Sometimes Thai Buddhism can seem full of contradictions – at least to me anyway. The vast majority of the population in Thailand is reported to be Buddhist (same claim the figure to be as much as 96%) yet there seems to be a lot in the country that could strike the newcomer as a bit un-Buddhist. I know that one of the things that disappointed me from the beginning was that Thailand still had the death penalty. I would say that the vast majority of Thai people are decent folk, but there are those who act in ways that might be considered far from the teachings of the Buddha. How does all this reflect on Thai Buddhism?
How Thailand Has Changed My Views on Buddhism
Over the years my ideas about Thai Buddhism have changed – in the beginning I didn’t want to see the faults and later felt a bit disappointed when they could no longer be ignored. Like many westerners I approached Buddhism from a Judeo-Christian viewpoint – even though I’d abandoned Christianity in my teens. I still had this idea in my head that some acts were sinful; the reality is that sin as such does not really exist in Buddhism. You make your choices and live with the consequences – karma is value free.
The Buddha taught his followers that actions will have consequences. If you make positive choices then the results will be good but if you make negative choices the results will be bad. There is no final judgment day and all karma will eventually be distinguished – at least according to some Buddhist scholars. The Buddha’s path provides various tools that can help people avoid the worst of the negative consequences of karma. Those who have the inclination can strive for enlightenment and they will no longer be at the mercy of this force.
I would say that most Thai people are no real interest in achieving enlightenment; at least not in this life anyway. They are happy to just go along doing the best they can now and trying to sow a few good seeds for the future. They believe that bad karma can take years to get you back and it might not even occur in this current life – most Thai Buddhists firmly believe in rebirth. Some would be quite happy to do something ill-advised now, and accept that at some stage they will need to pay the price; like choosing to get drunk even though you know that you will need to suffer a hangover the next day. There is also the view that you can reduce the consequences of doing something wrong by doing lots of good as well – a sort of karmic balancing act.
What do you think?
Is Thai Buddhism full of contradictions?