Buddhism, the national religion, is the professed faith of 95 percent of the
population. Islam, Christianity. Hinduism, and others are embraced by ihe rest of the population. There is absolute religious
freedom. The King of Thailand, under the
constitution and in practice, is pairon of all major religions embraced by the people.
History of Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism, is the state religion and the majority of
Thai people are Buddhists.
However, the freedom of worship has been enshrined in every constitution of the
Kingdom since 1932. It has provided that a person shall have complete freedom to profess any religion,
denomination or doctrine, and shall have freedom to praciise any religious rites in accordance with his belief except in
so far as they are inconsistent with his mind. duties as a citizen or incompatible with public order and good murals. Besides,
the constitution affirms that the state shall not deprive a person of any right or benefit to which he is entitled by
reason of the fact that he professes or practises a religion different from that of others. In practice, the Thai government
has accorded people not only religious freedom but also full support to their faiths. The state deems the patronage of
religion as one of its affairs. Moreover, under the constitution the king is obliged to be a Buddhist and the Upholder of Religion.
Wat Srichum in
Sukhothai, Thailand's first capital
Buddhism teaches that one's life does not begin wilh birth and end with deaih but is a link
in a chain of lives, each conditioned by volitional acts (karma) committed in previous existences.
The concept of karma, the law of cause and effect, suggests that selfishness and craving result in suffering. Conversely.
compassion and love bring happiness and well-being. Therefore, only by
eliminating desire can one find peace of The ideal Buddhist aspiration is
to attain perfection through Nirvana (Nibbhana), an indescribable, immutable
state unconditioned by desire, suffering, or further rebirth, in which a person simply is. yet is completely at one with his surroundings.
After its introduction into Thailand, Buddhism gained wide acceptance because its emphasis on tolerance and
individual initiative complemented the Thais'cherished sense of inner freedom. Fundamentally. Buddhism is an empirical
way oflife. Free of dogma, it is a flexible moral, ethical, and philosophical framework within which people finii room to
fashion their own salvation.
While Thailand has encountered several crises through the centuries, Buddhism has never even once suffered
any ill fate in this country. On the contrary. it has flourished here from the earliest limes. It has had a profound
influence over the Thai arts, culture, tradition, and learning; more important still, it has dominated the character of
the vast majority ot" the Thai people.
Buddhist way of life is an integral
part ol' national life. Today 94 percent
of the whole population are Buddhists,
about 4 percent are Muslims, 1 percent
are Christians, and the remainder are
Brahmins, Hindus, Sikhs, and others.
The Administration of the Sangha
Although the ecclesiastical authority
of the Sangha, or the Buddhisi Order,
rests with an administrative body in the
Sangha itself, the government is also
responsible for (he affairs of the Sangha.
But it confines its responsibility only for
the matters connected with the state and laity.
Its aim is to promote unity and
joint action between the Sangha and the
state, and to provide a channel through
which the Sangha can communicate
wilh government authorities. In reality,
there has always been harmonious
cooperation between the Sangha and
Because the prosperity
or stagnation of the Sangha
depends mainly on its administration. the system of
administering the Sangha claims the
first and foremost attention.
In former days, the King of Thailand, as the Upholder
of Religion, regulated and supervised the Sangha himself, As the Sangha became
bigger and better established with a large body of learned bhikkhus,
it became more autonomous because the
king let it run its own affairs through an
administrative body called the "Thera".
However, to achieve perfeci harmony
between the Sangha and the state, the
"consiilulion" of the Sangha, which consists of a series of laws, was enacted by
the state. Furthermore, the state sees that
the constitution will go well with these
laws, and has from time to time brought them up to date.
The laws relating to the Sangha that have been passed are :
(a) The Administration of the Sangha Act, 1903;
(b) The Sangha Act of 1941;
(c) The Sangha Act of 1962; and
(d) The Sangha Act of 1992.
Under the Sangha Act of 1941, the organization of the Sangha was patterned
after the parliamentary government
adopted by the state. The doctrine of the
separation of powers was applied and
the balance of powers was designed to
be attained by checks and balances
between the three organs of the Sangha.
namely, the Sangha Sahha as the legislature, the Sangha Mont" as the executive,
and the Binayadhara as the judiciary.
Although the system worked with some
degree of success, a discordant note
sounded in some quarters to the effect
that ecclesiastical matters should not fall
within the sphere of politics. These matters
should, it was suggested, be left entirely
totheadrninistrativebotiyin the Sangha.
known as the "Thera" or the "Elders" as
they were in the days gone by. As a result,
a radical change in organization of the
Sangha was made by the Sangha Act of
1962 which came into force on January 1, 1963. And consequently dhe
Mahathera Samakhum, the Sangha Supreme Council, was estahlished.
At the opening ceremony of the
firsi session of the Mahathera Samakhoni
on 21 January 1963, Field Marshal Sarit
Thanarat, the late Prime Minister, mentioned in his message to Somdet Phra
Sangharaj. the Supreme Patriarch. its
President, that it was the intention of the
government that the Sangha Act of 1962
should be passed in order to reintroduce
the organization of the Sangha as similar
as possible to that in the Buddha's lifetime. and thai it was the intention of the
government to give support in every
possible way to Buddhism which has
been the state religion from time immemorial and whose culture is deeply
ingrained in the national character.
Under the Sangha Acts of 1962 and 1992. the administration of the Sangha
is divided into central and local.
Novices apply gold leaf to the fingers of the
principal Buddha image at Wat Srichum
The Central Administration of the Sangha
His Majesty the King appoints a
selected "Thera" or "Elder" to be the
Supreme Patriarch, Head of the Buddhist
Order. He is responsible for all ecclesiastical affairs oflhe order.
Under the Sangha Act of 1962, the Sangha Supreme Council, the Mahaihera
Samakhom. serves as the Consultative
Council, to the Supreme Patriarch who, according to the law. possesses absolute
power. In reality, he never makes use of
such power, but listens to every suggestion presented by members of the council
and calls for votes if the matter is controversial.
The council consists of Somdet Phra Raja Khanas (i.e. high dignitaries
in the hierarchy of the order next in rank
to the Supreme Patriarch) as ex officio
member, and not more than twelve nominated by the Supreme Patriarch from
Phra Raja Khanas (i.e. high dignitaries below the rank of Somdet Phra Raja
Khana) to hold office as nominated members for a term of two years.
Both ex ofjficio and nominated members act as advisers to the Supreme
Patriarch in the council.
Present Members of the Mahathera SamakhomAccording to the Sangha Acts of
1962 and 1992, the Director-General of
the Department of Religious Affairs is
the ex officio Secretary-General to the
Mahathera Samakhom, the office of
which is at the Department of Religious
Affairs, Ministry of Education.
(1) Somdet Phra Phulthakhosaehan
(2) Somdet Phra Wannarat
(3) Somdet Phra Phutthapaphotchanabodi
(4) Somdet Phra Mahamuniwong
(5) Somdet Phra Phutthachan
(6) Somdet Phra M ah athi radian
(7) Somdet Phra Mahawirawong
(8) Somdei Phra Maharalchamangkhalachan
The Local Admimistratioin of the Sangha
The administration of ihe order in the provinces is divided up into regions,
provinces, districts, and precincts,
corresponding to the divisions of the
country by the state fur administrative
purposes. The Chao Khana Yai (Sangha Regional Supervisor) supervises the
assigned regions which are under the
control of the Chao Khana Phak (Sangha Regional Governor).
The Chao Khana Changwat
(Sangha Provincial Governor) controls a
province, whereas Ihe Chao Khana
Amphoe (Sangha District Officer)
controls a district. The Chao Khana
Tambon (Sangha Village Officer) takes
charge of a precinct and the Chao Avasa
or the Abbot, the principal bhikkhu, is
responsible for the wat or monastery.
Buddhist monasteries are constructed from charitable contributions from
the general public. In order to obtain a
permit to build a monastery, the promoters
must submit a detailed proposal of the
construction to the Sailgha Supreme
Council through the Department of
Religious Affairs. After the Sangha
Council has grained a permit, the
monastery can be built but it will retain
the status of a bhikkhus' lodging, it will
be granted a Visungamasima (Supra),
and will become a juristic person when
the promoters of the monastery have
certified to the Sangha Supreme CounciI
thai the construction of the monastery
has substantially been completed and
that bhikkhus continuously stay tor Lent at the monastery.
The Sangha Act stipulates that any
monastery where the bhikkus no longer
reside is regarded as an uninhabited
monastery. Its propcny is to be transferred
to the General Fund of the Buddhist Order
from which expenses for the general
promotion of Buddhism may be drawn.
Distribution of the Buddhist
Population by Order and Discipline in 1998:
Thai Temples Abroad (around the world)
Present Ecclessiastical (Sangha) Organisational Structure
The Supreme Patriarch
Sangha Supreme Council
Sangha Regional Supervisor
(The Chao Khana Yai)
Sangha Regional Governor
(The Chao Khana Pak)
Sangha Provincial Governor
(The Chao Khana Changwat)
Sangha District Officer
(The Chao Khana Amphoe)
Sangha Village Officer
(The Chao Khana Tambon)
(The Chao Avasa)
Line Historical Setting|
More Historical Background
More Historical Setting
More Land and People
More The Arts 2000's