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Thailand Religion

Throughout its history, Thailand has been characterized by its tolerance for alien religions and beliefs. Although census records that 94% of its populace are Theravada Buddhists, the country has always extended religious freedom to its subjects.

Throughout its history, Thailand has been characterized by its tolerance for alien religions and beliefs. Although census records that 94% of its populace are Theravada Buddhists, the country has always extended religious freedom to its subjects. Of the remaining 6% of the population, 3.9% are Muslims, 1.7% Confucianists, and 0.6% Christians (mostly hill-tribe people living in the north). Though the King is the designated protector of all religions, the constitution stipulates that he must be a Buddhist.

Buddhism, as practiced in Thailand, is not the other-worldly religion of Western conception. Here, ultimate salvation or nirvana, is a distant goal for most. Thai Buddhists pursue the law of "Karma". Meritorious acts are undertaken and demeritorious ones avoided so that one's future life may be improved. This is the law of cause and effect.

It is also important to draw a distinction between 'academic' Buddhism, as it tends to be understood in the West, and 'popular' Buddhism, as is practiced in Thailand. In Thailand, Buddhism is a 'syncretic' religion that incorporates elements of Brahmanism, animism, and ancestor worship.

One reason for Buddhism's strength is that there are few Thai Buddhist families where at least one male member has not studied the Buddha's teachings in a monastery. It has long been a custom for Buddhist males over 21 to be ordained for a period ranging from 5 days to 3 months, at least once in their lifetimes. This usually occurs during the annual Rains Retreat when all monks forego travel and stay inside the monasteries.

Besides sustaining monastic communities, Thai temples have traditionally served other purposes such as the village hostelry, village news, employment and information agency, school, hospital, dispensary, and community center. This gives them vital roles in the Thai society. In fact, the surprisingly high literacy rate in Thailand before universal education was introduced was explained by the presence of temple education.

Today, the Thai government still allows civil servants to take leave, on full pay, to enter the 'monk-hood' for 3 months!

 
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