From: Thailand. DONALD K. SWEARER. Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Ed. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003.
As part of the Indian cultural influence into "greater India," elements of
MAHĀYĀNA, TANTRA, and MAINSTREAM BUDDHIST SCHOOLS entered different regions of Thailand through the
Mon, the expansion of the Sumatran-based Śrivijāya kingdom into the southern peninsula, and the
growing dominance of the Khmer empire in the west. These diverse Buddhist expressions, in turn,
competed with Brahmanism, Hinduism, and autochthonous animisms. Rather than an organized sectarian
lineage, the early religious amalgam in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia might be more
accurately described as a syncretic collage of miraculous relics and charismatic monks, Hindu
dharmaśāstra, Brahmanic deities, Mahāyāna buddhas, tantric practices, and Sanskrit Sarvāstivādin and
Pāli Theravāda traditions.
Syncretism and tantric Theravāda
François Bizot describes the eclectic nature of Buddhism in premodern Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia as
a congruence of Vedic Brahmanism, tantrism, and a pre-Aryan Austro-Asiatic cult of guardian spirits and
protective divinities. Interacting with Mon Theravāda beliefs and practices, and possibly influenced by
the Mūlasarvāstivādins, it resulted in what Bizot has characterized as "Tantric Theravāda," identified with
a mystical tradition known as Yogāvacara (practitioner of the spiritual discipline). The features of this
tantric Theravāda, at odds with the stereotypical view of classical Theravāda, include identifying one's
body with the qualities of the Buddha; the use of esoteric syllables and words (DHĀRANĪ, MANTRA, yantra) to
represent the identity of microcosm and macrocosm; the dharmic potency of sounds and letters; and
esoteric initiation for the realization of both soteriological and mundane ends (Crosby).
Syncretism continues to define many Thai religious practices.
Temple festivals begin by invoking the guardian deities of the
four quarters, zenith, and nadir. Monastic ordinations are often
preceded by an elaborate spirit calling (riak khwan) ceremony.
Yantric tattoos and magical amulets are worn by the devout to
ward off danger. Offerings are made at the shrines of deities
protecting mountain passes, and elaborate altars to the Hindu
god Brahmā occupy a prominent place at the entrance to hotels.
In Chiang Mai, northern Thais inaugurate the New Year by
three sequential events: appealing to the spirit of a palladial
buddha image; invoking the god, INDRA, resident in the city
pillar; and sacrificing a buffalo to the spirits who guard the
mountains overlooking the valley. The veneration of King Rāma
V (Chulalongkorn, r. 1868–1910), which originated as a cult of
his equestrian statue before the parliament building in Bangkok, has spread nationwide. And, as if to
validate Bizot's theory of tantric Theravāda, Thailand's fastest-growing new Buddhist movement, Wat
Thammakāi, espouses a Yogāvacara form of meditation claimed by the founder to be an ancient method
rediscovered by the late abbot of Wat Paknām, a royal monastery located on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River.
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)
- Theravada texts
- Translations and history of Pali texts
- Sutta translations