The Buddhist Experience in South East Asia

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Bangkok, Thailand

The Buddhist Experience in South East Asia Bangkok Reviews

rideouts rideouts
30 reviews
Dec 07, 2006
Like many westerners traveling to South East Asia, I have been fascinated by Buddhism and the many romantic stories of wisdom and enlightenment to be had in the discovery of daily life this region. Unfortunately for westerners looking to find Zen peace or tantric understanding, the pure Buddhist experience can very hard to find.When looking at religion in S.E. Asia, it is important to understand that Buddhism is not the 'original' religion of these countries. In practice, what this means is that the general population in most S.E. Asian countries still believe and practice their traditional animist or shamanistic religions. In Thailand, for example, the most numerous religious structures are "Spirit Houses" built to house the animist spirits of the land that were displaced when a structure was built. In China, the population is extremely prone to superstition, believing strongly in lucky numbers, ghosts, and evil spirits. In Japan, the home of Zen, you are much more likely to encounter Shinto priests, temples, and altars than Buddhist monks.This is not to say that these aren't 'Buddhist' countries. The Buddhist religion is very adaptable, and has dissolved itself into these societies, absorbing the indigenous practices and beliefs. In many of these countries, however, the practice of Buddhism is much like the practice of Christianity in the west. Most of the public will say they are Buddhist and celebrate the holidays without really caring about the core principles or religious practices. Also the form of Buddhism in South East Asia is based on Theravada Buddhism, where there is very little religious practice provided for the public outside of becoming a monk.There are, however, quite a few Buddhist monks in Thailand. For the traveler seeking to experience some 'pure' Buddhism, your best bet is to seek out practicing monks and temples. This can be difficult and occasionally quite frustrating given language and cultural difficulties. Bear in mind also, that the monks you will meet are just men trying to overcome their attachments just like you. Also, due to religious syncretism, many locals will consider their animist shrines to be 'Buddhist', and you may find yourself directed towards altars and gods that you may not recognize.For the traveler with dedication and some spare time, you many consider temporarily joining a Buddhist monastery as a monk or nun. In Thailand, it is expected that every man will be a monk at some point in his life, even if only for as little as two weeks. This practice may make it possible for some foreigners to become monks for a similarly short period of time, although again, language and cultural differences may be frustrating. It may be best to find a temple in your home area and ask them to help you make contacts with their sponsoring organizations rather than just showing up and trying to make arrangements on the ground.For the more casual pilgrim, I recommend approaching the cultures with an open mind and free yourself from the desire for a 'Buddhist' experience. Asia has widely varied and rich religious traditions that include centuries old fables and ethical frameworks. Take the time to enjoy the local gods and demons, and you may discover the nature of the Buddhist current that runs throughout. "Thus have we heard: there are 82,000 different paths to enlightenment"; enjoy the journey.
Buddhist Monks in Luang Prabang, L…
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Eric says:
Nice review! I probably won't be able to go to Thailand anytime soon, but I have always been curious about Buddhism. Are there any books or resources you would recommend as a not too overwhelming primer to Buddhism?
Posted on: Dec 08, 2006
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