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