Category Archives: Trip Report

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>

 

Fun at the Ban Toong Ting School

5/30 and 31/2018 – Ban Toong Ting School

On our third day at the school we got to teach an English lesson to the children. The little guys learned the colors of the rainbow, numbers 1-15, played games (Duck Duck Goose, Red Light Green Light, and Rock Paper Scissors), and sang English songs (Down by the Banks and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes). We split up into different grades and each classroom had 4-6 Westminster students teaching the lesson. Now, May, and Am, our Thai guides, floated from class to class to help translate our wordier instructions to the kiddos. Even with their help, there was some confusion and frustration, but nothing that charades and affirmative gestures couldn’t fix. Playing with the kids was a good ice breaker, as they seemed to be very weary of us up to that point. That afternoon, we walked the kids home from the school to the nearby village. It was a 1.5 mile walk, with bumpy, unpaved roads, lots of hills, and flip-flop-stealing mud. The kids do this trek every day, regardless of weather. Walking with the kids and seeing their homes offered us insight into their daily lives. These children live in conditions that a lot of Westerners looking in may consider insufficient as they are not consistent with our Western standards and expectations of housing. Still, the laughter of kids coming home from school could be heard and whole families were out on their porches together.

The last day at the school was spent having a field day with different outside games. The games we played ranged from modified basketball to more unique local games involving produce. There were relay races, an eating competition, a water balloon toss, and team sports. This was a great way to spend our last full day with the kids and teachers. Later that night, the students and teachers had put together a farewell dinner that included two dances and a short video that the school had made to show the changes Westminster students had made to the campus in the last five years we have been visiting. It was a very powerful video, moving some to tears. Four of the older girls that board at the school during the week did a traditional Lanna dance in beautiful garb. The younger kids dressed in traditional Karen outfits and preformed a less traditional, but still very fun, dance. After the performances the students went to bed and then it was karaoke time for the Westminster students and Bong Toong Ting teachers. The first few songs were American classics, but after a few the Thai teachers were coaxed on stage where they sang a well-known Thai song that our van drivers demonstrated the dance for.

Leaving on Friday morning was not easy, as many Westminster students had become very close with the children. There were some tears and a lot of heavy hearts. It was a difficult time for the Westminster teachers too, as they have been coming here for the last five years but it is time to move on to a new village. They do plan to stop for a shorter visit next year to visit with the school they have made such an impact on next year.

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.

HIV/AIDS Hospice

Lop Buri: HIV/AIDS Hospice

By: Kaycee Gilson & Hailey Muilenburg

IMG_1766.jpeg

•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•

IMG_1765.jpeg

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.