Buddhism in Thailand

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Phra Pathom Chedi, one of the earliest Buddhist stupas in Thailand

Buddhism in Thailand is largely of the Theravada school.[1] According to the Pew Research Center (2012), Thailand has the second largest Buddhist population in the world, after China,[2] with approximately 64 million Buddhists.

Buddhism is believed to have come to Thailand as early as the 3rd century BCE, in the time of Indian Emperor Ashoka. Since then, Buddhism has played a significant role in Thai culture and society. Buddhism has historically been supported by the patronage of the Thai kings.

Regarding the modern history of Buddhism in Thailand, Peter Harvey (2012) states:

In the nineteenth century, Thailand (then called Siam) skilfully avoided being colonized by European powers, and had two enlightened, modernizing rulers: King Mongkut (r. 1851–68), inaccurately portrayed in the film The King and I, and his son King Chulalongkorn (r. 1868–1910). In his time in the Sangha before being king, Mongkut established the reformist Dhammayutika monastic fraternity, and sought to spread a purified, ethically orientated Buddhism to the people. Since 1932, the country has had a constitutional monarchy and been ruled mostly by a parliamentary government guided by the military. Buddhism is the state religion, with the Sangha state-regulated, and royalty have continued to be much respected.[3]

Harvey also states:

As in Burma, there are many fine meditation masters in Thailand... some of them lay, and meditation is increasingly popular among the educated urban classes. Some monks and laypeople downplay much of the conventional religion that is orientated to generating bun – ‘merit’ or karmic fruitfulness – to concentrate on matters pertaining to overcoming attachment and attaining Nirvana, the ultimate goal. They stress the centrality of meditation, and the peripheral importance of ceremonies, as Chan had done in China.[3]

The Thai Forest Tradition, founded around 1900 by Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta, attracted a number of Western students, some of whom became popular teachers in the West. The Western lineage holders of this tradition include Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Amaro, Ajahn Sujato, Ajahn Sucitto and others.

Further reading


  1. "The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency". www.cia.gov. Retrieved 2017-12-04. 
  2. "The Global Religious Landscape". Pew Research Center. December 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2018. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Harvey 2013, s.v. Chatper 12.


  • Book icoline.svg Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism (Second ed.), Cambridge University Press