Although the Department (later Ministry) of Education was founded in 1887, monasteries remained centres of basic education until nationwide primary education became compulsory in 1921. In many remote areas today, monks conduct daily classes for village children. In 1973 there were more then 9,000 of these schools.
Besides being teachers, many of the orange-robed, tonsured Buddhist monks are experts in the use of herbal medicines. They distribute Buddhist amulets and per-form exorcisms in a role that survives from the antique animist period. Amulets and exorcism represent an accretion of pre-Buddhistic animistic beliefs on the main body of Buddhist thought. The amulets are tiny Buddha images worn around the neck to ensure good fortune, provide protection and enhance wealth. Although almost universally revered in Thailand, Buddha amulets are nowhere mentioned in Buddhist scriptures.
Another vital village ‘monastic service’ is counselling. Abbots and senior monks are often requested to arbitrate local disputes. Their monastic prestige is considered sufficient guarantee that equitable resolutions will be forwarded and accepted. Before ordination, many senior monks have led active secular lives raising their own families and farming. Thus, familiar with temporal problems and able to empathize, they are uniquely qualified to fashion and maintain social harmony, employing their considerable moral authority, if necessary, to gently admonish miscreants before minor disputes escalate.
Buddhist monks have always been accorded great respect for renouncing worldly pleasures and seriously undertaking study of the Buddha’s teaching to attain ‘perfect manhood’.
Thai Buddhist monkhood differs from that of other religions in severals ways. In Thailand’s tropical climate, the monk’s austere life is never unduly severe. Though a monk is celibate and may not be touched by a woman, even his mother, his life is not totally cloistered. Meditating monks excepted, daily contact with the laity is commonplace, mostly during morning collections of alms beyond the monastery precincts, and at various ceremonies and festivals.
Monks abide by strict monastic discipline, observing 227 rules governing their behaviour. The breaking of the four principal rules - theft, homicide or inciting another to suicide, sexual relations or claiming magical powers - will result in immediate expulsion from the monastic order.
Unlike other monastic regimens, Buddhist monkhood does not demand manual labour of its monks. Physical work is re-cognized as having value in allaying destructive thoughts and desires. However, the Buddhist monk, preferring annihilation of temptation and craving to suppress them, elects to seek and destroy them through meditation.
Freedom of discussion is allowed. A Buddhist monk may question any part of the Buddha’s teaching He may study parts of the doctrine he feels important to his advancement and choose his own time to meditate. Except for the three months of the annual Rains Retreat, he is free to travel, a legacy from Buddhism's earliest days when the Buddha and his disciples led itinerant lives.
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Article Added on Wednesday, December 16, 2009
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