Monday, August 18, 2008

Thai Wisdom

Thai fine art (

Most Americans who ordain, or who have a teacher from former ordinations, have done so in the Thai Forest Tradition. Indeed, many Westerners have found Thailand to be very receptive to ordaining foreigners and providing English-speaking Western teachers of long standing -- Ajahn ("teacher") Brahmavamso, Amaro, Sumedho, Thanissaro, Khantipalo, and so on.

Ajahn Chah was the teacher that revolutionized the practice of training foreigners in the forest, particularly an international monastery set up for this purpose, Wat Pah Nanachat, which was made famous in the book What the Buddha Never Taught by its comedic Canadian-American author, the former monk Tim Ward, and the seminal Living Buddhist Masters by Jack Kornfield.

Thai Buddhism
Leslie Barclay (geocities)

Ajahn Chah
"Why are we born? We are born so that we will not have to be born again."

"If your mind is happy, then you are happy anywhere you go. When wisdom awakens within you, you will see Truth wherever you look. Truth's all there is. It's like when you've learned how to read -- you can then read anywhere you go."

Ajahn Chah (listen to the wisdom of his Dharma talks)

"People who suffer will accordingly gain wisdom. If we don't suffer, we don't contemplate. If we don't contemplate, no wisdom is born. Without wisdom, we don't know. Not knowing, we can't get free of suffering -- that's just the way it is. Therefore, we must train and endure in our practice. When we then reflect on the world, we won't be afraid like before. It isn't that the Buddha was enlightened outside of the world, but within the world itself."

"Remember you don't meditate to 'get anything', but to get 'rid' of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you 'want' anything, you won't find it."

"Everything is uncertain. Don't cling to anything."

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
"Using metaphors makes it easier for us to understand the matter we're discussing. So we will make use of them here today. The first prison which you must look for and see is life itself. If you look on life as a prison, and see the prison that it is, then we must say that you know the truth of nature quite well. Most people, however, look on life as something enjoyable, as an opportunity to have fun. They are willing to live for the enjoyment of life. They then become infatuated with and engrossed in life, which is what turns it into prison."

"Even the present life does not exist, How could the after-life exist?"

Ajahn Fuang
"Before you say anything, ask yourself whether it's necessary or not. If it's not, don't say it. This is the first step in training the mind. If you can't have any control over your mouth, how can you expect to have any control over your mind?"

"The breath can take you all the way to Nirvana."

"It's good that most people can't remember their previous lives. Otherwise, things would be much more complicated than they already are."


Two thousand years ago, the original ancestors of the people who now largely call themselves Thai migrated to the region now known as Thailand. These Thai tribes from Southeast China mixed over the centuries with local Mon and Khmer peoples as well as Malay, Indian, and Chinese immigrants. Each group brought with them bits of Buddhism from their native lands. These were the first Buddhist incursions into what was then likely an Animist culture.

Buddhism had begun about five centuries before that. (See -- "Who was the Buddha?" and See -- "The Teachings of the Buddha").

In the 12th century, Thailand received another infusion of Buddhism, and this one really took. Burmese and Thai monks traveled to Sri Lanka, where they learned and brought back Theravada Buddhism. These new ideas and practices effectively displaced the Mahayana Buddhism which had come earlier.

Early Thai kingdoms were ruled by enlightened kings who (symbolically) chose to share their throne with Buddhist monks, who acted to propagate the religion. Buddhism spread farther by the publication of works under royal patronage (including one great Thai volume of scriptures).

Buddhism influenced all aspects of Thai culture, from art and architecture to the moral outlook of the people. Following the decline of one kingdom, another flourished and so did Buddhism. Today travelers can wander the ruins and appreciate the beauty of Buddhism in Thailand.

Conquered and destroyed by Burma, Thai kingdoms were reestablished. Most kings have worked to support Buddhism as a foundation of Thai society. The very first king of the current dynasty, King Rama I, helped standardize the basic Buddhist temple rules and procedures throughout the country.

It is the custom of Thai kings (as well as all young men) to temporarily ordain as monks for a brief period when they are young. One king, Rama IV who reigned from 1851-1868, actually spent 27 years of his life as a monk (and abbot) before becoming a king. As king, he tried to purify Buddhism in Thailand and bring it back to its true essence. In so doing, he created a second sect of Buddhism in Thailand, the Dhammayut, or school clinging steadfastly to the Dharma and Rules. The monks belonging to this sect, for instance, walk about barefoot.

Today in a country of 60 million, there are said to be 30,000 Buddhist temples and 300,000 monks. Ninety percent of the people profess Theravada Buddhism.

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