About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

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About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by Bamboo Grove » Sun May 28, 2017 7:19 pm

I have just finished this book by Chatthip Nartsupa, called The Thai Village Economy in the Past. It was excellent reading and widened my understanding of Buddhism in Thailand (among other things.) Here are two excerpts from the book. Now do they make sense to anybody else?

But at the end of the sakdina system, the state had already come into existence. The emergence of the state affected the village in the area of belief and ideology, as well as in the matter of corvee and tax. As in the case of economy and administration, so in the area of belief, the state chose to dominate the village in one aspect - that aspect which bore on relations between the village and the state, between the farmer class and the sakdina class. The state left other aspects of belief concerned with the everyday life of villagers to continue as before or with just some limited adjustment. Buddhist believes were blended in with beliefs in village spirits, allowing spirit belief to remain central. With respect to the relations between village and state, farmer class and sakdina class, Buddhism was used to explain and legitimate the rise of the sakdina class as rulers. The system of belief in ancestors and the blood line of kin provided no explanation of the difference between the two classes. It could not explain why the lords and rulers should use corvee labour and should receive suai tax from the villagers. In the system of belief in ancestors, people in society were related to one another and were equal to one another. There were no classes of rulers and ruled, no class which could take tax from another class. To explain the legitimacy of the state to rule and extract resources from the village, the state used the principle of merit and karma in Buddhism: villagers faced difficulty, poverty, hunger and misery because they had sinned in a previous life, while the lords and nobles had accumulated merit in the past. As monks said in sermon, bun ko tong um pai, merit must carry him forward. A village saying ran: “They have the good fortune to be lords and masters, we are ordinary people with a lesser fortune. This indicates that villagers tended to accept the explanation of the legitimacy of the emergence of a sakdina class which was distinct from themselves. At the same time, this acceptance made villagers afraid of people who had higher merit and power. (Nartsupha, 1999:41.)

The state used Buddhism to make villagers accept the class of state nobles. But apart from this, the state had no interest whether Buddhism should become a real element of the life of the villagers or not. And the villagers’ old belief in spirits opposed the intervention of religion into the daily life within the village. Hence under the sakdina system, spirit belief remained central to the village, and Buddhism had to adjust to fit with local beliefs. Especially in Upper Siam, in the north and Isan, spirit belief was stronger than Buddhism in everyday life. When there was hardship such as sickness or drought, when things went missing, or when people had to travel, villagers would pray to spirits rather than going to see the monks. Buddhism was given a local character, for instance by blending spirit worship into Buddhist ceremonies, or by transforming local ceremonies into Buddhist ceremonies. In some places, the monks paid respect to the local spirits, or believed in the emergence of local holy men (phumibun). (Nartsupha, 1999:42.)

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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by caller » Sun May 28, 2017 7:39 pm

Hi BG, in what years (approx.) did the events detailed above take place?
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by Bamboo Grove » Sun May 28, 2017 8:14 pm

Because so many documents were destroyed when Burma sacked and burned Ayutthaya, it is difficult to give certain answer to your question, caller. Some sources say that Theravada Buddhism arrived in 14th century. That's the time when Sukhothai and Ayutthaya were becoming states so that could be the case. Those were Mandala states and so their control over things were not that strong. In the book this comes under the title subsistence village economy under the sakdina system 1455-1855. So I would expect the change was slow and gradual during those years.
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by caller » Sun May 28, 2017 11:19 pm

I'm guessing little has really changed, apart from, as everywhere, the villagers are migrating to the cities in ever increasing numbers. The Thai education system has been used as a tool to maintain the status quo in modern times, but change is slowly underway, especially via the medium of social media and is unstoppable in my opinion, and that's a threat that has led to the current regime.

Okay, a very simplified view, but who'd have thought such a system could really have survived for so long?
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by PeteC » Mon May 29, 2017 1:24 am

We had the full description of Sakdina on file here before back in 2009 but it was lost during a server change/outage. Below is a re-post courtesy of Paul Wilding http://www.thai-blogs.com/2009/03/11/la ... t/?blog=35 . Pete :cheers:

The Last Orientals – The Thai Sakdina System

One of the pleasures of visiting Thailand is the sense of the old you get, the various protocols and traditions from an age gone by that Thailand still enigmatically clings onto in the shadow of the postmodern skyline. Seen by tourists the girls that stand at the doors to restaurants and shops simply paid to bow to customers as they enter are something old worldly, to a local they are nothing strange, simply basic politeness. Many visitors are left wondering how within a country where anyone can don a suit and stroll through Siam Paragon, how every Thai seems to innately know their place within an almost Victorian class system of deference and aloofness.

When a tourist puts his first tentative step on terra firma and for every moment henceforth unwittingly he is immersing himself in a translucent ether of Sakdina that he will probably never become aware. Sakdina harks back to the dawn of Thailand and in the 21st century has called on all its adaptability to survive. 21st century Sakdina can be seen as many things; the amount of privilege a person deserves, seeing an expensive car drive by with a police escort leading it rudely gesturing for ordinary drivers to get out the way, the deference shown by a servant to his master or students lowering their heads when they pass a teacher by in the corridor. Sakdina is the division of the society into commoners and higher castes and the realisation that a Tuk Tuk driver, even if he saved his pennies and passed that Degree at Ramkanghang Open University, he would never be accepted in a job vacancy of government officer simply because of his low birth. Sakdina’s origins lie deep in Thai history.

Origins of Sakdina

Medieval Thailand was a sparsely populated land, remote regions separated by dense rain forests, many isolated villages were only accessible by river. For the fledgling Ayutthaya Kingdom sprawling across the centre of this domain, maintaining control over remote possessions was a constant challenge, regional lords often enjoyed far too much autonomy in the eyes of a greedy capital.

It was in the reign of King Borommatrailokkanat (1448-1488) that a formalised system was introduced designed to force even the most far-flung regions into line. King Trailok passed a series of laws that have resonated down Thai history to today and are probably the most influential royal commands issued in Thai history. Trailok introduced a governmental system which nowadays is known as the Sakdina System, but at the time were laws of Civil, Military and Provincial Hierarchies. The system itself was based upon a cultural and social order that had been practiced in much of the country at local level for centuries, Trailok made three important changes to this system, he expanded it, standardised it and centralised it.

Thai society had long been divided into two classes, the nobles and the masses, the Sakdina System clearly defined the roles within society of these two groups, how they would interact with each other and amongst themselves creating a strict social order based on the quantified worth of each individual. Rigid castes were formalised within the ranks of both nobles and commoners excluding only Chinese and women of non-noble birth who were considered without worth.

When first introduced the Sakdina System was mainly a system of social interaction, the worth of an individual determined how he should responsibly behave and the respect he was due from others. In the Thai language where the usage of pronouns and bowing are so important, a system of ranks made a simple indicator when people met as to if they were higher or lower status and how low or high to bow and how to address the other person. The system not only established how much respect a person deserved but also how much social responsibly they were supposed to take. People of higher birth were expected to live by higher standards. The system also established the relationship between noble and commoner, even free commoner, was that of master and slave, all free males 18-80 were required to submit themselves for 6-8 months to their landlord each year, service could be either civil or military.

However, the problem with a system of privilege, even one started solely to promote cordiality, is abuse. Status could be used for personal gain and corruption and this quickly began to happen with Sakdina. Abuses such as, if a person of lower worth committed a crime upon a person of higher Sakdina they would receive a sterner sentence than whereas if the situation was reversed a person of high worth would receive a lower sentence for hurting a person of low worth. Higher-ranking nobles also used their Sakdina to gain audiences with the king.

Everyone person in the country of caste was assigned a numerical rank according to their worth. With the lower ranks of commoners, it tended to be job defined ranks, however in most cases it was rank that determined what job you were eligible to do. Extensive lists were created in Trailok’s time which meticulously number ranked every job in the country. The main benefit of the system for the Kings of Ayutthaya the number of any individual was modifiable by the monarch, this gave the monarch ability to reward loyalty and punish disloyally giving him a more powerful hold over his subjects.

Sakdina literally translates to Field (Na) Power (Sakdi) and is often referred to as Thai Feudalism. One part of Sakdina often over emphasized is the land rights associated with it. The ranking number each person of caste in the country received was often referred to as ‘Rai,’ which is a land measurement. It has been suggested that a person received Rai of land equal to his Sakdina rank. So a Government Officer with a Sakdina of 225 would not only have a social standing of 225 but also be granted 225 Rai of land by the king. Sakdina numerical ranks were, Crown Prince 100,000 Rai, members of the Royal Family up to 50,000 Rai, ranks of Nobles 400-10,000 Rai depending upon position in government, Government Officials 50-400 Rai depending upon position in the administration, Craftsmen 50 Rai, Commoners 25 Rai, Slaves 5 Rai.

While the distribution of land along these lines is by far the most famous aspect of Sakdina, it may not have happened at all but rather using the word Rai to describe Sakdina may simply have been symbolic. This argument is supported by the fact areas of land were given Sakdina values and these don’t seem to correspond the real size of the land. A district may have only 10,000 Rai of actual land but be given a Sakdina value of 30,000 Rai to distribute amongst the inhabitants, suggesting the Sakdina Rai rankings were purely symbolic. That there was no land distribution is almost certain from the 16th century onwards when Chinese merchants, monks and married women of non-noble birth were given Sakdina numbers, leaving only unmarried peasant girls and Chinese labourers as without Sakdina.

A sizable proportion of the population had the ignominious status of having no Na. At first women who were not of noble birth were considered of no worth along with the sizable Chinese immigrant population. When the laws changed allowing married common women Sakdina she received it based of two factors, her husband’s Rai and her status as wife, 1st wives would receive more Rai than the 2nd and 3rd wives and so on. The wife would also gain or lose Rai depending upon the fortunes of her husband, even noble women with Rai of their own when married received Rai from their husband. Marriage to a husband of higher Rai meant she increased her Rai, a noble woman could also lower her Rai by marrying a man of lower Rai. Sakdina was not an entirely inflexible system for men either; men of lower caste could also raise their Rai through marriage to a noble woman. Also a father blessed with a beautiful daughter could to try to marry her to someone of high Rai and receive an increase in his rank in return.

Sakdina in Modern Times

Unlike in the west, Thai Feudalism didn’t die but grew stronger as it aged. In the reign of King Chulalok (1782-1809) the system was codified as a legal system called The 3-Seal Code and officially used in legal disputes to determine how much weight a person’s testimony carried, the higher the Rai, the more believable the witness’s testimony was considered in court, so a person commoner accusing a noble would have little chance.

As Thailand fell under western influence and capitalised in the 20th century this new system brought many changes to challenge the established Sakdina harmony. Business traditionally low caste became of greater importance, an educated middle class emerged, and people were able to raise their worth in society and lose it. Sakdina was a system of social stability but capitalism could be a system of fluidity. However Capitalism didn’t prove incompatible with Sakdina which was able to make concessions and accept new castes onto its hierarchy and able accept the changing of fortunes. Sakdina was also able to change capitalism, Traditionally Sakdina determined a person’s role in society by its caste system by limiting ability of lower castes to higher office, by doing this Sakdina ensured most capitalist success came to mostly to the high castes already at the top.

Sakdina was legally abolished as late as the 1932 coup, but refused to go away. Even the Fascist Dictator Phiboon Songkran Thailand’s most powerful ruler had a shot at ending it, but failed, discovering almost 800 years of history, deference and effeteness doesn’t pass easily and especially not in Thailand. There’s a saying “understand Sakdina and you understand Thailand”.

In politics Sakdina sets the relationship between Thai government and the people, not in the western idea of a civil service, serving the public, but a higher caste considering the public slaves to be governed by them. Sakdina continues in the attitude the people at the top of society should not be criticised by those lower than them and creates a culture of passive acceptance of authority everywhere, no matter how unjust or corrupt.

Often for the tourist the most visible example of Sakdina is the sex industry. It often baffles foreigners how Thais can so easily see send generation after generation of their young girls into the industry but have little moral of even nationalistic qualms over it. This is ironically contrasted by the continual scandals of University girls entering prostitution, some to fund courses, but many such as the Chulalongkorn case, simply to fund clothes shopping in Siam Squares fashion boutiques. Sakdina again provides the explanation as peasant girls are of no worth in the system but middle class university students are not behaving as their Sakdina ranks demands.

Sakdina is probably still the most powerful influence on the Thai psyche today and its legacy never more prevalent than in the Thai political crisis of the present. Nothing more than PAD’s argument for the overthrow of two democratically elected governments illustrates present day Sakdina, PAD arguing that the people who voted for the overthrown regimes were uneducated peasants not capable of judging who to vote for. The PAD argument is simply the people who voted for the Democrats may have been fewer in number but by being educated middle class were of higher caste and Sakdina so their opinion should count more.
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by Bamboo Grove » Mon May 29, 2017 2:42 am

Good article and it also explains a lot of the present day thinking. Just think about the traffic accidents cause by some "prestigious" persons.
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by Name Taken » Mon May 29, 2017 8:31 am

Clinging to old customs and traditions is not a good thing, and I don't think romanticizing the past is a good thing either.
The truth is that daily life in Thailand is hard and it's nothing like what you would see in a tourist brochure, daily life must have been hellaciously mesirable a long time ago here in Thailand.

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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by RCer » Mon May 29, 2017 10:45 am

Excellent thread, thanks.

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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by caller » Mon May 29, 2017 11:09 am

Bamboo Grove wrote:
Mon May 29, 2017 2:42 am
Good article and it also explains a lot of the present day thinking. Just think about the traffic accidents cause by some "prestigious" persons.
They're also good examples of where the role of social media is coming into play. Okay, it's self-evident that there is very much still an 'us and them' attitude in respect of making the punishment fit the crime, or simply applying any punishment. But more and more Thai's are finding that unacceptable and voicing their opinions and as a consequence, the authorities have been forced to at least, be seen to be doing something, albeit the bare minimum and reluctantly. But that is there for everyone to see, to discuss, complain about and to store up grievances and there will be more of the same coming along soon, to add to that sense of unfairness and injustice. The authorities really have 2-choices, to control social media and rule by fear, as is happening now, or adapt to survive and until recently, that was happening as discussed in the above blog. I'm sure if left alone, that process would have continued, albeit slowly. But it seems others have decided enough is enough.
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by PeteC » Fri Jun 02, 2017 5:35 pm

I forgot to mention last week that if this country is to make any social progress at all the damn language has to change to get rid of the various terms for the words "you" and "I". The way it is now and has been forever is that everyone is immediately placed into a class level during common, everyday conversation depending upon the perception of the speaker. You'll never have unity under a system like that. It's wrong, has been wrong from the beginning, and will be wrong until the end of time. It's just another control mechanism by the upper upon the (perceived) lower. :banghead: Pete :(
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by hhinner » Fri Jun 02, 2017 6:53 pm

^^ I haven't really come across this class-based "you" and "I" pronoun usage in common, everyday conversation. Do you have any examples? I agree with the class perception thing to an extent, but haven't noticed the pronoun bit. More often than not it's relative or observed age that determines the appropriate pronoun. Of course I know that as a Farang I'm sometimes the lowest of the low, and anyone referring to me as "it" (when talking about me within earshot) gets a sometimes not so subtle reprimand.

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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by PeteC » Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:43 pm

No, I don't have any first hand examples except for what I hear regularly on the current televised drama shows that seem to drive the point home nightly to those who are susceptible to that sort of influence, which is the majority of the population who watch them. In the past I've heard it many times personally in business when a Thai boss goes off at an employee, and in my opinion it simply shouldn't exist in any society. If you are angry, a single term for "you" is sufficient to get your point across with tone and facial mannerisms. A society doesn't need separate pronouns that in essence inflict pain and are demeaning to the receiver. Here is a listing, but not a complete listing, of examples for readers who don't have any idea what we're talking about. https://www.into-asia.com/many-ways-to- ... ou-in-thai

This is all part and parcel to Sakdina explained above. The different pronouns were developed for the purpose of control. I know things like this are common in Asia, India etc., but it doesn't make it right if we're assessing humanity as a whole. I would really like to go into how things like this apply to what's happened here over the past three years, but as a forum we can't. I can say though that when Thai people in positions of great public influence say things like "my vote is worth two of theirs"...the mentality and perpetuation of why there are different pronouns becomes very clear. Pete
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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by hhinner » Sat Jun 03, 2017 12:44 am

^^ I had a look at that link. The "royal" words aren't heard in common everyday conversation. Much of the other stuff has little, if anything, to do with class. The so-called offensive words are generally considered rude in polite society, but even so may still be used between close friends or siblings in private. Context is important. I've heard European bosses go off at employees using pretty colourful language as well and how demeaning it is depends on the situation and local mores. Anyhow, not really relevant to Buddhism. As for Sakdina, I think that will slowly disappear with a growing middle class. But the super rich will always be with us, as will the very poor. Unfortunately.

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Re: About the arrival of Buddhism to Thailand

Post by Bamboo Grove » Sat Jun 03, 2017 1:06 am

The strange thing about the so called rude words for I (kuu) and you (mueng) is, that they are actually used by King Ramkhamhaeng, well at least kuu is in the Ramkhamhaeng stele. The whole stele is under controversy, though, as some people claim that at least three sides of it, if not the whole thing is fake. Anyhow, kuu is obviously from Lanna language, which was superseded by a more southern version of Tai language as Ayutthaya took over the rule of the area. And during the Ramkhamhaeng days it was not considered rude to use these words. I've actually visited a village in Chachoengsao, where the whole village used kuu and mueng.

Not that this has anything to do with the topic.
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