Popular Buddhist Rituals



Popular Buddhist Rituals

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The act of merit-making is an essential part of religious life in Thailand. Practiced both by monks and lay people, it reflects an awareness that good deeds lead to good outcomes, such as happiness, either in this life or the next (as a more fortunate rebirth). To accumulate merit is a way of taking responsibility for one’s own karma (destiny). Becoming a monk, even for a short period, or sponsoring the ordination of a monk, is the highest form of making merit, and a devout Buddhist monk adheres to strict rules in his daily life. In some rituals – such as the alms round – the lives of monks and lay people interact. Other everyday habits of ordinary people focus on the local temple: the shared act of decorating a Buddhist shrine strengthens community ties. Devout lay people, meanwhile, may meditate and worship at a private shrine in their own home.

Meditation purifies the mind and clears it of distractions. It is practiced regularly by all monks and some lay people.

The daily alms round (bintabat) takes place shortly after dawn, when monks leave their temples to search for their daily meal. Giving food to monks is a popular way for lay people to earn merit and practice generosity (the act of dana). Monks are permitted to eat only food that has been offered to them, and they must consume it before noon.

Shaving the head is a ritual for monks on the day of the full moon. This mural shows a novice being shaved for ordination.

Visits to the Wat

Many lay people in Thailand go to their local wat at least once a week. Typically they make offerings to an image of the Buddha, listen to the monks chanting and to a dharma talk, and receive blessings. Food is prepared to offer to the monks and as a communal meal. The local community often funds building or restoration projects.

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