An Evaluation Of The Role Of Tradition And Cultural Heritage In Thai Buddhism

2113 words - 8 pages

As with most belief systems, tradition and cultural heritage in Buddhism influence an adherent’s way of life, by providing guidelines for “correct living”. The future of Buddhism is determined by the adherence to Buddhist tradition and the continuation of its particular cultural heritage. For the purpose of this essay, tradition is defined as a long established or inherited way of thinking or acting, and cultural heritage is defined as is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation.In this essay I will focus on the role of Buddhism in Thailand, and how the absence of “pure” Buddhism has led to a compromise of both Buddhist and traditional Thai ideology. The place of gender roles in Buddhism and how Thai roles continue or challenge tradition will be evaluated, as well as how changing Thai ideology in relation to modernisation will affect many aspects of Buddhism and its cultural heritage.Before analysing a particular society, one must understand the principles of Buddhism itself. Buddhism has its origins in India, sending out many missionaries into parts of Asia during the second and first centuries BCE. Buddhism was firmly established in the southern and central provinces of Thailand by the sixth century AD. Thai Buddhists have adopted the school of Theravada (often referred to as the Southern tradition), based on the Pali canon. It is thought that this school was developed in Thailand during the thirteenth century AD, sponsored by King Ramkham-haeng.Theravada Buddhism translates to “teaching of the elders”, and aim to practice the original form of Buddhism handed down by Buddha. This form of Buddhism was established during the third century BCE in order to “purify” the religion, and developed the Pali canon, which contains the Tripitaka (Hooker, 1996). Advocates of Theravada Buddhism adhere to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, and emphasises monastic life and meditation. The ultimate goal of Theravada is freedom from suffering, and eventually attainment of nirvana, a state of enlightenment that frees one from the cycle of reincarnation.As Buddhism is a belief system not confined to one nation, the pre-existing traditions of a society will impact on interpretations and practices. As H. Leedom Jefferts asserts, “Buddhism cannot be abstracted from its cultural context as if it existed alone” (Banks Findly 2000, p.63). It is estimated that currently about 95 per cent of Thai people claim adherence to Buddhism (CIA World Factbook, 2007). There have been recent attempts to install Buddhism as the state religion, which will be discussed in more detail later. Although this number is significantly high, the observance of “pure” Buddhism is uncommon. In this sense, it is important to understand how long sustained Thai tradition differs to that of Buddhism.The ways in which the ideology of the greater Thai...

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