I became interested in Buddhism in the U.K. when I was 19, and now I’m 55. I call myself a Christian Buddhist Agnostic, because I’ve been influenced by these religions but I just take from them what suits me. To be honest, I make up my own rules. I first went to Thailand when I was 32, and by that time I could speak Cantonese. It didn’t take me too long before I could get by in everyday Thai. I have lived and worked around the South East Asian region and in the Middle East.
I’ve absorbed some Buddhist attitudes and it’s interesting to notice the effects on me. Firstly, it’s very difficult to be a very pure Buddhist, it’s too hard for most people. To do this it seems you must remove yourself from world and divorce yourself from all worldly matters. So the majority of Thai people follow a way of life which uses some basic Buddhist rules to govern their life, similar to the ten commandments. Also this is mixed up with traditional cultural practices and superstitions. E.g. the spirit houses are a local Thai superstitious tradition. The Thai Chinese also have their own Taoist and Confucian traditions which they follow, e.g. Chinese New Year and the Ching Ming festival (worship ancestors day). All this goes together to make a very interesting and colourful rich mixture of beliefs and traditions in Thailand.
The concept of “Karma” is important for people in Thailand and elsewhere in SE Asia. If you believe in reincarnation (I don’t), then some people excuse themselves from doing bad things in this life, saying that they will make up for it (i.e. suffer) in the next life. Believe it or not, some people really think like this. Also a lot of Thais don’t want to help the disadvantaged, handicapped etc because they think that those people must be suffering the handicap because they did something wrong in a previous life. They try to get the good effect of Karma by helping the Buddhist temples and monks (Tam Boon = make merit) and their family members. They try to avoid doing bad things to others because they are scared of “bad” Karma. A bargirl friend told me that she doesn’t want to cheat any customers because she doesn’t want ‘bad’ Karma. Scammers are afraid of Karma, even though it doesn’t stop them from scamming. I have a girlfriend in Philippines, she’s a Catholic, even she believes in Karma, which surprised me!
For me, I find that when I suspect someone will harm me, I comfort myself with the thought that “Karma” will get them later, hopefully this life. This is very similar to the Christian, Jewish, Muslim concept that God will punish the wicked for their evil deeds !
A lot of the practice of Tam Boon seems just to be trying to get good luck for getting what you want, or making up for your unhealthy desires. i.e. it’s often to do with superstition than being genuinely devout. In Thailand, every year there are stories of Buddhist monks getting into trouble carrying out superstitious practices for profit, magic spells, supernatural powers etc. If found out, usually they are censored by the religious authorities.
For me, two very important concepts that I like from Buddhism are that of the “Middle Way” and of trying to “detach yourself from desire”. The “Middle Way” means that you should be moderate and try to strike a balance in all things. “Detachment” says that you cannot achieve Nirvana (pure enlightenment = pure happiness) unless you detach yourself from all worldly desires. Taken to the extreme, this is a very difficult thing to do and Buddhist monks can spend their whole adult life trying to do it through contemplation and meditation. But most people can use the idea in a small way to improve their happiness. In the modern materialistic western world, many people are obsessed by their desires and ambitions. They must get that girlfriend, boyfriend, university degree, job, promotion, house, car, holiday, fashion item, gadget, toy, see that movie, go that club, do that diet, etc. It’s called a rat race, a treadmill. I think ambitions are good, they are targets to be aimed at. People get satisfaction from achieving and also from trying to achieve. But ambitions and desires are not good when they completely control and take over our lives. Then we become slaves to ambition and desire and are no longer in control. We expect success, when we don’t achieve it, we feel disappointed and then maybe depressed and unhappy. This can lead to neurosis and mental illness. Hence the fashion for therapy sessions with analysts amongst rich Americans. To be really happy, we need to step back a little from the rat race. Manage our expectations. It’s okay to have lots of hopes and reasonable ambitions, and to try hard, but don’t expect too much, then you wont be disappointed. Take the middle way, be balanced and moderate in your approach to life.
Mind you having said all of the above, I think most of the audience of Stickman’s site are a pretty laid back and happy bunch anyway so maybe they don’t need too much pulpit philosophy. For me what makes me happy is “wine, women and song” plus the company of good friends and humorous conversation. You can find plenty of all of those in Thailand. Normally I only go to the bars in Bangkok & Pattaya to watch sport, have a beer, eat something, watch a live band and maybe flirt with, joke with or wind up the bar girls. I very rarely ever “off” a girl from a bar. There are some dangers in doing that, so I play safe. I got a few non bar girlfriends around, that’s enough for me. Since I don’t make too many plans or expect too much, I just really enjoy myself there. Every day is an adventure.
A little bit of “detachment” helps in the game of love. A lot of lonely guys moan to me that they can’t find love. I tell them, don’t worry about it, be a little detached, be yourself, enjoy yourself and love will find you. I think a lot of good women get scared off by guys who are tense or too serious about looking for love. Of course gold diggers like the serious guys because they can be manipulated. Apart from your physical appearance, before a woman can love you, she’s got to get to like you and know you. So most women like a guy who is happy, who is enjoying himself, who can make jokes, talk a lot and listen a lot, then they can get to know you. I think women have got a sixth sense about men, not always, but mostly, but they need some exposure to his personality. The strong silent types just bore women. When a woman is with a silent guy, she’s wondering what the hell he’s thinking. Whoever you are, there’ll be a person of the opposite sex who’ll fall in love with you. So just play the game, don’t worry about it and it’ll happen. In Thailand, avoid bar girls if you’re looking for love. It’s not that you can’t find real love with a bar girl. It does happen, but probably it’s rare, and you can get seriously damaged by the experience. Bar girls have an agenda, they are not socialising with you because they like you, they are doing it to earn money. It’s their job to make you think they are your friend and lover. Why do so many men fall for bar girls? Because it’s easy to meet bar girls. It’s much better to date women outside of bars, social skills will help, you need to work harder at it, but Thai language can be a problem if you don’t speak much Thai.