Washing Clothes

Thai people wash the top of the body clothes separately from the bottom half i.e. shirts and jumpers go in one wash and shirts, underwear and trousers go in another. This is because, as Buddhists, they believe the lower part of the body is unclean whilst the top part is sacred. This is part of their religion. A Buddhist Thai would also never take off or put on a skirt over their heads for the same reason.

The same rule applies when hanging out the washing on the line. Clothes from the lower part of the body are not placed next to or higher than clothes worn on the top part of the body.

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The Bodhi-Tree

The Bodhi-Tree or wisdom-tree is a sacred symbol in Buddhism for a number of reasons.

·  It represents the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment, and is therefore sacred geographically.

·  It is ancient. Some would say it is the mythical World Tree. Thus, it is sacred temporally.

·  It represents growth towards liberation. Therefore, it is sacred developmentally.

·  It was said to rain blossoms, and is thus sacred aesthetically.

In all these cases, the Bodhi-Tree’s symbolism gives access to the Dharmakaya, which is the most transcendent aspect of Buddhism. However, this access is not based on simple awareness. The access to the Dharmakaya comes via the Sambhogakaya, the pathways through the intermediate worlds of Tantric Buddhism, which have been mostly lost and forgotten.

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Nipple Gong

A nipple gong has a central raised boss or nipple, often made of a different metal to the rest of the gong. They have a clear resonant tone with less shimmer than other gongs, and two distinct sounds depending on whether they are struck on the boss or next to it. They most often are tuned to various pitches.

Nipple gongs range in size from 6″ to 14″ or larger. Sets of smaller, tuned nipple gongs can be used to play a tune.

Nipple gongs are used in Chinese temples for worship.

In Indonesian gamelan ensembles, instruments that are organologically gongs come in various sizes with different functions and different names. For example, in the central Javanese gamelan, the largest gong is called gong ageng, ranges in size up to 1 meter in diameter, has the deepest pitch and is played least often; the next smaller gong is the gong suwukan or siyem, has a slightly higher pitch and replaces the gong ageng in pieces where gong strokes are close together; the kempul is smaller still, has a higher pitch, and is played more frequently. The gong ageng and some gong suwukan have a beat note.

Khon masks a souvenir of Thai

Thailand’s traditional Khon dramas feature the use of highly stylized and intricately detailed Khon masks, which make each of the characters instantly recognizable.

Thai plays revolve around dance, and the dances represent specific aspects of Thai culture and spiritual practice. The most popular type of traditional stage art is Khon drama, which relies on the use of the stylized Khon masks.

These masked dramas appeared centuries ago as a localized version of the famous Indian epic, the Ramayana. In this art, the dance is an inseparable part of the performance; each dance step, such as running, jumping, laughing or parading, carries a certain meaning and is accompanied by given musical themes.

Before the 19th century, almost all characters in Khon dramas were played by male actors. Later, women started taking roles as well. All actors and actresses wear masks and there is no spoken dialogue. The story is carried with songs and limited dialogue provided by a choir.

Although the masks are vital for Khon drama, the traditional art of making these masks is gradually disappearing. Not many young people are willing to spend the years required to learn how to make masks. As a result, there are few places remaining which specialize in making Khon masks.

One of the Khon mask producers still operating in Thailand is an outdoor workshop in Angthong, about 100 km from Bangkok, owned by the artisan Prateep Rodpai. Visitors can watch the process these artisans follow to produce, from raw materials, a finished traditional mask.

Khon masks are handmade at every step, from strengthening the paper materials used, to drawing, painting and decorating the masks. The masks, which sell for around USD5-12, represent up to 10 days work by the Thai artisans.

Visitors can easily distinguish between some of the characters in Khon drama because of the colours of the masks. The mask of the hero Phra Ram has a green face. Phra Lak, Phra Ram’s brother, has a yellow face, while the “monkey king” Hanuman, probably the most well-known character, has a white face.

Today, Khon masks are not only used for plays, but are sold as souvenirs and function as decorative items for restaurants or hotels in Thailand.

Visitors to Thailand enjoy watching the production process of these unique masks.

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Pray at night

Many Thais who practice Buddhism will suat mon, or chant, before going to sleep every night. Saying the prayers starts by putting your hands together in a Wai position, sitting with your knees on the ground facing the Buddha and bowing your head towards the ground 3 times, or bowing 3 times on the pillow. Then followed by these two general payers:

  1. Namotasa
    Namo tatsa pakka-wato ara-hatto samma samputtat-sa,
    Namo tatsa pakka-wato ara-hatto samma samputtat-sa,
    Namo tatsa pakka-wato ara-hatto samma samputtat-sa.
    ( * And slightly bow with your head to your hands 1 time
    or bow towards the floor 1 time *)
  2. Arahang Samma
    Ara-hang samma-sam-putto pakka-wa put-tang-pakka-wan-thang api-wa-temi, (Bow 1 time)
    Sawa-ka-tho pakka-wa-tha tammo
    tammang namat-sami, (Bow 1 time)
    Supha-thi-phanno pakka-wa-tho
    sawa-ga sang-koh sang-khang na-mami (Bow 1 time)

And then feel free to finish with a well-going wish followed by finishing off with a bow towards the ground/pillow 3 times.

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Puja “honour, worship and devotional attention.”

In the context of puja, bowing refers to the act of raising one’s hands together (anjali) and lowering one’s head in a gesture of homage and humility. As a devotional act, one bows to the Buddha’s likeness in a statue, to a stupa (a pagoda that enshrines bodily relics of the Buddha) or to the Bodhi tree. Traditionally, one also bows to parents, teachers, the elderly and monastics.

When bowing before a sacred object such as a Buddha statue, one usually bows three times, recalling with the first bow the Buddha, then the Dhamma and then the Sangha. One may simply offer a head-lowered bow with palms-together hands held in front of one’s heart or forehead, or one may move one’s hands in a single flowing movement from the head to the lips to the chest (representing thought, speech and body). More formally, one may bow with a series of head-to-floor prostrations.

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