Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand

Nathan McGovern

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand

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The categories “Buddhism” and “Hinduism” are products of the modern discourse on “world religions,” and as such they possess both strengths and weaknesses when applied to contexts in which the word religion itself was not an emic term prior to the modern period. Thailand, in particular, provides an excellent example of the way in which the boundaries between “Buddhism” and “Hinduism”—which, according to the parameters of the discourse on “world religions,” informed as they are by Protestant assumptions about religion, should be wholly separate—are often strained in an actual Asian context. Although 94.6 percent of Thai people today identify as Buddhist (with the largest minority religion being Islam at 4.6 percent), scholars have long recognized the significant presence of “Hindu” elements in Thai religious culture. This includes, among other things, the adoption of the Rāmāyaṇa as the Thai national epic in the form of the Rāmakian; the employment of Brahmans by the king for the performance of royal rituals; the ubiquitous presence of Hindu gods and other motifs in Thai art, literature, geography, and popular worship; and popular festivals that bear a striking similarity to popular Hindu festivals in India. There is a vast literature that addresses either Thai religion in general or Thai Buddhism in particular; this article focuses specifically on sources that address in some way the place of Hindu elements in the broader Thai Buddhist culture. The study of the intersection between Hinduism and Buddhism in Thai religious culture is in many ways still in its infancy; therefore, sources have simply been arranged thematically. Nevertheless, one can say that the general trend in scholarship in addressing this topic has been away from models of “syncretism,” which assume that Buddhism and Hinduism once existed in “pure,” separate forms that were then mixed in contexts such as Thailand, and toward more nuanced models that recognize both the problematic distinction between “Buddhist” and “Hindu/Brahmanical” even in early Indian contexts and the way in which the modern Buddhist identity of Thailand and surrounding countries arose gradually over many centuries.

Article.  6458 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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