Vehicle); the two schools having sprung up soon after the passing away of the Buddha. When worship of the Buddha image became popular in India, it also spread to other countries where Buddhism had already been introduced. This is borne out by the fact that many Buddha images, especially those of the Gupta style, had been found in the ruins of Nakon Pathom and the neighboring cities. Judging from the style of the Buddha images found, it can also be assumed that the early Buddhist missionaries to Thailand went from Magadha (in Bihar state, India).

To support the view that the first form of Buddhism introduced to Thailand was that of the Theravada School as propagated by Emperor Asoka, we have evidence from the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Ceylon. In one of its passages dealing with the propagation of the Dhamma, the Mahavamsa records that Asoka sent missionaries headed by Buddhist elders to as many as nine territories. One of these territories was known as Suvarnabhumi where two Theras (elder monks), Sona and Uttara, were said to have proceeded.

Now opinions differ as to where exactly this land of Suvarnabhumi is. Thai scholars express the opinion that it is in Thailand and that its capital was at Nakon Pathom, while scholars of Burma say that Suvarnabhumi is in Burma, the capital being at Thaton, a Mon (Peguan) town in eastern Burma near the Gulf of Martaban. Still other scholars of Laos and Cambodia claim that the territory of Suvarnabhumi is in their lands. Historical records in this connection being meager as they are, it would perhaps be of no avail to argue as to the exact demarcation of Suvarnabhumi. Taking all points into consideration, one thing, however, seems clear beyond dispute. That is Suvarnabhumi was a term broadly used in ancient times to denote that part of Southeast Asia which now includes Southern Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaya. The term Suvarnabhumi is a combination of the words suvarna and bhumi. Both are Sanskrit words; the former means gold and the latter stands for land. Suvarnabhumi therefore literally means Golden Land or Land of Gold. Keeping in view the abundance of nature in that part of Asia just referred to, the term seems but appropriate.

The reason why scholars of Thailand express the view that the capital of Suvarnabhumi was at Nakon Pathom was because of the archaeological finds unearthed in the area surrounding that town. Nowhere in any of the countries mentioned above, not even at Thaton in Burma, could one find such a large and varied number of ancient relics as were found at Nakon Pathom. By age and style these archaeological objects belong to the times of Emperor Asoka and the later Guptas. Even the Great Stupa (Phra Pathom Chedi) at Nakon Pathom itself is basically identical with the famous Sañchi Stupa in India, built by Asoka, especially if one were to remove the shikhara or upper portion. Many Thai archaeologists are of the opinion that the shikhara was a later addition to the pagoda, a result, so to say, of the blending of the Thai aesthetic sense with Indian architectural art. Moreover, the name Pathom Chedi (Pali: Pathama Cetiya) means “First Pagoda” which, in all probability, signifies that it was the first pagoda built in Suvarnabhumi. This would easily fit in with the record of the Mahavamsa — that Theras Sona and Uttara went and established Buddhism in the territory of Suvarnabhumi at the injunction of Emperor Asoka.[1] Taking cognizance of the fact that Asoka reigned from 269 to 237 B.C., we can reasonably conclude that Buddhism first spread to Thailand during the 3rd century B.C. It is interesting to note in this connection that the history of the penetration of Indian culture to Southeast Asia also started more or less during the same period.[2] 

II. Mahayana or Northern Buddhism  

With the growth of Mahayana Buddhism in India, especially during the reign of King Kanishka who ruled over Northern India during the second half of the first century A.D., the sect also spread to the neighboring countries, such as Sumatra, Java, and Kambuja (Cambodia). It is probable that Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to Burma, Pegu (Lower Burma) and Dvaravati (now Nakon Pathom in Western Thailand) from Magadha (in Bihar, India) at the same time as it went to the Malay Archipelago. But probably it did not have any stronghold there at that time; hence no spectacular trace was left of it.

Starting from the beginning of the fifth century A.D. Mahayana Buddhist missionaries from Kashmir in Northern India began to go to Sumatra in succession. From Sumatra the faith spread to Java and Cambodia. By about 757 A.D. (Buddhist Era: 1300) the Srivijaya king with his capital in Sumatra rose in power and his empire spread throughout the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago. Part of South Thailand (from Surasthani downwards) came under the rule of the Srivijaya king. Being Mahayanists, the rulers of Srivijaya gave much encouragement and support to the propagation of Mahayana Buddhism. In South Thailand today we have much evidence to substantiate that Mahayana Buddhism was once prevalent there. This evidence is in the form of stupas or chetiyas and images, including votive tablets of the Buddhas and Bodhisattas (Phra Phim), which were found in large number, all of the same type as those discovered in Java and Sumatra. The chetiyas in Chaiya (Jaya) and Nakon Sri Thammarath (Nagara Sri Dharmaraja), both in South Thailand, clearly indicate Mahayana influence.

From 1002 to 1182 A.D. kings belonging to the Suryavarman dynasty ruled supreme in Cambodia. Their empire extended over the whole of present-day Thailand. Being adherents of Mahayana Buddhism with a strong mixture of Brahmanism, the Suryavarman rulers did much to propagate and establish the tenets of the Northern School. There is an interesting stone inscription, now preserved in the National Museum at Bangkok, which tells us that in about 1017 A.D. (B.E. 1550) there ruled in Lopburi, in central Thailand and once a capital city, a king from Nakon Sri Thammarath who traced his ancestry to Srivijaya rulers. The king had a son who later became the ruler of Kambuja (Cambodia) and who, more or less, kept Thailand under the suzerainty of Cambodia for a long time. During this period there was much amalgamation of the two countries’ religions and cultures. The stone inscription under consideration probably refers to one of the Suryavarman kings who had blood relationship with the Srivijaya rulers.

From the inscription just referred to we also learn that at that period the form of Buddhism prevalent in Lopburi was that of Theravada, and that Mahayana Buddhism, already established in Cambodia, became popularized in Thailand only after Thailand had come under the sway of Cambodia. There are no indications, however, that the Mahayana School superseded the Theravada in any way. This was due to the fact that Theravada Buddhism was already on a firm basis in Thailand when the Mahayana School was introduced there. That there were monks of both schools, Theravada and Mahayana, in Lopburi during those days, is indicated in a stone inscription in the Cambodian language, found in a Brahmanic Temple within the vicinity of Lopburi city itself.

Much of the Brahmanic culture which survives in Thailand till today could be traced to its origin from Cambodia during this period. Many of the Cambodian kings themselves were zealous adherents of Brahmanism and its ways of life. This period, therefore, can be termed Mahayana Period. Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindus, took its root deep in Thailand during these times. 

III. Burma (Pagan) Buddhism  

In 1057 A.D. King Anuruddha (Anawratha) became powerful in the whole of Burma, having his capital at Pagan (Central Burma). Anuruddha extended his kingdom right up to Thailand, especially the Northern and Central parts, covering areas now known as Chiengmai, Lopburi, and Nakon Pathom. Being a Theravada Buddhist, Anuruddha ardently supported the cause of Theravada which Burma, like Thailand, at first received directly from India through missionaries sent by Emperor Asoka. However, at the time under consideration, Buddhism in India was already in a state of decline, and as contact between Burma and India was then faint, Theravada Buddhism, as prevalent in Burma at that time, underwent some changes and assumed a form somewhat different from the original doctrine. This, at a later stage, became what is known in Thailand as Burma (Pagan) Buddhism. During the period of King Anuruddha’s suzerainty over Thailand, Burmese Buddhism exercised great influence over the country, especially in the North where, owing to proximity, the impact from Burma was more felt.

It is significant that Buddhist relics found in North Thailand bear a striking Theravada influence, whereas those found in the South clearly show their Mahayana connections dating back from Srivijaya days. To a great extent this is due to the fact that, in their heyday of suzerainty over Thailand, the Burmese under Anuruddha were content with Upper Thailand only, while leaving the South practically to be ruled by their Khmer (Cambodian) vassals whose capital was at Lopburi.

From the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. the Thai people, whose original homeland was in the valleys between the Huang Ho and the Yangtze Kiang in China, began to migrate southwards as a result of constant friction with the neighboring tribes. In the course of their migration which lasted for several centuries, they became separated into two main groups. One group went and settled in the plains of the Salween River, Shan States, and other areas and spread on as far as Assam. This group of Thais is called Thai Yai (Big Thai). The other main group moved further South and finally settled in what is today termed Thailand. The latter group of Thais is called Thai Noi (Small Thai). The Thais in present-day Thailand are actually the descendants of these migrant Thais. Of course, in the course of their migration which, as said above, continued off and on for a long time, there had been a great deal of mixture of blood through intermarriage which was only natural. We should always bear in mind that there are several ethnic groups scattered through the length and breadth of Southeast Asia from times immemorial. But even today we can trace the language affinity of the Thais living in widely scattered areas such as Assam, Upper Burma, Southern China, Shan States, Laos, North Vietnam, and Thailand.

After struggling hard for a long time the Thais were able to establish their independent state at Sukhothai (Sukhodaya) in North Thailand. This was probably about 1257 A.D. (B.E. 1800). It was during the period of their movement southwards that the Thais came into contact with the form of Buddhism as practiced in Burma and propagated under the royal patronage of King Anuruddha. Some scholars are of the opinion that as Mahayana Buddhism had spread to China as early as the beginning of the Christian Era, the Thais, while still in their original home in China, must have already been acquainted with some general features of Buddhism. As the Thai migrants grew in strength their territory extended and finally they became the masters of the land in succession to Anuruddha, whose kingdom declined after his death. During the succeeding period, the Thais were able to exert themselves even more prominently in their southward drive. Thus they came into close contact with the Khmers, the erstwhile power, and became acquainted with both Mahayana Buddhism and Brahmanism as adopted and practiced in Kambuja (Cambodia). Much of the Brahmanic influence, such as religious and cultural rites, especially in the court circles, passed on from Cambodia to the Thais during this period, for Hinduism was already firmly established in Cambodia at that time. Even the Thai scripts, based on Cambodian scripts which, in turn, derived their origin from India, were invented by King Ram Kamhaeng of Sukhothai during the period under consideration.

Of the period under discussion it may be observed in passing that Northern Thailand, from Sukhothai District upwards, came much under the influence of Burma (Pagan) Buddhism, while in the central and southern parts of the country many Mahayana beliefs and practices, inherited from the days of the Suryavarmans and the Srivijayas, still persisted. 

IV. Ceylon (Lankavamsa) Buddhism  

This is the most important period in the history of the spread of Buddhism to Thailand, for it witnessed the introduction to that country of that form of Buddhism which remains dominant there until today.

About 1153 A.D. (B.E. 1696) Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 A.D.) became king of Ceylon, known in ancient days as Lanka. A powerful monarch and a great supporter of Theravada Buddhism, Parakramabahu did much to spread and consolidate the Dhamma of the Lord in his island kingdom. He it was who caused (according to some scholars of Southern Buddhism) the Seventh Buddhist Council[3] to be held under the chairmanship of Kassapa Thera, of Dimbulagala in order to revise and strengthen the Doctrine and the Discipline (Dhamma and Vinaya).

As a result of the efforts of King Parakramabahu the Great, Buddhism was much consolidated in Ceylon and the news spread to neighboring lands. Buddhist monks from various countries, such as Burma, Pegu (Lower Burma), Kambuja, Lanna (North Thailand) and Lanchang (Laos) flocked to Ceylon in order to acquaint themselves with the pure form of the Dhamma. Thailand also sent her Bhikkhus to Ceylon and thereby obtained the upasampada vidhi (ordination rite) from Ceylon, which later became known in Thailand as Lankavamsa. This was about 1257 A.D. (B.E. 1800). Apparently the early batches of Bhikkhus, who returned from Ceylon after studies, often accompanied by Ceylonese monks, established themselves first in Nakon Sri Thammarath (South Thailand), for many of the Buddhist relics bearing definitely Ceylonese influence, such as stupas and Buddha images, were found there. Some of these relics are still in existence today. News of the meritorious activities of these monks soon spread to Sukhothai, then the capital of Thailand, and King Ram Kamhaeng who was ruling at the time, invited those monks to his capital and gave them his royal support in propagating the Doctrine. This fact is recorded in one of the King’s rock inscriptions, dated about 1277 A.D. Since then Ceylon (Sinhala) Buddhism became very popular and was widely practiced in Thailand. Some of the Thai kings, such as King Maha Dharmaraja Lithai of Sukhothai dynasty and King Borom Trai Lokanath of the early Ayudhya Period, even entered the Holy Order or Bhikkhu Sangha according to the ordination rite of Lankavamsa Buddhism by inviting a patriarch from Ceylon, Maha Sami Sangharaja Sumana by name, to be the presiding monk over his upasampada (ordination) ceremony. Many monasteries, stupas, Buddha images and even Buddha footprints, such as the well-known one at Sraburi in central Thailand, were built in accordance with the usage popular in Ceylon. The study of Pali, the language of Theravada or Southern Buddhism, also made great progress, and in all matters dealing with the Dhamma the impact of Ceylon was perceptibly felt.

However, there had been no antagonism between the different forms of Buddhism already in existence in Thailand and the Lankavamsa which had been introduced later from Ceylon. On the contrary they seemed to have amalgamated peacefully, and all had adjusted themselves to one another’s benefit. This is evident in all religious rites and ceremonies of Thailand. Indeed, somewhat characteristic of the Buddhists, there had been a spirit of forbearance in all matters. For instance, even today Brahmanic rites thrive side by side with Buddhistic ceremonies in Thailand and Cambodia, especially in the royal courts.

History repeats itself. Years after, when in Ceylon under King Kirtisri (1747-1781 A.D.) the upasampada ordination was lost due to a decline of Buddhism and upheavals in the country, Thailand (during the reign of King Boromkot, 1733-1758 A.D.) was able to repay the debt by sending a batch of Buddhist monks, under the leadership of Upali and Ariyamuni Theras, who in the course of time established in Ceylon what is known as the Siyamopali Vamsa or Siyam Nikaya, or Siamese Sect, which still is a major sect in that country. Upali worked and died in Sri Lanka, the country he loved no less than his own.

Today, for all purposes, Thailand can be termed a Theravada Buddhist country. There are, of course, a few Mahayana monks and monasteries, but they are mostly confined to foreign communities, chiefly the Chinese. All, however, live at peace and cooperate with one another.

So much for the past of Buddhism in Thailand.

Buddhism in Thailand: Its Present

According to the census taken in 1960 the population of Thailand numbers 25,519,965. Of this number 94% are Buddhists (the rest are mostly Muslims and Christians). This fact itself demonstrates more than anything else how influential Buddhism is in Thailand. In their long history of existence the Thais seem to have been predominantly Buddhists, at least ever since they came into contact with the tenets of Buddhism. All the Thai kings in the recorded history of present-day Thailand have been adherents of Buddhism. The country’s constitution specifies that the King of Thailand must be a Buddhist and the Upholder of Buddhism.

The term “The Land of Yellow Robes” has not been inappropriately applied to Thailand, for two things strike most foreigners as soon as they set foot in that country. One is the Buddhist temple with its characteristic architecture, and the other is the sight of yellow-clad Buddhist monks and novices who are to be seen everywhere, especially in the early hours of dawn when they go out in great numbers for alms. The two sights inevitably remind the foreigners that here is a country where Buddhism is a dominant force in the people’s life. Indeed, to the Thai nation as a whole, Buddhism has been the main spring from which flow its culture and philosophy, its art and literature, its ethics and morality, and many of its folkways and festivals.

For clarity and convenience we shall divide the study of the present state of Buddhism in Thailand into two parts, namely the Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order, and the Laity.

I. The Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order  

The Bhikkhu Sangha or the Holy Order of Buddhist monks has been in existence in Thailand ever since Buddhism was introduced there. According to the 1958 census there were in the whole kingdom of Thailand 159,648 monks; 73,311 novices; and 20,944 monasteries or temples. These are scattered throughout the country, particularly more numerous in the thickly populated areas. The Bhikkhu Sangha of Thailand, being of Theravada or Southern School, observes the same set of discipline (Vinaya) as the Bhikkhu Sanghas in other Theravada countries such as Ceylon, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. In spite of the fact that the government allots a yearly budget for the maintenance and repair of important temples and as stipends for high ranking monks, almost the entire burden for the support of the Sangha and the upkeep of the temples rests with the public. A survey entitled “Thailand Economic Farm Survey” made in 1953 by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Thailand gives the religious cash expenses of the average Thai rural family per year as ranging from 5 to 10 per cent of its total annual cash income. It may be added here that the report concerns the average Thai rural family, and not the urban dwellers, the majority of whom, in Thailand as elsewhere, are less inclined to religion than the country folks.

TWO SECTS OR NIKAYAS

There are two sects or Nikayas of the Buddhist Order in Thailand. One is the Mahanikaya, and the other is the Dhammayuttika Nikaya. The Mahanikaya is the older and by far the more numerous one, the ratio in the number of monks of the two sects being 35 to 1. The Dhammayuttika Nikaya was founded in 1833 A.D. by King Mongkut, the fourth ruler of the present Chakri Dynasty who ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868 A.D. Having himself spent 27 years as a Bhikkhu, the King was well versed in the Dhamma, besides many other branches of knowledge, including Pali, the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism. The express desire of the King in founding the Dhammayuttika sect was to enable monks to lead a more disciplined and scholarly life in accordance with the pristine teachings of the Buddha. The differences between the two Nikayas are, however, not great; at most they concern only matters of discipline, and never of the Doctrine. Monks of both sects follow the same 227 Vinaya rules as laid down in the Patimokkha of the Vinaya Pitaka (the Basket of the Discipline), and both receive the same esteem from the public. In their general appearance and daily routine of life too, except for the slight difference in the manners of putting on the yellow robes, monks of the two Nikayas differ very little from one another.

ORGANIZATION OF THE SANGHA

Formerly, and in accordance with the Administration of the Bhikkhu Sangha Act (B.E. 2484, A.D. 1943), the organization of the Sangha in Thailand was on a line similar to that of the State. The Sangharaja or the Supreme Patriarch is the highest Buddhist dignitary of the Kingdom. He is chosen by the King, in consultation with the Government, from among the most senior and qualified members of the Sangha. The Sangharaja appoints a council of Ecclesiastical Ministers headed by the Sangha Nayaka, whose position is analogous to that of the Prime Minister of the State. Under the Sangha Nayaka there function four ecclesiastical boards, namely the Board of Ecclesiastical Administration, the Board of Education, the Board of Propagation and the Board of Public Works.

Each of the boards has a Sangha Mantri (equivalent to a minister in the secular administration) with his assistants. The four boards or ministries are supposed to look after the affairs of the entire Sangha. The Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council which, by the way, corresponds to the Cabinet, consists of ten members, all senior monks of the Sangha. In addition to this, there is a Consultative Assembly (Sangha Sabha), equivalent to the National Assembly, the members of which number 45, selected from various important monasteries. The Sangha Sabha acts as an Advisory Body to the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council. Below the Sangha Sabha the administration of the Sangha continues to correspond to the secular administration of the country. All monks and novices (samaneras) have to live in monasteries which are scattered throughout the country. Each monastery has its abbot appointed by the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council in consultation with local people. It may be pointed out here that all religious appointments in Thailand are based on scholarly achievements, seniority, personal conduct and popularity, and contacts with monks further up in the Sangha.

There is a Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education which acts as a liaison office between the Government and the Sangha. In general the Department of Religious Affairs works in cooperation with the Ecclesiastical Ministerial Council on all matters affecting the Sangha. For instance, it issues all legal directives concerning the entire community of monks; it keeps record of the Sangha’s property, such as lands etc.; it maintains facts and figures with respect to monks and monasteries. The Religious Affairs Department also prepares the annual budget for the upkeep of the Sangha functionaries and the maintenance and repair of temples etc. It may be added here that all temples and monasteries are State property.

In 1962, the Administration of the Bhikkhu Sangha Act of 1943 was abolished; a new one was enacted instead. By virtue of the new act, the posts of Sangha Nayaka, Sangha Mantris, and Sangha Sabha were abolished. In place of these there is a Mahathera Samagama (Council of the Elders) headed by the Sangharaja himself and consisting of not less than four and not more than eight senior monks (mahatheras) of the two sects (nikayas). The Mahathera Samagama, in collaboration with the Department of Religious Affairs, directly governs the entire Sangha.

EDUCATION OF MONKS

As is well known, the original idea of men’s entering monkhood during the Buddha’s time or shortly later, was to attain liberation from worldly existence in accordance with the teaching of the Master. Such an idea, of course, springs from man’s feeling of aversion to things mundane. In other words, in those far-off days, men entered monkhood with the sole intention of ridding themselves of life’s miseries and of obtaining spiritual freedom or Nirvana. Instances of such self-renunciation are found in the holy books of the Buddhists. With the passage of time, as is only natural, many of the ideals and practices of the early followers of the Buddha underwent modifications. Today, over 2,500 years after the passing away of the Buddha, though the ideal of becoming a Bhikkhu still remains very lofty among Buddhists of all lands, in practice it must be admitted that there have been many deviations from the Master’s original admonitions with regard to the whys and wherefores of man’s entering monkhood. Generalization of any subject matter is often dangerous but it will not be far from truth to say that today, in Thailand as in other Buddhist countries, the practice of Buddhist males entering monkhood is to a considerable extent prompted rather by the dictation of custom, the wish for education and other external considerations than by the desire to attain emancipation. Yet there are also many who join the Sangha through genuine love for a religious life and religious studies, or out of the wish to be of service to Buddhism and their country. Finally, in the Thai Sangha also those are not entirely lacking whose life is vigorously devoted to the aim of ultimate emancipation and to the guidance of others towards that goal. There have been, and still are, saintly and able meditation masters in Thailand, with a fair number of devoted disciples in Sangha and laity. There are also still monks — the so-called thudong bhikkhus — who follow the ancient way of austere living embodied in the “strict observances” or dhutangas.[4]

In view of the above facts, there are two categories of Buddhist monks in Thailand. One comprises those who become monks for long periods, sometimes for life, and the other those who enter the Order temporarily. To serve in the monkhood even for a short period is considered a great merit-earning attainment by the Thai Buddhists. Even kings follow this age-old custom. For instance, the present ruler, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also observed the custom for a period of half a month some time ago. Government officials are allowed leave with full pay for a period of four months in order to serve in monkhood. The idea is to enable young men to gain knowledge of Buddhism and thereby to become good citizens. Life as a monk gives them practical experience of how an ideal Buddhist life should be. In rural districts the general tendency is still to give more deference to those who have already served in monkhood. Such people are supposed to be more “mature” than those who have not undergone the monk’s life. Moreover, in Thailand wats (monasteries and temples) used to be and are still regarded as seats of learning where all men, irrespective of life’s position, could go and avail themselves of education benefits. This is especially so in the case of economically handicapped males of the countryside. Instances are not lacking in which people have climbed high up on life’s status ladder after obtaining education while in monkhood. There are neither religious restrictions nor social disapproval against monks’ returning to lay life if and when they find themselves unable to discharge their duties as monks.

Cases exist in which, for some reason or the other, men have entered monkhood more than once, although such practice cannot be said to be in the esteem of the public. Looked at from this viewpoint, the institution of entering monkhood in Thailand, apart from being a way of gaining moral and spiritual enlightenment, is a social uplift method by which those not so fortunately placed in life could benefit. Judged from the ideal of adopting a monk’s life as enunciated by the Buddha, whether or not such practice is commendable, is a different story. The fact is that even today when modernism has penetrated deep into Thailand, about one half of the primary schools of the country are still situated in wats. With sex and crimes on the increase in the country, the cry for living a better Buddhist life is being heard more and more distinctly in Thailand today.

The traditional education of monks and novices in Thailand centers mainly on the studies of the Buddhist Doctrine (Dhamma) and Pali, the language in which the Theravada scriptures are written. Of the former, the study of the Doctrine, there are three grades with examinations open to both monks and laymen. Those passing such examinations are termed Nak Dhamm, literally meaning one who knows the Dhamma. The latter, i.e., the study of Pali, has seven grades, starting with the third and ending with the ninth grade. Students passing Pali examinations are called parian (Pali: pariñña = penetrative knowledge); in the Thai language the word parinna is used to mean academic degree. For example, monks and novices passing the first Pali examination are entitled to write “P. 3” after their names.

Generally the Dhamma and the Pali studies go hand in hand and take at least seven years to complete. The stiffness of the two courses, especially that of the Pali language, can be guessed from the fact that very few students are able to pass the highest grade, the Parian 9, in any annual examination. In the good old days when living was less competitive than now, passing of even the lower Dhamma and Pali examinations used to be of much value in securing good government posts. But now things are quite different; even those successful in the highest Pali examination, the 9th Grade, find it difficult to get suitable employment.

Of late there has developed a new outlook in the education of monks in Thailand. With the rapid progress of science and with the shrinking of the world, Buddhist leaders of Thailand, monks as well as laymen, are awakened to the necessity of imparting broader education to members of the Sangha, if the Sangha is to serve the cause of Buddhism well, “for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many.” As a result of the new outlook there now function in Bangkok two higher institutes of learning exclusively for monks and novices. One is the Mahachulalongkorn Rajvidyalaya, and the other is the Mahamongkut Rajvidyalaya. Both are organized on a modern university footing and both seem to be making satisfactory progress towards that direction. Inclusion in the curriculum of some secular subjects not incompatible with monks’ discipline (Vinaya) is among the notable features of these two institutes; the aim is to give an all-round education to monks in order to enable them to be of better service to the cause of Buddhism amidst modern conditions.

So much for the education of ‘long-term’ monks. As for those who enter the Order temporarily, mostly for a period of three rainy months during the Vassa, or Buddhist Lent, the education is brief and devoted to the main tenets and features of Buddhism only. As pointed out above, such people enter monkhood either by their own genuine desire for knowledge of the Dhamma, by the dictum of custom or, as generally is the case, by the two reasons combined. Monks of this category return to lay life again as soon as the Lent is over. This is the reason why accommodations in monasteries (wats) are usually full during the Lenten period. Nowadays, owing to the pressure of modern life, the custom of temporarily entering monkhood is not so rigorously observed by people living in urban areas as by those in the countryside. The custom has its parallel in Burma, Cambodia, and Laos where Theravada Buddhism prevails.

WATS AND MONKS

The word “wat” means monastery and temple combined. It is the residence of monks and novices. There are about 21,000 wats in the whole of Thailand. In Bangkok alone there are nearly two hundred wats. Some big wats in Bangkok have as many as 600 resident monks and novices. Wats are centers of Thai art and architecture. Thai culture, to a considerable extent, flows from wats. Wat-lands and constructions thereon are donated by royalty, wealthy people and the public in general. The wat is the most important institution in Thai rural life. The social life of the rural community revolves around the wat. Besides carrying out the obvious religious activities, a wat serves the community as a recreation center, dispensary, school, community center, home for the aged and destitute, social work and welfare agency, village clock, rest-house, news agency, and information center. A wat is headed by a Chao Avas (the abbot) who is responsible for the maintenance of the wat discipline, the proper performance of religious services and rituals, and the general welfare of the inmates. Besides monks and novices, there are also the “temple boys” in wats, who assist monks and novices in various ways, such as bringing and arranging food, cleaning dormitories, washing yellow robes, etc. Usually these boys are related to resident monks in one way or another, and their stay is free of charge. Most of them are students whose homes are far away and who would, otherwise, find it impracticable to get education. This is especially so in Bangkok where accommodation is difficult to get and where all higher seats of learning of the country are situated. The census taken in 1954 reveals that there are as many as 119,044 temple boys in Thailand, which indeed is not a small figure. The institution of the wat, in itself a gift of Buddhism, therefore contributes in no small measure to the social welfare and progress of the Thai Buddhists. The benefits in this respect, of course, are more apparent among the lower strata of society than in the case of the fortunate few on the top.

Apart from engaging themselves in doctrinal studies and observing disciplinary rules (Vinaya) in general, monks are expected to be “friends, philosophers, and guides” of the people. Preaching to masses face to face or over the radio is one of the commonest ways by which monks help the promotion of moral stability among various members of the society. It may not be out of place to reiterate the fact that Buddhism lays great stress on the necessity of leading a morally good life in order to obtain happiness in life here and hereafter. In most of the ceremonies and rituals, whether private or public, monks’ cooperation and benediction are indispensable. Indeed, in the life of the average Thai Buddhists, from the cradle to the grave, monks are persons to whom they constantly turn for moral support.

The role of monks in rural districts is even more important, for there the local wat is not only the religious but also the social center of the community. It is at the wat that people come together and experience a sense of comradeship. Religious rituals and ceremonies held at wats are always accompanied by social activities: they are occasions for people, especially the young, to enjoy themselves in feast, fun and festivities. This aspect of the religious service helps the common folks to relax and satisfies their needs for recreation. Not a few matrimonial alliances started from contacts at wat premises. Acting as a moral and ethical example, monks are the most venerated persons in the countryside Thai society, remaining very close to the hearts of the people. In times of crisis, it is to monks that people bring their problems for counsel and encouragement. With few exceptions, the Sangha has well justified this attitude of respect and honor shown to it on the part of the laity and, on the whole, has lived up to the dignity of the Faith.

II. The Laity  

Throughout its over 2,500 years of existence Buddhism has been closely connected with the lay community. In Pali the word for a male lay devotee is upasaka; upasika is its female equivalent. In the history of Buddhism, right from the time of its founder, there had been numerous upasakas and upasikas whose faith in the Teachings of the Master had contributed largely to the dissemination of the Doctrine. Names of the Buddha’s munificent followers like Anathapindika, Visakha, Asoka, Kanishka, etc., are on the lips of Buddhists even today. Without the patronage of Emperor Asoka, Buddhism probably could not have spread so far and the course of its history might have been different. In India, the land of its birth, as well as in most of the countries where its Message has been accepted, Buddhism has received unstinted support from people of all classes, especially the ruling class. History of the movements of Buddhism in China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, Tibet, etc., amply justifies this statement. In the case of Thailand too, ever since its introduction to that country, Buddhism has been warmly received and patronized by kings and commoners alike. It is well-known that many of the Thai rulers, not satisfied with being mere lay-devotees, got themselves ordained into monkhood and became famous for their erudition in the Dhamma. King Mongkut, Rama IV, probably stands out as most distinguished among this class of royal devotees. The custom of Thai males entering the Sangha also contributes much to the better understanding and cooperation between the lay community and the monkhood. After all, personal experience is better than mere theoretical knowledge.

The Buddha himself, in one of his discourses, exhorted his followers to discharge their duties well so as to enable the Dhamma to endure long in the world. One of the duties of the lay followers, as taught by the Master, is to look after the needs of monks. Hence it is the traditional practice with lay followers in all Buddhist countries, especially those following Theravada Buddhism, to see that monks do not suffer from lack of the four requisites, namely food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Although in the present age of competitive economy, when life in any field is not so easy, nobody can say in fairness that monk-life in Thailand suffers greatly from shortage of the above four requisites. As Bhikkhus are not allowed to follow any occupational activities, it is clear that they entirely depend on the laity for their existence. In return for this spontaneous support offered them by the public, monks are expected to live exemplary lives for the benefit of themselves as well as of those who look to them as teachers and guides. We have already seen what moral influence monks have upon the people.

Cooperation between the laity and the Bhikkhu Sangha in Thailand is close and spontaneous. To a very great extent this is due to the fact that in an average Thai family some of its members are certain to be found who have for some time served in the Sangha. To the masses yellow robes are symbol of the Master, and Bhikkhus are upholders of the Dhamma, to be deferred to in all circumstances. It is interesting to note that Bhikkhus or Samaneras found guilty of committing crimes are formally divested of their yellow robes before legal action is taken against them by the State, and this is done invariably under permission of the chief monk or the abbot.

“To do good” (kusala kamma) is a cardinal point in the teachings of Buddhism. Consequently the idea of performing meritorious deeds is very deeply ingrained in the minds of Buddhists. Ways of doing good or making merit (puñña) among the Thai Buddhists are numerous. A man gains merit each time he gives alms to monks or contributes to any religious rituals. To get ordination into monkhood even for a short period, of course, brings much merit. Besides, there are other ways of merit-earning, such as releasing caged birds or freeing caught fishes, plastering gold leaf on Buddha statues or religious monuments, contributing to the construction of a new temple or the repair of an old one, etc. “The Law of Karma” that each action has its corresponding result and the belief in rebirth are two important factors in molding such attitude towards life among the Buddhists. Though Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana), the highest bliss in Buddhism, is aspired to by all good Buddhists, the vast majority of them still think it is not so easy to reach and that they will be reborn again in this world, in heaven or some other world, or — at the very worst — in hell. Hence, as long as they live they must try to do good in order to ensure good results in this very life as well as in the life to come. “Be a light unto yourself. Each man must strive for his own salvation” — these were the Master’s words. In view of this, Theravada Buddhism is often said to have individualistic temper. Nevertheless, it is very tolerant, as the long history of its existence will prove. Indeed, the characteristic tolerance of Buddhism, for instance in Thailand, has always permitted the absorption of many beliefs and practices from other sources which have often served to supplement or expand its concepts or to fill gaps. Animism and Brahmanism may be cited in this connection; the two being important supplements of popular Buddhism in Thailand. A foreign writer has rightly observed that the attitude of the Thai masses towards their religion is of an easy-going nature. They do not bother to distinguish among the various components of their religion; for them it is all of a piece. Only the sophisticated few are concerned with doctrinal logic and purity. Of course, they too know much about its legends, its festivals, its ideals, and its general message that “good will render good.” On the whole it can be said that the Thais enjoy their religion. Religious observances are to them as social and recreational as sacred occasions. And for the vast majority, Buddhism suffices in that it enables them to feel and believe and enjoy.

BUDDHIST ORGANIZATIONS AND THE REVIVAL OF BUDDHISM

Organizations among the lay Buddhists of Thailand are recent establishments. Prominent and oldest among them is perhaps the Buddhist Association of Thailand, under Royal Patronage, which now is about 30 years old, having been established in 1933. Having its head office in Bangkok, it maintains branch organizations in almost all major districts of Thailand. Its membership is open to both sexes, irrespective of class, creed, and color. The aim and object of the Buddhist Association of Thailand is to promote the study and practice of Buddhism and to propagate its message in and outside Thailand. Besides arranging regular lectures and discussions on topics concerning the Dhamma, the Association also publishes a monthly journal in the Thai language on the teachings of the Buddha.

Another organization is the Young Buddhists Association which came into being at the close of the Second World War. As its name implies, the Young Buddhists Association takes care of the interest of the young in matters concerning Buddhism. Its primary object is to encourage the young to imbibe the tenets of Buddhism and to live a virtuous life. Chief among its activities are arranging regular lectures and discussions on the Dhamma, issuing publications on subjects dealing with Buddhism in general, and sponsoring meetings of the young on the platform of Buddhism. The Young Buddhists Association also has branches in the districts.

As said earlier the end of the Second World War saw a great revival of interest in Buddhism throughout the world. Even in countries like Thailand where the Doctrine of the Awakened One has been traditionally accepted for generations, people seem to be increasingly eager to know more about the Dhamma. Strange as it may seem, this is partly due to the interest the Occidental World has taken in Buddhism. In times past religion has been more or less regarded in Thailand as “solace of the old.” But with the impact of the West in most matters and with the general interest shown towards Buddhism by Western intelligentsia, the Buddhists of Thailand, especially the younger generations who came into contact with the West, began to evince an inquisitive attitude towards their religion — a heritage which they have all along accepted as their own but which they have cared little to know about its true value. This is no attempt to belittle the exceedingly great importance the Thais attach to their religion. But human nature being what it is, the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” is in most cases not very far wrong. In the Thai language also we have a proverb “klai kleua kin dang” which may be rendered in English as “to have the folly to resort to alkali when one is in possession of salt.”

Having taken root on the soil of Thailand for centuries Buddhism has naturally attracted many appendages to its fold, some of which are not quite in conformity with the teachings of the Master as contained in the Canon (Tipitaka). Many leaders of Buddhistic thought in Thailand have, therefore, come forward to try to purify the Dhamma of the many impurities that have crept into it. Notable among the reformatory groups are the Dhammadana Association in Jaiya, South Thailand, under the leadership of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, and the Buddha Nigama of Chiengmai (North Thailand) started by Paññananda Bhikkhu. The two organizations are showing good efforts in the field of awakening the Buddhists of Thailand to the pristine teachings of the Buddha as treasured in the Pali Tipitaka. The mission is admittedly a difficult one but already a promising start has been made in this direction. Much will also no doubt depend on how things transpire in other spheres of human activities, chiefly economic, social and political. The present is an age of conflict — conflict between mind and body, between spirit and matter. Man must find harmony between the two if peace be his aim in life. And to this task of finding harmony within man Buddhism could contribute in no small measure.

©2005 Buddhist Publication Society.
 
You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge and, in the case of reprinting, only in quantities of no more than 50 copies; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. The Wheel Publication No. 85 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 2005). First edition 1965; revised 2005. Transcribed from a file provided by the BPS, and with the help of a volunteer. Minor revisions were made in accordance with the ATI style sheet. Pali diacritics have been omitted. Last revised for Access to Insight on 30 November 2013.

Chilies the original traveler.

TIME’s Summer Journey

 

Legends of Somdet Toh by Thanissaro Bhikkhu [dana/©] 2006-2014

Legends of Somdet Toh
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
 

Somdet Toh — his formal title was Somdet Budhacariya (Toh Brahmaransi) — was probably the most famous and widely loved monk in nineteenth century Thailand. A skilled meditator closely associated with the royal family, he was famous for many reasons, but his wide popularity rests on two things: Despite his rank, he was easily approachable to people on all levels of society; and he made amulets that — because of his meditative prowess — were reputed to be very powerful. He was also famous for his wisdom and wit. Since his death, in 1872, a cult has grown up around his memory, with many mediums throughout Thailand claiming to channel his spirit.

At the same time, many legends have grown up around his name. Here are a few of my favorites. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but they all carry a good lesson, which is why they merit passing on.

Somdet Toh was an illegitimate son of a nobleman who eventually became King Rama II. The story goes that one day in 1787 or 1788, when the nobleman was in northern Thailand cleaning up after the Burmese invasion, he happened to get separated from his troops. As he rode along on his horse, he came across a house with a young woman about sixteen years old standing in front. Thirsty, he asked her for some water. She went to the well, got a bowl of water — in Thailand in the old days, they would drink water out of a bowl, rather than out of a glass — and crushed a lotus flower over the bowl, sprinkling the stamens all over the surface of the water. Then she handed the bowl to him as he was sitting on his horse. He took one long look at the stamens on top of the water and then had to drink the water very carefully so as not to swallow them. As he handed the bowl back to her, he asked her, “Was that a trick?”

“No,” she said. “I saw that you were so thirsty that you might gulp the water down and end up choking on it. So I figured this would be a good way to make sure that you drank slowly.”

Well. He asked her, “Are your parents around?” So she fetched her parents. They didn’t know who he was, but he was obviously a nobleman, so when he told them, “I’d like to have your daughter,” they gave their consent. So she joined the king in the army camp, but as the campaign was ending he said to her, “I’m afraid I can’t take you down to the palace with me, but in case you do have a child by me, here’s my belt. Give the child my belt and I’ll know that it’s my child. I’ll take care of him or her in the future.” So he left her and went down to Bangkok.

Her whole family soon followed down to Bangkok when they discovered that she actually was pregnant. They moved onto a floating house moored on the bank of the Chao Phraya River in front of a monastery, Wat In. She gave birth to a son and named him Toh, which means “large.” When he was old enough, he was ordained as a novice. A few years later, when the nobleman had become King Rama II, the family took Novice Toh to Wat Nibbanaram — currently Wat Mahathaad, a temple right across the road from the Grand Palace — and showed the belt to the abbot. The abbot took the belt to the king and the king said, “Yes, that’s my son.” So he later sponsored Novice Toh’s ordination as a monk.

When Prince Mongkut — later Rama IV — was ordained as a monk, Phra Toh was his “older brother monk,” the one who gave him his initial training in Dhamma and Vinaya. Soon after Prince Mongkut’s ordination, his father died, and although by birth Prince Mongkut was next in line for the throne, the Privy Council chose one of his half-brothers to reign as Rama III instead. When this happened, Phra Toh decided it would be wise to leave Bangkok, so he went into the forest. Prince Mongkut stayed on as a monk for 28 years, until Rama III passed away. He was then offered the throne, so he disrobed and was crowned King Rama IV.

Soon after his coronation he sent out word to fetch Phra Toh back to Bangkok. Officials went into the forest, dragging back any monk they could find, and asking, “Is this the monk?” “No.” “Is this the monk?” “No.” Finally word got to Phra Toh, and he came out voluntarily. The king gave him the title of Somdet — which, next to the Supreme Patriarch, is the highest title a monk can hold — and put him in charge of Wat Rakhang, the monastery across the river from the palace.

Rama IV is remembered as a wise and humane king. Somdet Toh’s own epithet for him — in a brief poem he wrote summarizing the history and prophesizing the future of the Chakri (Bangkok) dynasty — was that he maintained or embodied the Dhamma. And Rama IV’s desire to have Somdet Toh near the palace is an indication of his wisdom. He knew that, as king, he would have trouble finding people fearless and selfless enough to tell him frankly when he was wrong, and so he wanted his former teacher nearby to perform this function.

But even as the king’s former teacher, Somdet Toh had to exercise tact and skill in criticizing the king.

One story tells that one day early in his reign, the king — and remember, he had been a monk for twenty-eight years — was sitting out on the boat landing in front of the palace drinking with his courtiers. So Somdet Toh came paddling across the river in a small boat. The king, displeased, said to him, “Here I’ve made you a Somdet. Don’t you have any respect for your title? How can you paddle your own boat?” The Somdet replied, “When the king of the country is drinking in public, Somdets can paddle their own boats.” Turning around, he paddled back to Wat Rakhang. That was the last time the king drank in public.

Another time, Rama IV felt that since Thailand had been laid waste by the Burmese, many ancient Thai customs had disappeared, so new customs should be developed to replace them. So he decided, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a boat parade at the end of the rains retreat? Every monastery in Bangkok will be responsible for decorating a boat, and we’ll have a contest to reward the best-looking boat.” So the royal decree went out that every monastery in Bangkok had to decorate a boat for the parade.

When the day for the parade came, a long line of beautifully decorated boats floated past the royal reviewing stand — except for one, a little canoe carrying a monkey tied to a leash with a sign on its back. The king’s immediate reaction was anger: “Somebody’s making fun of me.” He had his officials check the roster to see which monastery was responsible for the boat, and it was Wat Rakhang, Somdet Toh’s monastery.

So they took the sign off the monkey to see what it said. It said, “Willing to lose face in order to save cloth,” which rhymed in Thai, but didn’t make any more sense in Thai than it does in English. A few days later, the king invited Somdet Toh into the palace for a meal and a Dhamma talk, after which he asked him, “Suppose someone sponsored a boat with a sign like this on the back of a monkey. What do you think it might mean?” And the Somdet said, “Well, it might mean that monks don’t have any resources of their own to decorate boats and it’s certainly not appropriate for them to ask for donations from laypeople to decorate boats, so the only course left open to them would to have been to put their robes in the pawn shop. So they were willing to lose face in order to save their robes.” That was the last time the parade was ever held.

Another story concerns a funeral in the royal palace. Funerals in the palace could go on for a hundred days before the cremation. Every night they’d invite four monks to chant. The famous, high-ranking monks would chant toward the beginning of the hundred days, and by the end of the period they were getting down into the ranks of the junior monks. One night toward the end of this particular funeral they invited four young monks who had never seen the king before in their lives. And this was back in the days when if the king said, “Off with your head!” it was off with your head. So they were nervous about their performance. After all, the king had been a monk for 28 years. He would know if they made any mistakes in their chanting.

Finally the king entered the room, followed by his entourage. Now, Rama IV had a rather stern and fearsome appearance, and as soon as the monks took one look at him they went running behind a curtain. This infuriated the king. “What is this? Am I a monster? An ogre? What is this? Disrobe them immediately!” So a royal decree was written up and sent over the river for Somdet Toh to disrobe the monks. He happened to be sitting at a writing table, next to a small altar where incense was burning. Taking one look at the royal decree, he placed it over a stick of incense, burned three holes in it, and sent it back across the river to the palace. The king, of course, had studied Buddhist doctrine; he knew what the three fires were: the fire of passion, the fire of anger, and the fire of delusion. The Somdet’s message was, “Put them out.” So the monks didn’t have to disrobe. That’s how you criticize a king.

Once, however, Somdet Toh didn’t get away with criticizing the king. There is a tradition recorded in the Apadanas that the Buddha’s clan, the Sakyan clan, started from a time when the sons and daughters of a particular king had to leave their country. They took up residence in Kapilavastu, the area that eventually became the Buddha’s home. After building their city and settling in, they looked around the area for spouses but couldn’t find anyone who was high-born enough for them to marry. So the brothers ended up marrying their own sisters. That’s the tradition recorded in the Apadanas to explain the name of the Sakyan — “One’s Own” — clan.

One day Somdet Toh was giving a talk on this topic in the royal palace, and after discussing this point he continued, “Ever since then it’s become a custom among royal families. Uncles go running after their nieces, cousins go running after their cousins…” Now, Rama IV’s major queen was his niece, so again he was furious. “You cannot stay in this country!” he said. So Somdet Toh was banished from Thailand. Now, in Thailand the civil law does not extend into the sima, the territory immediately around ordination halls. For instance, if a thief goes running into a sima, the police have to get the abbot’s permission before they can go into the sima after him. So the Somdet returned to Wat Rakhang and moved into the ordination hall. For about three months he didn’t set foot outside the sima.

Meanwhile, the king had forgotten all about the banishment order, and one day he said, “We haven’t had Somdet Toh over for a talk in a long time. Let’s invite him over.” So the invitation went across the river to the monastery, but word came back, saying “I cannot set foot in this country, remember?” “Oh,” the king said, “I forgot.” And he lifted the banishment order.

So it wasn’t an easy thing to criticize kings in those days. Even if you were his personal teacher, you had to be careful.

Of course, not all of Somdet Toh’s comments about the king were critical. After all, the respect he felt for the king was what had inspired him to leave the forest to be of help in the first place.

One of the most famous stories about their relationship concerns a Dhamma talk Somdet Toh gave in the palace. Palace Dhamma talks were highly ritualized affairs. The talk was expected to be long and literary, preceded with and followed by many elaborate chants and other formalities. Once Rama IV invited Somdet to present such a talk and had prepared an especially large pile of offerings to be presented to the Somdet after the talk — a sign that he was looking forward to an especially long and learned disquisition, to test the Somdet’s knowledge of the Dhamma. After the beginning formalities, however, Somdet Toh said only one sentence: “The king already knows everything there is to know.” Then he chanted the ritual passages to conclude the talk and returned to his seat on the dais, quiet and composed. Immensely pleased, the king presented him with the offerings, commenting that that was the best Dhamma talk he had ever heard. (Ajaan Lee tells the story that later another monk tried the same trick, but with different results: The king was so offended that he had the monk stripped of his ecclesiastical titles.)

At another, similar event at the palace, Somdet Toh began the closing blessing with the standard chant:

Yatha varivaha pura
Paripurenti sagaram
Evameva ito dinnam
Petanam upakappati…

Just as rivers full of water fill the ocean full,
Even so does that given here benefit the hungry ghosts…

As he reached this point in the chant, the king in a very unusual breach of Buddhist etiquette called out, “Why are you giving all the merit to the hungry ghosts? What did they do to deserve it?”

Somdet Toh, without missing a beat, backed up to change the last line:

Evameva ito dinnam
Sabbam rañño upakappati…

Even so does everything given here benefit the king…

The king, who was fluent in Pali himself, was delighted with the Somdet’s ability to think on his feet.

There are many other legends concerning Somdet Toh that don’t deal with the king. Ajaan Fuang, my teacher, especially liked to tell a story of how Somdet Toh dealt with high-ranking lay people who would visit monasteries and waste the monks’ time in idle conversation.

Somdet Toh ate his meals in a small open pavilion in front of his dwelling. If a stray dog wandered past, he would toss a little food to the dog — which meant that, over time, a whole pack of dogs would regularly come to sit around him at his meal time, waiting for food. This meant that if any high-ranking lay people wanted to come pay their respects and chat with him while he was eating, they’d have to bow down to the dogs as well. As a result, only the people who weren’t too proud to bow down to the dogs got to talk to him during his mealtime.

Another story concerns a wealthy layman who wanted to invite Somdet Toh to his house for a meal and a Dhamma talk. Events like this would often be fairly public, with the donor inviting many friends and relatives to participate in the meal offering and to hear the talk. So the layman sent his servant to convey the invitation to Somdet Toh, saying that he wanted Somdet Toh to give a talk on a lofty topic, the four noble truths. Now, it so happened that the servant wasn’t familiar with the term, “four noble truths” — which in Thai is ariyasat. To him, it sounded like naksat, or zodiac. So he told Somdet Toh that his master wanted to hear a Dhamma talk on the zodiac. The Somdet knew that this couldn’t possibly be right, but the servant’s mistake amused him, and he decided to use it as an opportunity to make a Dhamma point — and have a little fun at the same time.

When the day for the talk arrived, he went to the layman’s house and, after the meal, got up on the sermon seat and began the talk by saying, “Today our esteemed host has invited me to deliver a Dhamma talk on the zodiac.” He then proceeded to describe the twelve houses of the zodiac in a fair amount of detail. Meanwhile, the master was staring daggers at the servant. After finishing his description of the zodiac, the Somdet then added, “But, regardless of what house of the zodiac people are born into, they are all subject to suffering.” With that, he switched to the four noble truths — and probably saved the servant’s job.

Another time some Christian missionaries came to visit the Somdet. One of the missionary strategies in those days was to show off their knowledge of science so as to dazzle the heathens, win their respect, and possibly win converts. With Somdet Toh so closely associated with the king, perhaps they thought that if they could convert him, the king might be converted as well. So they discussed various scientific topics with him, and finally touched on the fact that they had proof that the world was round. The Somdet, instead of being surprised, said, “I know. In fact, I can show you where the center of the world is.” This surprised the missionaries, so they asked him to show them. He got up, took his staff, went out in front of his hut, and planted the staff firmly on the ground, saying, “Right here.”

“But how could that be?” they asked him.

He answered, “If the world is round, it’s a sphere, right? And any point on the surface of the sphere is as central as any other point on the surface.”

After that, the missionaries left him alone.

On the final day of the Rains retreat in 1868, Rama IV passed away. His eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn, who was now Rama V, was only fifteen years old. As a result, the running of the government was placed in the hands of a Regent — Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag) — who was to hold this office until Rama V reached maturity. (In a later reminiscence, Rama V stated that during this period he lived in constant fear of being assassinated.) Shortly after the Regency was instituted, Somdet Toh — who was now 80 — appeared at the Regent’s palace in the middle of a sunny day, carrying a lit torch that he held aloft with one hand, and a long, narrow palm-leaf Dhamma text that he carried at a backward-sloping angle under his other arm. After he had walked through the palace halls in this way, word reached the Regent. The Regent respectfully approached Somdet Toh and asked him to take a seat, after which he assured him that he understood the Somdet’s message: He would not allow his deliberations to be overcome with the darkness of defilement, and he would hold to the Dhamma as a rudder while steering the ship of state.

Four years later Somdet Toh passed away.

Provenance:

The source of this work is the gift within Access to Insight “Offline Edition 2012.09.10.14”, last replication 12. March 2013, generously given by John Bullitt and mentioned as: ©2006 Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
 
Transcribed from a file provided by the author.
Translations, rebublishing, editing and additions are in the sphere of responsibility of Zugang

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe Thai Lifestyle

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Author: Pen Drageon

Discover Thailand with Thailand Discovery

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe
 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe. It is a cat’s world out there. Forget the likes of Garfield when you can mingle with these adorable felines for real at the Fat Cat Cafe Club in Bangkok. A whole cafe dedicated to cats and their owners in the heart of the city is a welcome change. Most city dwellers in Bangkok live in flats, apartments or condos that do not permit animals or only small animals such as toy sized dogs and cats. Most of these animals are home-bound, seldom seeing the outsides of their homes and with little opportunity to mingle with others of their kind. This provided a niche opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to come up with ingenious ideas of cafes for one’s favorite pet.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The Fat Cat Cafe Club is one such cafe for cats in Bangkok, nestled among high rise apartments and condominiums, it provides a sanctuary for owners to bring their cats for a time out of their abode. Occupying the ground floor of a corner shop lot, the owners of the cafe has provided a much needed service where the felines can roam free inside and play with all manner of climbing poles and simulated tree houses to mixing with other fellow felines and getting acquainted. Aptly considered a club, the owners are just as proud to bring their well-groomed charges for much needed quality time outside while they exchange stories about them and chat with members who have similar interest.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

This cafe prides itself on cleanliness …for the cats! Humans have to desensitize their hands and remove their shoes in a cordoned off entrance way before entering the cafe so as not to cause the felines any illness or discomfort. Therefore, priority is not on you but your cats! There are toys and cushions to make these pets feel right at home and they occupy any place they like in the cafe.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

This cafe is mostly frequented by the younger generation of city dwellers, some with more than one cat who come quite frequently from the familiar greetings of the owners when they step into the cafe. You can be here all day if you like as there are kitty litter trays provided and even cat meals if you require them for your pet.

Off course if you are wondering “what about for their humans”, yes there is a small menu selection of snacks and desserts to keep you munching your time away or free WiFi for you to use while you wait until your dear cat feels like going home or the cafe closes.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The resident cat at the cafe reminds me of the famous Grumpy Catand he obviously does not like to be carried by strangers even though he seems adorable. Cats by nature are nocturnal and can be very lethargic in the day time which is why we noticed quite a number of them sleeping contentedly in the cafe. Some were playing with the floor to ceiling climbing poles or just feeling happy to be paid extra attention by their owners.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The cafe itself has everything catty right down to cat cushions and colorful wall murals. Most owners are happy to sit on the floor with their cats. All the cats here seemed well-fed and chubby so there is no lack of attention paid to them.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Mr Grumpy here keeping an eye on things from the cashier counter. Seems to be his favorite spot where he has a commanding view of the whole cafe. Then again, he is after all the master of the cafe!

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

This cat reminds me of my own fat cat back home with exact colours and size. Cats can be very intuitive as well as social snobs. Their fierce independence gives them an air of aloofness and dignity plus they are very clean creatures when it comes to toilet time being particular to have a clean sandbox.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe.

Masters of the cafe making sure the rest tow the line as it would seem in this picture. Short of using the cash register to ring up sales, this pair could pass for counter staff.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

A beautiful Onyx stripped cat belonging to a customer, too lazy to move and just watching the others go by. Cats have priority where they want to be in the cafe and you, the human, has to make way for them.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

A lady and her pet enjoying time together. The cats need not be on a leash but maybe this lady likes to keep her pet close by. This is a very typical Thai lifestyle among the new generation of Thai city dwellers which is why if you walk the Chatuchak weekend market, you will find a whole section dedicated to pets and pet accessories as well as many pet shops that has sprouted in almost every nook of Bangkok.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

A pair of sleeping beauties cosy up together on a play track. Simply adorable just watching them sleep without a care in the world except to be loved, eat, sleep, play and poop. Aaahhhh …. a cat’s life it is!

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The lady owner with one of the prize cats. Look at the size of this beauty, almost the size of a small dog. The Fat Cat Cafe Club is most definitely dedicated to cats and cat lovers in Bangkok who cannot get enough of these adorable yet very independent creatures.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Whoever said that black cats were bad luck, seems that this particular one is enjoying plenty of good luck. With blazing green eyes it keeps a wary watch over incoming visitors to the cafe and probably checking out the competition.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Cat lovers can now add a new favourite cafe to their list with the establishment of such feline friendly places in the city. It makes sense to have such cafes in the city where after all we have fun gyms and parks for children, so why not for our favourite pets!

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

In my short time there I was given the opportunity to cuddle up to these wonderful beauties as well as to hear numerous cat related stories about almost every cafe cat there on the premise.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

I am sure there are quite a number of these animal friendly cafes in Bangkok city that provides a welcome change from regular cafes that are not pet friendly, especially for those who would like to bring their pets out with them. There are also dog friendly cafes available similar in concept to this cat cafe. Many owners especially here in Thailand keep small pets to be companions in a bustling city that has many stress related jobs and lifestyles, so their pets are a way of distraction for their mundane everyday routines. Some would consider their pets as family members or even as “children” and dress them in clothes or walk them in baby prams at department stores or markets. One thing is for sure, Thai people adore their pets and lucky are the creatures that end up with a very pampered lifestyle here in the Big Mango!