More than 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Indian Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained Enlightenment and founded the great Eastern religion, Buddhism. Gradually spreading through Asia,
Buddhism became the dominant spiritual force in Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, Ceylon, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, where it was responsible for moulding attitudes, tempering morality, colouring customs and inspiring some of the world's finest art, sculpture and architecture.
Buddhism first appeared in Thailand during the 3rd century B.C. when missionaries despatched by the Buddhist Indian emperor Ashoke (267-227 B.C.), visited Nakom Pathom, today a provincial capital and site of the world's tallest Buddhist monument. Once established, Buddhism proved a durable and persuasive force, so much so that the Mons migrating into the area during the Dvaravati period readily adopted it as a complement to the Brahmanism they already practised.
At its inception in 600 B.C., Buddhism had been a reaction against Brahmanism, the major contemporary Indian religion which would later be absorbed by Hinduism.
Buddhism eschewed Brahmanism’s emphasis on caste, on dogma regarding sacrifice, ritual and asceticism and its pantheon of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Pre-server) and Shiva (the Destroyer). At the same time, it modified Brahmanic concepts of karma and rebirth.
Brahmanism answered the needs for formalized celebration of man as a higher being. Later, associated with the monarchy, it provided ceremonies governing court etiquette, hierarchy and ritual. Important aspects of Brahmanism touch every present-day Thai. The traditional and formal Thai wedding ceremony is entirely Brahman in origin. Brahmans still preside over various royal Thai court rituals and Brahman shrines can be found throughout the country.
Buddhism also made deep inroads into the animist beliefs which had held sway in the Menam Chao Phya basin. Despite its popularity, it never entirely supplanted them. Through animism one could placate rampant, vengeful spirits. Buddhism, on the other hand, spoke to the individual's inner being and provided him with direction in ordering his daily life. More importantly, it gave an explanation for his existence and offered hope for a better life in future incarnations.
Briefly, Buddhists believe that one’s life does not begin with birth and end with death, but is a link in a chain of lives, each conditioned by volitional acts (karma) committed in previous existences. The concept of karma, the law of cause and effect, suggests that selfishness and craving result in suffering. Conversely, compassion and love bring one happiness and well-being. Therefore, only by eliminating desire can one find peace of mind. The ideal Buddhist aspiration is to attain perfection through Nirvana, an indescribable, immutable state unconditioned by desire, suffering or further rebirth, In which a person simply is, yet is completely at one with his surroundings.
Later, the Thais moving southward from China similarly embraced Buddhism, finding it psychologically, emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Moreover, Buddhism was easily adopted because it did not conflict with animism or Brahmanic ritual but fulfilled needs not addressed by either.
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Article Added on Wednesday, December 16, 2009
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