Learning from Thai Culture

Making Mud Bricks at the Elephant Nature Park!

There are so many amazing lessons that I learned from the Thai culture during my travels, I will try to encapsulate some of the wisdom in a few short paragraphs. A lot of these insights were simply from watching the differences between Thai and American high school students. I also learned a lot from watching the behavior of people I interacted with on the street, in restaurants, and in stores. I do not claim to be an expert, but most of the points that I will make could be backed up with many anecdotal references beyond the stories that I use below.

Big Baller Woolf, Ajahn, and Big Daddy Baller on the way to tie blessed monks robes on trees to prevent them from being logged.

In Thailand, over 95% of the people are Buddhists, which means that there are many Buddhist values and practices that are ingrained into the culture. Coming from an American culture that is a smorgasbord of beliefs, values, and ideas that have been developing for just over 300 years, it is very hard to imagine a set of values that has existed in some areas for over 2500 years. These values have created a culture that essentially follows the middle path with the central focus of life to be happy. After all, Thailand is called The Land of Smiles!

We brought reading glasses to a hill tribe. Very stylish don't you think!

Karma plays a big role in this way of thinking. The existence of karma not only means that each individual or family is deserving of their social status, but also that this life is only one of many. The first point, regarding social status, is very important because there is a strict caste system and ranking system in Thailand; members of the army, government officials, and businessmen are at the top of the food chain, which makes up about 30% of the population. Interestingly enough, however, those with higher status have a sense of generosity and benevolence and those with lower status have a sense of reverence and respect. Karma implies higher status is achieved through acts of good merit from a previous life and lower status is achieved through acts of bad merit from a previous life. Simply put the principle of cause and effect in regards to social differences. This leads to a very respectful culture in both directions.

The second point of karma is that this is only one of many lives and that the causes of this life will have an effect on the next life. Therefore, you should perform acts of good merit faithfully because you want to be reborn into a better life, without forgetting of course, that you are thankful to be born as a human in this life. (Some say that the stray dogs living at a monastery were bad monks in a past life!) This seemingly takes away a lot of the stress and strain of time. Things will get done when they get done and there is a clear lack of urgency. People do not seem to be rushed, but are happy to sit back and live life.

Calmly waiting to get on the BTS - Light Rail System.

While waiting to ride the subway, for example, everyone lines up and waits to get onto the train. On the platform, lines form behind a set of feet painted on the ground. The passengers on the platform calmly wait for everyone to get off the train before getting on the train. Imagine that! Also, this is the same for traffic, which is a nightmare in Thailand. There are no horns, no frustration, and no yelling. Traffic moves or it doesn’t move. I did not experience any road rage, although to be fair to those that live in Bangkok, the drivers do drive like madmen!

These women made offerings from flowers on string by hand for several hours. It was a very slow and tedious process, but the group interaction was the reward. They were laughing all afternoon!

There is also a tremendous sense of respect shown to elders with more life experience. I experienced this both from talking to the Thai students, who described the most important members of their family as their grandparents and uncles, as well as in regards to their behavior towards me and the other mentors. The Thai students were constantly trying to help me with my luggage, take my dirty dishes, or allow me to go first. They were always going out of their way to make sure that I was treated respectfully. The most amazing part is that this level of respect is customary even with the smallest of age gaps. When bowing (known as wai-ing in Thai) to another person, a 26 year old would show respect by bowing to a 27 year old; an older person will always accept the bow from a younger person during a greeting. Whether it was a hostess at a restaurant, a shop keeper in the store, or just some random person holding the elevator, this same level of respect exists across the board. Thai people always show respect to one another.

The biggest insight, however, is the idea of living a happy life. I think that this is an extremely important aspect of the Thai culture because happiness is not generally something that I believe is our end goal. My belief is that happiness is a by-product of doing something that is fulfilling, satisfying, or aligned with your passion. Happiness is not to be attained, but will manifest, given the right course of action.

What I discovered from living in the Thai culture is that happiness isn’t so bad after all. The quest for satisfaction and fulfillment create a sense of time and future thinking. Being satisfied or fulfilled in the moment frequently manifests as happiness. In our closing circle, the most important lessons that the Thai students learned from our two week adventure was that it was a group of people and an experience that they would never forget. They were deeply embracing the happiness of the moment without searching for life changing transformation!

I have more stories, pictures, and videos of elephants to come very soon...it's tough to find the time to reflect when you're driving 7 hours a day and hiking through old growth redwood forests...it's a tough life, but a happy one!


Blogger Beef Supreme said...

Agreed on most points. Don't know where you were driving though -- because I hereby flag your "no honking" call.

11:39 AM  

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