Ethics, spirituality, religion - Thailand (part one)
Naturally the main force shaping the Thai remains Buddhism. Its most important core values stay unchanged - respect for other people, kindness, and exceptional modesty characterise practically everyone. Greetings and thanks are accompanied by a kind smile and a bow. The Thai happily initiate contact, ask if they can help and engage in providing the most accurate directions. Law enforcement often provides that kind of support as well, in addition to focusing on controlling the chaos on the road.
Particular respect is extended towards the elderly, which might be best illustrated by the presence of special airport staff dedicated to transporting tired seniors in carts, free of charge. Another essential element of that ethic is also their respect for work. The Thai approach all occupations with commendable, albeit exhausting in the long run, enthusiasm. Even such tedious jobs as guarding or reception work.
Regardless, the Buddhist pillars of Thai mentality are not exactly firm. There is no extensive list of do’s and don’ts, no complicated mythology. Perhaps it is that simplicity and universality which allows them to remain so well entrenched in the mass society of the 21st century. Even the most westernised - and by that we mean mainly those Americanised and fascinated by the glamour and culture of individualism - underneath their new standards maintain the key values of Buddhism in their hearts.
Naturally the instances of tourist scams are also widespread. The causes of such behaviour should definitely not be linked to the Buddhist ethic, but rather to the toxic relationship between the representatives of the rich Northern and Western countries, and the citizens of former colonies, now changed by the needs of the tourists. It’s not an exclusively Thai or Asian feature but a more general phenomenon linked to the worst aspects of modern tourism. Arriving in Bangkok we might then expect such attitude from some of its inhabitants. Travelling inland, where tourism hasn’t yet left its mark, we will surely be able to thoroughly re-examine those assumptions.
Going back to religion itself, the above image doesn’t mean that Buddhism is forcing its way into every aspect of life. It’s more of a neutral cultural backdrop, a groundwork for the upbringing. It’s worth mentioning that Buddhist shrines can be found alongside the streets, by the shopping centres, next to shops whose owners wish to ensure good fortune for themselvesand point out their cherished values.
It’s not unusual to see a glowing incense stick or someone praying at the shrine. All of that, however, despite taking place entirely in the public sphere, seems to be separated from it with a barrier of privacy respected by everyone. We didn’t notice any specific manifestations of religious expression and our conclusion so far is to appreciate the Thai ability to keep one’s spiritual dilemmas and reflections to oneself, without disrupting the privacy of others.
Religious priests, i.e. monks, are treated with utmost respect. Despite their use of public transportation and general presence in the social life they seem very removed and isolated, focused on performing the rituals and quiet life of contemplation. Which doesn’t mean they renounce modernity completely - more than once we noticed traditionally dressed monks using iPhones.
Does it mean a slow erosion of the monk ethos? Probably not, we see it more as a desire to catch up with the world not to be left entirely on its margin with the values which monks represent.
Text from projektazja.pl