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29th August 1999

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Buddhism plays an important role in the lives of the Thai people and it is recognised and given due place as the state religion

Leading people through the Buddha Dhamma

By Dr.P.H.D.H. de Silva

"Devo Vassatu Kalena - Sassa sampaththi hetucha - Pitho bhavatu lokotha - Raja bhavatu dhammiko"

Venerable Soma Thero on several occasions recently focused our attention on the last line in this Buddhist invocation of blessings when he said if our national leaders are virtuous and act according to the five precepts - Pansil, then there will be law and order, discipline, morality, respect to life, virtue Imageand peace in our country. The truth of this statement was brought home during a recent visit to Bangkok.

In Thailand, the king who is a devout Buddhist leads his people through piety and devotion to the Tri Ratna, virtue and wisdom springing from the Buddha Dhamma.

The national shrine of the Thai people is the Temple Royal of the Emerald Buddha - wat Phra Kaew situated within the Grand Palace Complex in the city. The temple built along with the Royal Palace by king Rama I in 1783 is renowned as the most beautiful and important temple in Thailand. This temple houses the highly revered Buddha image - Phra Kaew Moraket or the Emerald Buddha carved from a single piece of jade. This image was discovered in 1464 in Chienrai (northern Thailand) when a bolt of lightning struck an old chedi exposing it. King Tilok of Lannatai took custody of this priceless statue and it has since been in the custody of the reigning monarchs of Thailand.

This priceless image is an object of national veneration and is considered by the nation to be the protector of Thailand (generally called the Lucky Buddha).

What is important to us is the Royal custom practised by the king of changing the robes of the Emerald Buddha once every four months. The Assembly Hall or Uposatha provides an inner temple for the monarch's private worship.

In both the Audience Hall of Amerinda and the Audience Hall in the Dusit Group of this Grand Palace Complex where court ceremonies are held, the throne is kept in front of a statue of the Sakyamuni.

The declared state religion of Thailand is Theravada Buddhism professed by nearly 90% of the people though there are also 6% Muslims and about 2% Christians. Buddhism is also represented in the country's National Flag which has three bands, red, white and blue. The red band symbolises the Nation, the white symbolises Buddhism and the blue band symbolises the Monarchy.

In contrast in Sri Lanka today - the Dhamma Duipa with a history of Theravada Buddhism spanning a period of over 2500 years, Buddhism is neither recognized nor given its due place as the state religion of the country. No serious effort is made to protect, safeguard and foster Buddhism, to promote and unite the Sangha and care for and conserve our ancient Buddhist monuments and sites. Two cases in point are the destruction and desecration of Diga-Vapi Stupa and puja Bhumi and the unbridled conversion programme of poverty stricken Buddhists in villages.

Another important lesson for us is the care and attention paid by the government in the proper conservation and maintenance of the Grand Palace Complex. First built in 1783 with additions made up to the late 19th century, the Grand Palace has more than 30 buildings. The entire complex is maintained in pristine excellence.

Another lesson for us is how Thai city authorities maintain cleanliness of their capital. Like in Colombo there are the usual vendors on the pavements and side walks selling clothes, wrist watches, spectacle frames and food items especially fruits.

We visited the market place where food is served in the open on the side walks. There are six million people living in the city excluding foreign visitors. High rise buildings dot the landscape including many hotels. But nowhere on the streets did we see garbage heaps, litter such as newspapers, polythene bags, cardboard boxes, rotten fruits, and used young coconuts a common sight here in Colombo.

There are also no posters - political, commercial, entertainment and obituary notices defacing the buildings.

One also discerns a health consciousness among the ordinary people in the city as displayed by the manner of partaking their food, the hygienic safeguards in the food sold and safe disposal of receptacles used for eating and drinking.

Another lesson is the movement of traffic and the adherence of the drivers to road rules. There is a much greater volume of traffic in Bangkok than in Colombo but the drivers strictly follow the road rules keeping to the correct lanes.

Thais appear to be conscious of the fact that there is a vital role, they as citizens have to play in national, cultural, religious and economic development of their motherland. The rulers and the ruled by example rather than precept have together laid the foundation for the prosperity of their country.

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