Thai Culture and Way of Life

Thailand’s distinguishing custom is greeting each other Wai. It is like the Indian Namaste gesture. It comes in several forms considering the relative status of those involved, such as greeting a monk, but generally it entails a prayer-like gesture with the hands and a bowing the head. A social norm considers the head to be respected and the highest part of the body and accordingly considered rude to touch someone’s head. It is also considered rude to place one’s feet at a level above someone else’s head, particularly if that person is of higher social standing and in particular, a monk. One should not put one’s feet on the table or the chair, or point at people or things with one’s feet. This is because the feet are considered to be the dirtiest and plumpest part of the body. This also impacts how Thais sit when on the floor—their feet always pointing away from others, folded to the side or behind them.

There are a number of Thai customs relating to the special status of monks in Thai culture. Due to religious discipline, Thai monks are forbidden to touch women. Women are for that reason, likely to make way for passing monks to safeguard against an accidental contact. Various methods are employed to warrant that no chance contact between women and monks occurs. Women making offerings to monks place their donation at the feet of the monk, or on a table. Lay people are expected to sit or stand with their heads at a lower level than that of a monk. Within a temple, monks may sit on a raised platform or throne during ceremonies to make this easier to achieve.

Thailand is nearly 95% Theravada Buddhist. The Buddhist calendar is used in Thailand and on mainland Southeast Asia in the countries of Cambodia, Laos, Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka in some forms. It is a lunisolar calendar having months that are alternately 29 and 30 days, with an intercalated day and a 30-day month added at regular intervals. Heavily influenced by Buddhism, the culture is one where individuals are guided to think for themselves and not be quelled by religious authorities. The substance of this culture has two key threads, first, one must grasp the difference between reality and self delusion, and second, one ought to comprehend the nature of cause and effect, or Kamma; that is, to know that whatever one acts now will have subsequent entanglements in a situation, not only in the very short duration, but the very long term. In Thai society their culture is such that people do not mix self delusion in their ideas and dialogue. This is seen as foolish. Good illustrations of self delusion contain egotism, superiority ideologies, social status, etc. Their culture enables them to better discern their emotional desires, which also calls for detachment with a careful appreciation for reality and absolute truth. To this we include the call for respect of others’. Examples of this respect are, not to shout at others, not to talk at someone, rather talk to them, not to promulgate on another with useless and meandering talk; hence, wasting their time and not to distrust someone and respect their property in their own good name.