Looking back on Thai history, we see clearly the close relationship between Buddhism and the Thai nation. The history of the Thai nation is also the history of Buddhism. The Thai nation originated over 2,000 years ago. Also in that same period Buddhism came and has played an important part in the Thai history ever since. The Thai nation settled firmly in present-day Thailand 700 years ago. Also seven centuries ago it adopted the present form of Buddhism.
Buddhism is still the state religion of Thailand. Under the Constitution, the King, as a symbol of the nation, although protector of all religions, must be a Buddhist. According to the latest census, the total population of Thailand is 48 million. Out of this number, 93.4 percent are Buddhists. Buddhism has had a deep influence in the Thai arts, traditions, learning and the character of the people. It has modelled their manner of thinking and acting. In short, it has become an integral part of Thai life. The charm that has caused Thailand to be called the Land of Smiles undoubtedly comes from the influence of Buddhism over her people. Realizing these facts, the Thai rulers have taken the responsibility for the protection and promotion of Buddhism.
The rulers of Thailand have encouraged and supported Buddhism by building and maintaining monasteries, by providing the monks with material necessities and facilities for performing religious duties, by patronizing their educational activities such as the Buddhist Councils for revising the Tripitaka and having the scriptures translated into Thai, and by reforming the Sangha and appointing able Supreme Patriarchs to govern the Order. Since B.E. 2446 (1903 C.E.) the State has even enacted the laws forming the Constitution under which the Sangha governs itself.
The Department of Religious Affairs has been established in the Ministry of Education to achieve close cooperation between the Order and the Government and to provide a channel through which the Sangha can communicate with government authorities and through, which the State can promote the well-being of the Sangha.
Four Buddhist holy days are recognized by the Government as nationalholidays, namely, the Magha Puja Day, the Visakha Puja Day, the Asalha Puja Day and the Khao Pansa Day. Nearly all state and public ceremonies are blessed by the participation and chanting of senior members of the Order. The people also invite monks to chant the Sutras and protective formulas for their blessing and protection in all household rites such as housewarmings, birthday celebrations and weddings, and especially to conduct funeral rites and memorial services for the benefit of the deceased. Even lustral or consecrated water is used at most of the auspicious ceremonies. Other forms of animistic and Brahmanic beliefs can also be seen mingled with these popular Buddhist practices.
In Bangkok, the skyline is pierced by the spires of pagodas and stupas, especially those of Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and the Golden Mount. “In the rice lands a traveler is seldom out of the sight of a phra chedi (Cetiya) or stupa towering above the village trees. In the less populous sections of the countries are sacred caves, ‘footprints’ of Buddha, and on many a steep and isolated hill a greying cetiya visible for miles around.”1 Bronze and stone images of the Buddha are constantly found in unexpected places while digging the land for irrigation, road-construction and other purposes. Buddhism has thus become rooted in the soil of Thailand both literally and metaphorically.