My experience with the religion of my host country
By Alena Nöckler; January 2023
InterCultural and Language project, RPK24 Phayao Thailand
Picture: Rajaphajanughok 24 school, Phayao
More than 90 percent of the Thai population is Buddhist. I come from Germany and there Buddhism is less than 1 percent of the total population. The majority belongs to the Christian church. However, I call myself atheistic, which means that I don't believe in a god or a higher power.
Since I have been in Thailand, I have repeatedly been asked about my religion. Often my opponent was then confused when I said that I am not religious. This led to conversations about religion and faith. Since I have been here, I have not met a single person who is not religious. However, I can't say for sure what people think of atheists in Thailand. In any case, I have not heard any negative comments. Rather curiosity about what I believe in if it is not God or karma.
In any case, I have been learning about Buddhism for five months now and am experiencing beliefs and practices first hand.
In my first months here, I and my fellow volunteers were taught how to behave in Buddhist temples and how to show respect to Buddha. The latter is done by kneeling in front of the Buddha's statue and bowing three times.
As I have had more and more contact with Buddhism, I have thought a lot about this religion.
In addition, I was able to have a unique experience not too long ago. My fellow volunteers and I, together with my parents, went to a temple that was located on a mountain and to which one had to climb about 200 steps. Once at the top, we wanted to watch the sunset, but instead we were greeted by a monk.
He spoke no English, but we were able to communicate thanks to broken Thai vocabulary and gestures. He asked us where we were from and what we were doing in Thailand. After a friendly exchange of words, he gestured us to the temple's Buddha figure, where we kneeled down.
Then he put a red string around each of our left wrists and spoke words in a language I don't know. At the end, he sprinkled us with water. We thanked him and said goodbye.
While I'm not exactly sure what the process was, because I haven't had the chance to ask anyone yet, it felt special. I feel honored that this monk took the time for us, even though we obviously have no idea about Buddhism. That was incredible.
Although I can't force myself to believe in something that fundamentally denies my rational thinking, I do admire Buddhism as a religion. If I were religious, I would want to follow the Buddhist teachings. The religion strikes me as very peaceful and peace-loving. Maybe in the future I will be able to take an example from Buddhist thinking. - Alena