Buddhism in Thailand
Two missionaries were sent by Emperor Asoka, Sona and Uttara, as
far back as over two thousand years ago to the Land of Gold (Suvarnabhumi).
This new land where the two Buddhist ambassadors landed was thought
to be the present site of Nakorn Pathom, because certain archeological
objects, dug out at this place, proved to belong to this period.
Pathom Temple, to the West of Bangkok, about 60 kilometres away,
is therefore supposed to be the most ancient Buddhist pagoda in
was said that in ancient times, when people were still very superstitious
and were accustomed to listening to the advice of astrologers, a
king called Phya Kong had a son called Phya Pan. When he consulted
the court astrologer about the future of his son, the astrologer
predicted that his son would grow up to kill his father. Fearing
lest this should come true, the king had his child drifted away
on a raft down the river. The baby was picked up by an old lady
called Hom, who brought him up to manhood. Phya Pan then went to
serve a neighbouring king who sent him on a campaign to annex all
the nearby territories. Phya Pan led his army to fight Phya Kong,
his own father, and killed him without knowing him. Thus the prophecy
Phya Pan knew of it, he was greatly distressed and sought the advice
of priests as to what he could do to make amends. The priests told
him to build a very big pagoda in honour of the Buddha, towering
as high as possible up into the sky, and thus the pagoda of Nakorn
Pathom was built. The
present pagoda is not the same as the old one, for it must have
tumbled down and put up again several times, the last time being
in the reign of King Mongkut, or Rama IV, when he discovered it
while he was wandering about as a priest, when he discovered it
in the midst of the jungle.
Nakorn Pathom over two thousand years ago was not Thailand. It was
then the Mon Kingdom of Dvaravati. The Thai emigrated from the south
of China to this part of the country only in the 13th century, when
they conquered the country from the Khmers and the Mons, and established
the Thai kingdom of Sukhotai in A.D. 1238.
was at the time flourishing in Ceylon, and there were learned Buddhist
monks coming to Nakorn Sitammarat. King Rama Kamhaeng of Sukhotai
(1275-1317) had learned that a Ceylonese monk had been invited into
Sukhothai from Nakorn Sitammarat to help spread the teachings of
the Lord Buddha to laymen. The Kings of Sukhothai fostered the new
religion, and one of its kings, Litai, the grandson of Rama Kamhaeng,
invited another learned monk from the Mon country to his kingdom.
Litai was a devout Buddhist, who also wrote treatises on Buddhism,
one of which was on cosmology called: "Tribhumigatha"
which still exists to this day.
Kingdom of Sukhothai gave place to the rise of another Thai kingdom
in the South, the Kingdom of Ayuthaya (1350- 1767). The kings of
Ayuthaya continued to encourage the study and worship of Buddhism
and built many pagodas, so that foreigners coming to Ayuthaya in
the 17th century could say that Ayuthaya was full of temples and
monks. Many temples were decorated with valuable Buddha images made
Ayuthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767, Buddhism declined through
the lax of discipline and loss of most of their religious books
through the flames. The new kings of Thonburi and Bangkok tried
to revive it by collecting the scattered religious books together,
purifying the conduct of monks, and promoting a heavy programme
of building temples and statues. Buddhism flourishes again during
the Ratanakosin (Bangkok) period. The most fervent and enthusiastic
king of the present Chakri Dynasty of Bangkok was King Mongkut (1851-
1868) who spent 27 years of his life as a Buddhist priest before
he came to the throne. During this period of priesthood, he studied
Pali, the sacred language of the Lord Buddha. So learned was he
that he was able to read all the teachings of the Lord Buddha in
the original Pali language. Then he discovered that so many things
in the Buddhist way of life and belief had greatly departed from
the practice during the days of Buddha himself. He therefore set
to purify the Buddhist texts, conducted new studies, and taught
new conducts which would bring the conduct of priests and the teaching
back into line with what the Buddha had actually taught in his days.
priests followed him in this new revised way of Buddhist life. Thus
a new school of Buddhist thought was established as a new force
in thailand, differing from the old form of practice. The new school
started by King Mongkut was called: Dhammayukti Nikaya, or the school
clinging steadfastly to the real Dharma of Law of the Buddha. The
old school, being still the majority in the country, was called
Mahanikaya ( meaning the greater sect). Thus there are now two Buddhist
groups in Thailand. They are not distinguishable from each other
except in the mode of putting on the yellow robes, mode of pronouncing
the Pali texts and certain forms of behaviour, e.g. the Dharmayukti
priest would go about in the streets outside the temple, barefoot,
without any sandals. The Mahanikaya priests still wear sandals.
In Bangkok (and Thonburi) there are only 30 Dharmayukti temples
as against 353 Mahanikaya temples.