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Religion in Thailand

Buddha

Wat Prathat Doi Kham – Temple of the Golden Mountain in Chiang Mai

 

Of the nearly 69 million people living in Thailand, the U. S. Department of State notes that the predominant religion practiced by about 94% of those 69 million people is Theravada Buddhism. 5% of Thai people are Muslim and the remaining 1% practice a wide range of other religions and atheism.

According to the Buddhist Society, Theravada Buddhism is the Southern School of Buddhism that is rooted in the scriptures of the Pali Canon. There are many different divisions of Buddhism practiced across Asia but Theravada is the type of Buddhism typically practiced in Thailand as well as in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia.  Compared to Mahayana Buddhism, which is seen in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia, Theravada is thought to be more like the original form of Buddhism started in India. It is a more strict adherence to the teachings and rules of Buddha about monastic activities. Nearly every village and town in Thailand have a monastery. What the focus of the monastery is, however, varies based on the town.

 

Buddhism has a goal of reaching self-enlightenment through meditation and the development of morality and wisdom. The Buddha, Siddharath Gautama, is looked to as a teacher but not worshiped like a god. There are no personal gods in this religion, as all of the focus is on the individual reaching the state of nirvana, the state in which there is no longer greed, hatred, and delusion and their pattern of being reborn to suffer worldly pains is broken. Those who reach this level are considered “enlightened”.

 

Islam is the only other major religion to see a significant following in Thailand. Despite a very diverse population, most Muslims residing in Thailand are Sunni. Although for the most part the two main religious groups, Muslim and Buddhist, have gotten along fairly well, there have been expanding tensions between the Thai government and Muslims in Southern Thailand.  Attempts by Muslim separatists to form the Islamic Patani Darussalam have resulted in violence. Roughly 18% of Thailand’s Muslim population resides in the southern provinces of Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, a region that was once a part of the Islamic Sultanate of Patani, a Malay-Islamic Kingdom that existed from 1516-1902. The fall of the Sultanate and subsequent annexation by the Kingdom of Siam saw a long period of exclusion, oppression, and scapegoating of Malay-Muslims in the 20th century, and an assimilation campaign that sparked heated nationalist sympathy. While official stance from the Thai government has become more accomodating in recent years, decades of repression and nationalism have culminated in the separatist insurgency of 2004 that has spurred armed violence in the south of Thailand for over a decade. Both ethnic and religious tensions play a major factor in the ongoing conflict, necessitating a more inclusive and diverse narrative in the spheres of politics, religion, and history.
Sources:

Amaro, A. (n.d.). The Buddhist Society: Theravada Buddhism. Retrieved from https://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/page/theravada-buddhism

BBC. (2009, November 17). Religions – Buddhism: Buddhism at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/ataglance/glance.shtml

Differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/buddhism/theravada-mahayana.html

  1. S. Department of State. (2005). Thailand. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2005/51531.htm

Hunter, M. (2015) The Islamization of Thailand. Asian Correspondent. <https://asiancorrespondent.com/2015/07/the-islamization-of-thailand/#C8ZXEMko82HxVbPw.97>

 

Kalasin Day 1

In Kalasin, on Saturday the 19th of May, we attended the traditional welcome ceremony conducted for visitors. The ceremony was particularly momentous due to our group being the first western visitors to come to the village in which we’re staying and be a part of the ceremony. It was overwhelming to be the subject of such attention, and to realize the extent to which our visit is an honor to the community. Receiving visitors in the U.S. is enjoyable and a compliment to both one’s self and one’s home, but in Thai culture and this relatively small community, hosting visitors holds far greater social significance.

Our arrival in Kalasin was the first time that many of us felt that we were in a completely different culture with different values and experiences. Arriving at the village was overwhelming. Before the trip we had been warned that our presence would attract attention but we didn’t know what that meant until arriving. We were greeted by the entire village waiting for us with fresh flower necklaces and were quickly rushed to the center of the crowd for the welcoming ceremony.

The ceremony itself consisted of a man acting as a monk representative performing  Buddhist incantations in ­Pali, an ancient language reserved for use in religious ceremonies. A central component of the ceremony was a white string passed around the most inner circle which we grasped between our thumbs. Even without great depth of knowledge of the significance of each component, we felt the emotional and spiritual significance of the process deeply.

After the incantations and group ceremony had finished, all the villagers were given a bundle of white strings to walk around and tie onto our wrists to symbolize blessings and welcoming us to Thailand. Each villager had their own style of giving a blessing. Some were serious, some shy, some were even silly and joking around with each other. Even with the formality of the ceremony, we were met with an introduction to the unwavering kindness of Thai people.

Initial Impressions Ban Toon Ting School

By Emily Halliday and Naomi Shapiro

After a four-hour van ride from Chiang Mai, all 29 of us hopped in the back of back of four-wheel drive pickup trucks for the last 45 minutes up the muddy, potholed, mountain road.  Upon arriving, Han and Peter mentioned how much the school has changed since their first trip here, 5 years ago. Many new buildings, such as the girl’s dormitory, have been built, and new roofing has been installed on many of the classrooms. Since this is Westminster students’ last year here, we were told to think about what we expected the school to be like. In reality, it was much better than many of us would have thought. The school looked to be in good shape and because of that a lot of us were unsure about what work we would actually be able to do there. The digs were very comfortable.  We all slept in dormitory like quarters which we called the “Gum Drop Villages”, because it was two large rooms with gum drop looking bug nets over all of the beds.  We were very excited to get settled in for our next 5 days at the school.

Gumdrop Village

In order to accommodate families living in more remote areas, Ban Toon Ting School is pretty isolated.  Although the school’s location is designed to serve the largest number of people possible, accessibility is still an issue because there isn’t organized transportation for the students.  Those who live the farthest away board at the school during the week, but others make the journey there and back each day.  One afternoon while we were staying at Ban Toon Ting, we walked with the kids to one of the villages that the school serves (about 1.5 miles away).  Just like in the U.S., once the bell marking the end of school rings, a mass of kids head for home.  A few get picked up by parents or siblings on motorbikes, but most are part of the horde walking.  All of the students were between kindergarten and 6th grade.  I was a little bit surprised by how small some of them looked.  They seemed far too young to be walking by themselves, but then I realized that the older kids were all looking out for the little ones.  As we walked with them, I was grabbed by the hand by a pair of second graders.  We picked flowers and jumped in puddles as we made the trek to the village.  As we passed different houses, kids peeled off and waved goodbye.  It was kind of like a big walking school bus.

Ban Toon Ting

 

HIV/AIDS Hospice

Lop Buri: HIV/AIDS Hospice

By: Kaycee Gilson & Hailey Muilenburg

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•HIV and AIDS•

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes destruction of the body’s immune system and defenses. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV. HIV/AIDS can not be cured but there are treatments to prolong life and provide comfort. HIV compromises immunity and ability to fight infections which may lead to terminal infections and cancers. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breastmilk. Common routes include vertical transmission (mother to infant) and horizontal transmission (sex between partners and IV drug use). Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to treat an infection but it cannot cure the patient of the virus. These drugs are often very costly and have many negative side effects. Efforts like this facility strive to prevent the spread of HIV by educating the public and reducing the stigma surrounding the illness.

•Purpose•

The HIV/AIDS hospice provides a safe community and environment for those with HIV/AIDS. The center serves to improve the patient’s physical, social, and spiritual needs. The center also aims to educate, raise awareness, and decrease stigma about HIV/AIDS.

•Museum•

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The first part of the tour was to the HIV/AIDS hospice museum. Fourteen donated human bodies occupied this space, ranging in age from childhood to adulthood. The museum contained ashes of over 10,000 individuals with HIV/AIDS. The ashes in the museum are a final resting place for individuals whose families refused them. The oldest of the remains are 20 years old. The bodies have been donated by the individuals to serve as a source of education and awareness. The museum housed mostly male and transgender individuals, but also included women and children. Prior to ART there were 1 to 2 deaths per day. Since the induction of ART, there are 1 to 2 deaths per month. Overall, the clinic has seen a decline in the number of individuals passing away with HIV/AIDS, but also a reduction in the number of new admits. The main focus of this museum was to provide education and awareness about HIV/AIDS.

•Clinic•

This hospice center has a maximum capacity of 150 people.  It is currently hosting 144 people. The center is divided into six sectors: male, female, family, end-stage AIDS, volunteer, and monk. The clinic covers all medical care including transportation and ARTs. There is one nurse and one doctor on staff. The patients receive weekly visits from the physician that resides in Bangkok. All other patient needs are taken care of by volunteers. If the hospice reaches capacity there is often a waitlist for those new admits. Individuals may be admitted by family that is unable or unwilling to provide care or if they are unable to provide care for themselves.

•Our Thoughts•

There is a lot of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, which is largely contributed to lack of education and cultural beliefs. The AIDS hospice provides a community free of social stigma and judgement that allows for collaboration among a select population. The patients did not seem “put off” by their location, but rather the status of their situation. The facility was kept clean and the patients seemed to be well cared for. The museum brought a lot of emotions to the surface of the students and created a very powerful statement about the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. A facility such as this one would not be possible in the United States: medical expenses would not be covered by the government and the facility would not be open for the public to tour.

Thai Massages

The techniques of healing-massage practiced in Thailand have evolved since the earliest roots of Thai massage, which coincidentally lie not in Thailand but in India. Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha was a contemporary of the Buddha and personal physician to the Magadha King Bimbisara over 2,500 years ago. This doctor from northern India is believed to be the founder of the art of Thai massage. He is also referred to as the “Father Doctor” and the Thai healers practice the ethics of giving thanks to the Father Doctor before and after massage. His teachings probably reached what is now Thailand as early as the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., which is around the same time as when Buddhism was introduced to Thailand.

Researchers report that Thai medicine is believed to have “Rural” and “Royal” Traditions. The rural traditions seem non-scholarly and rely on informal methods of education. The “Rural” tradition of healing seems to be passed down through generations with some secret code transmitted orally from the teacher to students. The “Royal” tradition of Thai medicine is believed to be developed at the royal court and shows influence from India, China, and the Muslim world. It seems to have a great influence from the Auravedic tradition from India.

It is very clear that the tradition of Thai massage was never seen merely as a job when looking back on its history. It was always considered to be a spiritual practice closely connected to the teachings of the Buddha. Massage was taught and practiced in the Buddhist temple until fairly recently; the establishment of legitimate massage facilities outside of the temples is a recent development.

“Metta” is the Pali (and Thai) word used in Theravada Buddhism to denote “loving kindness”. The giving of massage was understood to be a physical application of Metta and devoted masseurs still work in such a spirit today. A truly good masseur performs his art in a meditative mood. He starts with a Puja, a meditative prayer, to fully center himself on the work and the healing he is about to perform. He works with full awareness, mindfulness, and concentration. A massage performed in a meditative mood and a massage just done as a job are completely different. Only a masseur working in a meditative mood can develop an intuition for the energy flow in the body and for the Prana lines.

The limits of Western style medicine became apparent, bringing about a revival of interest in alternative health care in the West and to a certain extent also in Thailand and other countries of the East. Suddenly, in the late 1980s, Westerners discovered Thai massage in their search of traditional ways of treatment. Many people, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, masseurs, and yoga/meditation therapists, came to Thailand to supplement their knowledge with a training in traditional Thai massage. Additionally, people in thailand seemed to realize that for certain ailments like asthma, constipation, or frozen shoulders along with recovery after a heart attack or to regain mobility of the limbs after a stroke, Thai massage treatment is far superior to conventional medicine and therapy.

Furthermore, Thai massage differs from other massages because it focuses on major pathways of energy lines in the body called Sen lines. Thai culture teaches that if an energy line is blocked it will damage one’s mental and/or physical health. Below are pictures of Sen lines in the body, where energy is found. There are thousands of Sen lines in the body, and a few major lines. In order to unblock Sen lines, deep massaging and stretching techniques are applied to the troubled areas. The stretching done in Thai massage looks very similar to yoga. Traditionally, therapists have worked on unblocking Sen Lines with their thumbs because they are precise and can find Sen lines very easily. However, thumb injuries are very common when used too often so modern culture has adapted to use other parts of the body to massage as well. Thai massage therapists now commonly use the palms of their hands, elbows, and forearms because it is sustainable for a long period of time.

Sen LinesSen-Lines 2

Sen lines do not have a universal location on all bodies so Thai massage therapists have to locate the energy lines in the body for every person before working to their unblock energy lines. Thai massage is said to have major health benefits as a result of Sen lines being unblocked.

Working on Sen lines in the body through Thai massage is meant to speed up the healing of the body. Many health benefits of Thai massages include alleviation of muscle pains and fatigue, and mental and physical relaxation. Muscles that are in pain can be relaxed and stretched out by Thai massage stretches in combination with slight kneading. Stretching and massaging muscles at the same time also makes muscles more flexible and increases joint movement. Joint movement is increased because fluids are released into them through the unblocking of lymph nodes and spinal fluid throughout the body. A larger amount of fluid in the joints allows for more comfortable and swift movements. When Sen lines are unblocked this also creates increased blood circulation throughout the body. Blood circulation allows the body to become healthier and more immune to diseases because toxins can be released more quickly . Thai massages aid in relaxing the mind and increasing overall energy, and aids regular sleeping patterns. The Sen lines used in Thai Massage to target an individual’s energy are very beneficial for an individual’s overall health and wellbeing.

– Emily Riforgiate and Taylor Fuchs

thai massage man

Sources:

Kathy, et al. “Thai Massage and Traditional Sen Lines.” Thai Healing Massage Academy | Thai Massage Online Courses, 2018, thaihealingmassage.com/thai-massage-and-traditional-sen-lines/.

TFFS. “The Untold History and Benefits of Traditional Thai Massage.” Thefourfountainsspa, The Four Fountains Spa, 11 Apr. 2017, www.thefourfountainsspa.in/the-untold-history-and-benefits-of-traditional-thai-massage/.

Kitchen, the SimpleDifferent. “History and Origins of Traditional Thai Massage.” History and Origins of Traditional Thai Massage, http://www.sunshine-massage-school.com/history_of_traditional_thai_massage.html.

 

Sex Work in Thailand

History and Prominence

Prostitution has been common in Thailand and its predecessor states for centuries. From 1351–1767, prostitution was legal and taxed. It became illegal in 1960.

There are three acts governing prostitution in Thailand.

  • Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act
  • Penal Code Amendment Act
  • Entertainment Places Act of 1966

Sex work is a prominent component of contemporary Thai culture and the national economy, but as is true of virtually every culture, there’s a multi-faceted ethical, human rights based controversy surrounding the practice. Like many other nations, Thailand struggles to control sex trafficking, and some believe that finally putting a stop to the illegal yet prevalent industry is a key component of doing so.

Solicitation of sex has been illegal in Thailand since the 1960s. However, upon the onset of the Vietnam War and the subsequent influx of U.S. soldiers throughout Southeast Asia, the industry thrived. When the military left, tourists began to fill the void in the market that they’d left. Since then, Thailand’s sex industry has been openly, if reluctantly, tolerated by authorities.

In 2017, tourism minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul commented that she wants the country’s sex industry “gone.” Since then, Thai police have launched a series of raids on bars and clubs, the aim of which is to find and put a stop to trafficking and licensing breaches. While the raids are well intentioned, many fear the most immediate effect will be that, without a system in place to help women who prevented from doing sex work, thousands of families who depend on income from sex work will be forced deeper into poverty.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that over 80% of Thailand’s sex workers are single mothers, and that avast majority are supporting a combination of parents, grandparents, and sometimes siblings. The national wage is currently 300 Thai baht (approximately $8) per day, but even the lowest-paid sex workers can bring home twice that much, making it one of the few options for a economically and socially disempowered woman to support herself and her family. (https://www.newsdeeply.com/womenandgirls/articles/2017/02/09/sex-workers-face-poverty-thailand-announces-image-makeover)

Sex Worker Power

The push to enforce the illegal state of sex work in Thailand is motivated by desire to cease and prevent the abuse of sex workers, but simply enforcing the illegality of the practice would likely have a detrimental effect on those who the policy change seeks to assist. As is the case globally, Thai sex workers advocate for decriminalization of sex work in order to regulate the practice, like any other work environment. Currently the lack of regulation due to sex work being illegal and yet such a strong component of the Thai economy allows, and in fact incentivises, disempowerment and abuse of sexworkers. Among those pushing for regulation of sex work is The Empowerment Foundation, which is an organization that provides educational (law, human rights, medical) & legal resources to sex workers.

(http://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citylife-articles/what-sex-workers-want-you-to-know/)

Chiang Mai’s Can-Do bar is entirely run by sex workers in The Empowerment Foundation, which publishes research, personal experiences, and creative media about sexwork in Thailand, emphasizing personal empowerment and the importance of sex work to disempowered women.  (http://www.empowerfoundation.org/barcando_en.html) As Empower spokeswoman Liz Hilton described, “This is a group of women who are refusing the poverty they are supposed to live in. They want to take that chance, not just for themselves, but so they can bring their families, generationally, up out of poverty. So they’re the women buying the land, buying the tractor, sending kids to university, sending their brothers to the monkhood. They’re carrying the bulk of the family dream.” (https://www.newsdeeply.com/womenandgirls/articles/2017/02/09/sex-workers-face-poverty-thailand-announces-image-makeover) Through their work, Empower ultimately hopes to decriminalize sex work in order to achive regulation of labor for the protection of sex workers, much of which hinges on official legal seperation of sex work from sex trafficking. In this way, the national goal of stopping sex trafficking and protecting the rights & safety of sex workers can be achieved while maintaining the livelihoods of the thousands of sex workers thier and families who rely on the industry. (http://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citylife-articles/what-sex-workers-want-you-to-know/)

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Lila Weller, Manon Maurer, Mary Grace Lewis

 

Global Citizenship and Tolerance

By: Liz Behrens

When asked to consider the most important thing I have learned from my May Term Thailand trip the potential answers were endless as the trip has been a learning experience from start to finish. However, two of the more poignant and underlying themes of this trip were that of global citizenship as well as tolerance. I had some idea of what these things meant prior to going on this trip – but it was so much clearer after seeing both in practice. Continue reading Global Citizenship and Tolerance

Thai Kindness

By: Mariah Hartle

Going to a different country always has its expectations but mostly big unknowns. Thailand is no exception and as I expected my expectations were blown away by the Thai culture. As I sit in the United States, I notice the little things that can’t quite compare to what I have lived. With all that we did in Thailand and all the people we shared our lives with, one thing always comes back to me. It’s the thing when talking about Thailand I always over emphasis and want people to understand. Continue reading Thai Kindness

Final Reflection

By: Chloe Withers

Before leaving for Thailand Han and Peter kept saying the moments that will have the greatest impact on you will be some of the hardest moments of the trip but that these would also be the moments that we learn and grow the most from. They were right. Thailand honestly changed my life in more ways than one. I’ve never been pushed so far outside of my comfort zone. It was a challenge but one I’m glad I didn’t shy from. I took my first little step outside my comfort zone as I walked onto the plan leaving San Francisco headed for Taipei. I was working my way out of my comfort zone while sweating more than I had ever done in my life all while watching children shoot off home made rockets towards the sky. Continue reading Final Reflection

Final Reflection

By: Lacy Carter

What did I learn on my trip to Thailand? Well the most important thing that I learned is that life can be very simple. You don’t need a lot to be happy or worth something. Family is very important whether they are your family by blood or they are just the ones that are always with you and helping you and you should always keep them close. I feel here in the U.S. we take a lot for granted and we think we are always owed something. Continue reading Final Reflection