Early Thai Religion

Ven. Tantra troyoga at YAHOO.COM
Sat May 20 01:55:53 UTC 2000

Thanking Lance Cousins who wrote:

"Information about Buddhist schools could have
important implications for the study of the Buddhist
schools in India; so this is not really off-list."

Certainly not "off-list." Three hundred years before
the Common Era, Indian kings already knew of the far
off land called Suvar�abh�mi. This almost mythical
�Land of Gold� was distinguished quite literally for
its immense reserves of gold and other natural
resources. Indeed, there are ancient Sanskrit
treatises that classify Cambodia as one of the great
sixteen states of India. It began no later than the
1st century CE, coinciding with the prosperous
Indianized kingdom of Funan.
In those days Cambodia was an overseas Hindu colony
called Kambuja-deZa. It seems to have achieved
near-epical acclaim as an Indo-Chinese El Dorado. The
highly fertile and well-watered region corresponded
roughly to the broad geographical basin that stretches
today from southern Burma eastward to the Mekong

My study was actually initiated by Guru Chod of
Bangkok(1900-1988), Thailand's great Yoga Master. Chod
was an ethnic Indian of Khmer Brahman genealogy.

It is not the so-called "Theravaada" Buddhist history
of Thailand that I am interested in at all. It is more
centered on the Khmer and therefore Brahmanical
influence. Prior to the thirteenth-century arrival of
Sinhalese Theravaada Buddhism to the area that is
known today as Thailand, manifold Hindu, Braahmanic,
Mahaayaanic, Vajrayaanic and Tantrayaanic sects
flourished side by side throughout the diverse and
overlapping kingdoms. But the dominant religious force
of the region can only be described as Braahmanism.
Braahmanism, per se, is a product of Ancient India. It
is not equivalent to Hinduism. Brahmanism is a
cultural child of the Pre-Hindu Vedic period in India.
It can also be referred to as Vedic culture.

Of course the sasana or �religion� of the Thai
population is by and large Buddhist, and decidedly of
the Southern Hiinayaanic School of Theravaada, or
�Doctrine of the Elders." But it would properly be
referred to as Sinhalese Buddhism, as Zrii Lankaa was
the place where it first took form. It may also be
described as Paali Buddhism as it strictly adheres to
the Paali Language literature compiled by the ancient
Sinhalese. It regards this extensive body of scripture
as its paramount ecclesiastical authority. It is a
highly differentiating class of Buddhist faith with a
strong predilection to conceive itself in
contradistinction to a perceived state of corruption
into which all other Buddhist sects have descended.
More important still, it needs to be suggested that
the Theravaada is a historical construction.

As previously mentioned, Sinhalese Buddhism first
entered the Central Plains of early Thailand around
the second half of the 13th century. It flourished
there under the patronage of the Siamese Sukhothai
court and steadily displaced Khmer Vajrayaana. In
about the second half of 13th century the Sukhothai
kings took control of the southern Isthmus kingdom of
Nakhon Sri Thammarat and, accordingly, introduced
Sinhalese Buddhism, which gained predominance and
displaced all forms of religious practice.
In 1902 the Siamese king passed the Sa.ngha Act and
imposed an �official� form of standardized Buddhism
over the whole of Siam�s extended realm. One by one
the various kingdoms came increasingly under the
centralized control of Bangkok�s religious
authorities. Political changes followed as well. With
the bloodless revolution of 1932, Thailand ceased to
be an absolute monarchy and established its present
day constitutional monarchy along lines similar to the
British model. In this way, royalty staunchly remains
as a sacrosanct pillar of the Thai Triumvirate. This
is institutionally ritualized in the cult of the
Devaraaja as adopted by Siamese kings from their royal
Khmer predecessors as early as the 14th century.

Best regards,

Ven. Tantra

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