Concepts of Thai Buddhism: Karma, Merit, Rebirth & Nirvana

Concepts of Karma, Merit, Rebirth & Nirvana

Karma, merit, rebirth, and nirvana are important concepts in Thai Buddhism. They are essential keys for followers to understand. Each one goes hand in hand, which is important to realize. The Thai Buddhist seeks good karma by making merit so that rebirth leads closer to the supreme goal of nirvana.

Thai woman praying at temple

Karma & Making Merit

Karma is a natural law of the universe. No deity, priest, or monk rules karma. When thinking of gravity, we know that what comes up must come down. Karma exists with it’s own sort of law. What you do now affects what happens later.  The concepts of karma and making merit are tied together. Making merit is the process of intentionally doing good actions. Thai Buddhists do this with the knowledge that the law of karma will lead to positive actions returning. Karma can be viewed as an investment into the future. Read More About Buddhism in Thailand

There are many ways one can make merit. It is popular in Thailand to give food to the monks. Monks preserve and help teach others about the lessons of Buddha. However, they live by certain rules in their everyday lives. For example, they may only eat within set times of a day. Monks depend on food from fellow Thai people. Therefore, people see feeding the monks as an excellent way to make merit. This is a practice that goes all the way back to the days of Buddha’s life.

Feeding monks to make merit

Other ways to make merit include making donations to temples, giving money to those in need, and feeding stray cats and dogs. It is very likely for a traveler in Thailand to see a person asking for money at temples. Foreigners may view this as begging for money. Yet, a Thai person does not judge the person asking and instead takes the opportunity to help and improve their own karma. Couples even join in making merit together to seek good fortune in their relationship. In fact, wedding days include visiting temples to make merit so that the marriage will be blessed.

Rebirth & Nirvana

Buddhists believe that life continues after death in the form of being reborn. Rebirth is one of the concepts of Buddhism. Thai Buddhists seek rebirth into a better existence. They also make merit to bring them good karma in their next life. Thai people want to be born into better circumstances than that of their present lives. Furthermore, they believe any bad situation was due to previous actions in a past life. The goal is to continue improving so that eventually they will not return to suffering.

Thai woman places gold leaf on statue of Buddha

Human existence is believed to be just one existence of many. It is on the lower end of existences. The very lowest being what some term ‘Buddhist Hell’. On the other hand, nirvana is the highest existence. A person may be reborn many times as they progress through the different existences.

The ultimate goal of a Thai Buddhist is nirvana. Nirvana is the end of the cycle of rebirth. It may be described as peace. Think of the saying “Rest in Peace.” Achieving nirvana is to rest eternally in peace and happiness. The Buddhist meditates, makes merit, and seeks knowledge in the hope that they eventually reach this state. Nirvana is the end of all suffering.

Concepts of Thai Buddhism: Karma, Merit, Rebirth, & Nirvana


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