Thailand Culture Mentality
A Hunt for Spiritual Enlightenment To One
Thailand Culture Mentality
A Hunt for Spiritual Enlightenment To One
Spirit Worship is as old as mankind itself. In Thailand the phenomenon goes back to the ancient days when the Tai’s were beginning their slow migration from the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam to all parts of the Southeast Asian region. Spirit Worship, or Animism, was a religion by which the entire world lived at one time, and when Buddhism came to Southeast Asia, it developed side by side with the ancient spirit religion. Today, many of the old animistic beliefs are intertwined with Buddhism and some animistic practices still exist in Thailand. One of these which is practiced by every Thai is the Spirit House.
The Spirit House can be seen at a prominent spot outside every business establishment in the country. It can be seen on a pedestal in Front of every hotel. It dresses the corner garden area of a restaurant, the Front of a bar, disco or put Spirit houses are even seen at outdoor food markets. They are built on the grounds of Buddhist temples. outside caves in the mountains, near Fishing ponds in the valleys, and occasionally in the middle of an otherwise uninhabited forest. Most importantly, however. the Thai Spirit House is built at the yard of every home.
The purpose of the Spirit House is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits, or celestial beings, who would otherwise reside in the heavens, Find a place in large trees, or in caves, cliffs. waterfalls or other natural surroundings. According to folklore, the spirits themselves are either good or evil, but most are just finicky and mischievous, demanding respect from humans and capable of disastrous interferences if they don’t get their way, The spirit of the land, for example. expects to be informed when a human intends to start a business or engage in improvements to an existing business. If the spirit is not informed, and if the human does not respectfully request permission, the spirit can indeed cause the venture to fail.
The style and construction of a spirit house may be as simple as a typical Thai-style shelter or as elaborate as a Thai palace. The exact style often depends on two Factors, which spirit the person wishes to invite and how much one can afford for the spirit house construction. Construction itself is a specialized field and only an expert Spirit House builder would be considered for proper construction. His responsibility, in addition to construction, is to be familiar with all the necessary rituals involved so that the spirit to be invited will find it an acceptable earthly abode.
The house may be permanent or temporary, made of wood, concrete or brick. At certain times the spirits are invited down only for special occasions and this is when temporary spirit houses are built. the size may vary from the very small to a large, walk-in, ground-level affair. The houses are finished with statues, small figures, or symbols of many other sorts in the center within the spirit house. In addition, there may be various animal figures, such as elephants or hones; figures of people, such as a married couple or other images; and even furniture. Outside, around the balcony that usually surrounds a spirit house, incense holders, candle sticks, and vases for flowers are placed.
There are countless gods and other celestial beings in Thai folklore, The primary spirits the Thai’s are concerned with, however, are called the Phra Bhum Jowthee , or Guardian Spirits of the Land, There are nine of guardians and each offers a different type of protection. The Guardian of the House and the Guardian of the Gardens are so frequently consulted with and prayed to that they are the only two that have permanent spirit houses built for them.
The Guardian of the House is the spirit that watches over and protects the home. It is uncertain whether there is one spirit that watches over all homes, or if individual spirits do this for each home. However, all you have to do in Thailand is look around and you’ll see that every home has a spirit house. Thai families who believe wholeheartedly in the spirit house and its importance light incense every morning and ask the spirit to watch over and protect the home. Others do it on ritual occasions.
The Guardian of the House includes the spirit or spirits who help in business matters, and spirit houses at business sites are of the same type. More often than not in Thailand, the business and the home are in the same location.
The Guardian of the Gardens also has a permanent spirit house shelter built for him. This spirit watches over and protects the natural surroundings, yards, gardens and orchards of the Thai family. There is a separate spirit for rice fields, so the Guardian of Gardens should not be mistaken for a spirit protecting all of agriculture. Rather, nature, flowers, plans and fruit are so important to the Thais that the Guardian of the Gardens receives a separate and permanent house of his own.
The other seven Guardians of the Land Are Protector of Gates and Stairwells, who is believed to reside in the home doorstep which explains why one should never step on the doorstep of a Thai home; Protector of Animals; Protector of Storehouses and Barns; Protector of Forests; Mountains; fields and Paddles; Protector of Temples; Protector of Waters; and Protector of Military Forts and Defense.
The various temporary spirit houses built at times requiring the intercession of a particular spirit can be constructed at any time and at any place. An example of this is a spirit house that sits in the rhododendron forests at the top of Doi Inthanon in northern Thailand. Here in the middle of a forest hundreds of years old is a spirit house constructed for soldiers who died in a helicopter crash years ago. At the front of this spirit house, in addition to candle holders and incense holders, are small ledges for the placement of burning cigarettes. This because those in the helicopter were believed to have liked to smoke.
Offerings to a spirit house and the spirit who is intended to reside within can be nearly anything. The traditional offerings include flower garlands, betel leaves, bananas, rice, chicken, duck, and a wide range of other edibles and nonedibles. Candles are often used while incense is usually lit daily before a spirit house.
There are spirit houses everywhere in Thailand. Some very famous ones such as the one that houses the Chiang Mai City Pillar are large enough to walk into. A visit to Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai will give you an opportunity to see it for yourself. At these people go to make offerings and request aid from the spirits to help them in monumental tasks such as bringing in the coming rice harvest. The ritual involved at such events often involves hundreds of people with a common goal and the spirit is called upon to help all. In return the people make promises of future offerings in the event that they are successful. Thus. a return visit to repay the spirit for his help is another important part of the ritual.
The Spirit House is one of the most fundamental features of Thai life even today and it is easily the most obvious. In Thailand devotion to Buddhism most often shows itself in ritual within a temple while Thai devotion to the spirits and especially the Guardians of the land and most often shows itself in their own front yards.
Many people have asked about what happens to old spirit houses. When changes dictate that a new spirit house be created, a ceremony will be held to transfer the spirit from the old spirit house to the new. After that, the old spirit house can be discarded. Many are discarded near a temple or wat, but usually at a place where other spirit houses have been discarded. So it is common to see many old spirit houses jumbled together.
As an Asian Thai American, my one-year experience in Thailand gave insight towards the dichotomous wonder between the modern and spiritual mentality.
Being born and educated in California, USA had created a lack of understanding in my heritage. I am honored to be able to speak Thai fluently, as English is my native language. My journey to discover Thailand had prevailed mysteries and is a country where everyone Thai is family. In the Thai language it’s common to hear strangers call each other big sister, brother, uncle, aunt and so forth. Being an extremely logical being, I pursued to be open minded to this way of thinking.
Many are familiar with the infamous nightlife among Thai cities, seen in Hangover 2, and then the abundant conservative, religious attitudes that surrounds those small pockets of seediness and sex culture. The country possesses some of the most highly visited temples in the world. The displayed stories along the statues and art presents the artistic expression of the belief system. Thailand has been voted as one of the most toured country in the world for its mystical magic and accommodations for millions who visits. The word respect holds grave importance in the land of smiles.
First things noticed, would be mini temples that vary in size in every corner of property called Spirit Houses. They could be perched at the recycle center to the tallest luxury buildings throughout the country.
The top portion of entrance doors is blessed by monks by a finger painted omen sign meant for protection and/or prevention of evil spirits entering the structure.
Also Buddha pictures and shrines displayed on taxis dashboard with dangled Buddha pendants hung on rear view mirrors with occasional flower garnishments. The finger painted scrolls are also on the ceiling of vehicles as well.
Buddha pendants strewn on gold chains across many men chests, dangled from their necks.
Yan Sak tattoos, embedded blessed ink, laid in the skin by monks with long sharp sticks artistically drawn in a continual stabbing motion, freehand laid art. These ritual type of tattoos offer protection and power to the individual.
These examples are my attempts to demonstrate the strong belief in the spirit realm. I am also incline to acknowledge the seriousness of the mindset and the countries majority belief in the existence of ghosts as well.
Journey up the mountain
Having said that, I was en route to a well-known vision monk who requested her real name to not be mentioned. I drove into Mae On Mountain of Chiang Mai, Thailand. During the drive, the mountain presented natural hot springs, scenic views of green, and endless sky. A paradise for many visitors.
To narrow down my attempts to witness such power, I seek the “gift of sight”; some believed this gift were strengthened in the hilltops of Chiang Mai. The spirits filled the foliage network and the living creatures that frolicked empowered the few human souls to translate such interpretations in our hands, which in this case, defines the art of palm reading.
The native Thai driver pointed out a special place between the hills which stood several spirit houses that was believed to housed “evil” demons. It appeared to be a collection of worn down, colorful spirit houses perched on a post. To take a photo of the collection would attract the evil to me through my device. In essence to capture a photo would bring badness back into the valley where majority residences reside. I respectfully took the advice.
He further explains that the spirit entity that had caused trauma can only be removed by a mission of monks to perform an exorcism. To destroy the spirit house would set the demon free. Therefore, these spirit houses are intact and left alone. This reminds me of the similar concept of Genies in a bottle or oil lamps. On the flip side, he also continued to explain some spirits were cursed by the living owner who didn’t like any bad news. To “kill the messenger” applies in the spirit world too. So blame on misfortunes was easier on the home owners pride to accuse the spirit in their spirit house. If you are able to afford it, then out with the old and in with a new spirit. The perspective discloses the sense of pride from what I gathered that coincides with the “saving face” used often in Thailand. Especially among the upper middle class portion of the estimated 68 million in population.
In other countries, it is highly discouraged in the participation of “unholy” or “taboo” practices that involves readings or respect to statues, according to some Western religion. Many are unable to see another style or way. The difference in repeating Hail Mary prayers in Catholic confessions pose similarity in chants practiced in a monastery.
Asian cultures are accustomed to such practices as it is considered the norm in Thailand. It’s needless to say that tarot, tea leaves, numbers, palm lines, da Vinci codes, and all sorts of cryptic languages have been embedded in all sorts of mediums.
There is an activity to receive a fortune message. Inside most temples are cups with many wooden sticks that are numbered. You would pray and shake these cups and always one stick will appear and drop to the floor. The numbered stick correlates to a fortune sheet posted on a nearby board and that sheet is your fortune message, which is similar to a horoscope. A fortune cookie without the cookie. The strange abilities that hide in the shadows continue to remain openly invisible.
The Vision Female Monk
We drove up a small street and the monk was outside awaiting our arrival. She guided my driver to park the vehicle and walked me inside. Her cheerful smile and affectionate demeanor made me comfortable.
She appeared older, harmless, bald woman that lives in a fairly moderate wooden hut. Unable to take any footage, as it is bad luck for the visionary, I sat patiently on the wooden slated floor, while a young girl brought me a glass of warm water.
Her home was adorned with Buddha statues; shrined and pedestaled against a wall along with pictures, incense, and lit candles. Plants adorned the home in every corner and baskets of different garnishes and herbs were hung to dry. It’s organic, spiritual feel didn’t offer any chills as previously anticipated. I kept an open mind to the experience.
She brought over a small rectangular pillow, magnifying glass, flashlight, and baby powder. She sprinkled powder over my palms faced up and used a feather to whisk away excess talc. She began a chant and immediately commence foretelling my behavior traits and things I need to work on in my life. I wasn’t sure if she was just good at profiling my facial expressions and demeanor, which gave her cues to support her comments. I must admit that her ability to notice such subtle micro expressions was impressive. She further explained the reasons why I was single and why my hurdles in life is as such. It was left to many interpretations in her open ended statements, as I wasn’t jazzed to any concrete sound evidence of future happenings. Although my northern Thai dialect wasn’t fluent and specific terms said may not have been understood completely, it would be only fair to state. I respectfully bowed and offered payment for her services, although, I was deflated in my expectations.
She explained to me that this wasn’t her way to make a living, but her gift of sight was just a favor to me. To further explain, she believed she could accept donations, gifts or food, but to charge would be unlucky for her and her gift of sight. She pointed to her missing toe. It was believed she would lose limbs and may undergo a horrible accident if she turned her gift into an enterprise. I recalled a similar analogy in this concept in the movie, Muse, starred Sharon Stone, 1999. This was the Thai version of such talents. So I offered a basket of desserts I had purchased along the way and made my way back down the hill.
I stopped by a nearby temple to ensure no demonic attachment to my soul. I lit incense and rubbed garlic to a specific spot on the Buddha statue and placed my gold leaf on my chosen area. The garlic was the glue for the gold. I bowed three times and repeated a chant. I placed the incense in the metal bowl placed near the gas lamp and placed my purchased jasmine lei along the assigned bowl for flower adornments. The whole experience had a process that helped me understand the instillation of what is considered good behavior.
The garnished “lucky” figurines in specific locations of residences and businesses throughout Thailand holds such meanings and triggers the belief systems that ring devotion and commitment to correlated stories from influenced neighboring countries and historical events.
The same principle towards the donation of gifts appears to be simulated in many aspects of the Thai culture as the transactional mentality are considered the norm. “Make a wish and place your offering near the statue” a local resident explained to me. My offer and good karma will encourage the chances of my wish to come true.
The Aftermath (Months Later)
Admittedly, certain things the female monk mentioned in my palm reading such as my urge to seek new personal quests made my eyebrow raised. My logic did not allow paranormal confabulations towards certain events. As a pattern seeker, I noticed cues among unexplainable timing and chose to ignore them as a creature of habit. Then images in my dreams and a transition in my creative thought processes had a noticeable difference that I began to justify with scientific probabilities and possible coincidences, or were they coincidences? The occurrences were too many to dismay that I began to fear in sharing these personal events. As my past American culture would most likely suggest I needed to see a mental institute or seek medical attention if I were to even attempt the explanation, thus a built in system to alleviate paranormal or beyond normal thought process.
In any case, I meditate and adopted the understanding that in Thailand, things just work itself out and with patience. In time and respect to the spiritual nature you will always learn something new. I am not going to state that I’ve converted religion or is now devout believer, hence my journalistic objective is to seek understanding. My archetypal journey, I conclude that I have gained a new respect to the process I am unfamiliar with. The lesson is to not view it as strange, but a unique approach to adapt into a mentality that is outside our comfort zone. To lift the curtain and see the frameworks one will never know the answers to questions that wasn’t there before. Will you give unseen abilities credit if you haven’t personally experience the power? I continually endure life in order to give credit where credit is due with utmost respect to the country I am in.
With a heavy dose of spiritual tales, a mystical omen sixth sense of communication, and the abundant natural visuals that can raise goose bumps on many levels, I realize that the demon I was on the hunt for presented an inner reflection. The spirit world becomes a mirror to yourself. The concept of inner peace and enlightenment is another spin to hold on to what I thought I knew. I can say I have been enlightened by the unknown depths in her gift of sight and interpretations was misunderstood by me initially. Depends on how you look at it; to which it explains the magic in Thailand.