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Same Same Buddha!

  • Submitted by: Poornima, India
  • Submission Date: 09th Jun 2008

“You from India? Same Same Buddha”, exclaimed the driver happily, as he helped me with the luggage. I had a day to kill during transit in Bangkok and taken one of the numerous tours around the city before flying back to our home in Bangalore.
When you sink into your seat in Thai Airlines and open the in-flight magazine, two things hit you in the face – their King Rama and the Lord Buddha. The Thais flaunt their religion to everyone with happy smiling faces. However, does the Buddha just decorate the covers of a glossy in-flight magazine? Does the ordinary Thai on the street really care? And as the driver exclaimed, do we really have “same same Buddha”? To have these questions answered, the best way, I thought would be to roam the city.

I remember as a 10 year old reading Amar Chitra Katha (a leading publication that draws its stories from the Hindu mythology), that Buddha was the ninth incarnation of Vishnu - the Preserver. So that’s our Buddhism, engulfed into the mainstream Hinduism. We don’t talk much about the Buddha except in the places historically linked to him. And he is now popular in India only after Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet and more recently, due to ongoing Tibet-China issues.

In contrast, Buddha is everywhere in Thailand. So when I landed in Bangkok, as advised by the tourist information I opted for a temple tour, curious to know its take on the gentle Saint. The Tour guide quoted a higher price than the amount settled at the tourist information desk. When I said it was unjust and haggled over the hike, she seemed upset. Finally, after a phone call she accepted the price but admonished me, “You are in Thailand, you should spend more dollars”.

Buddha had preached in his times to lead a life of moderation, not indulge in extremes. He advocated the basic five rules - abstinence from sexual desires, violence, greed, lies and stealth.
Well, its common knowledge that the first rule is not quite rigid in Bangkok. At the Wat Trimitir (Golden Buddha), I saw a man near the shrine who seemed like the priest. So I was quite surprised to see him smoking and make a souvenir sale. He didn’t seem anymore austere than any of the visitors to the temple.

Thailand people are of Chinese origin, but their culture is completely Buddhist and Hindu. They script resembles our Devanagiri script. Buddhism has established roots in many countries in Asia - Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Tibet. One of the theories of this religion going so far is that most of its followers were traders and they took their religion and culture along with their wares to new lands.
This keen sense of trading is everywhere in this city too. The shop owner, outside the hotel I stayed in, seemed a chatty type. He had four children. “First one married, one kid. Two sons, studying, one daughter married”. He works hard since he has to support his children. ‘Buy two T-shirts madam, only 200 Baht”. I fell for the bargain. Even in India, I don’t get it at such a price.
The tuk-tuk driver offered a city tour and announced that he would accept credit cards. Even the Indians here, seemed to have the art of marketing. I was invited by touts to have some fresh South Indian ‘Idly, Dosa’ or ‘North Indian’ lunch.

So are they really religious or are they keen to sell Buddha images? Walking around Bangkok streets reminded me in Chickpet, Bangalore or Chor bazaar, Bombay - except they spoke a different language. Thinking of home led to a similar train of thought. We too are religious but that doesn’t stop us from flaunting our gods to the tourists. Hawkers abound everywhere selling everything from Ganesh Idols to meditation beads. Every religious place will have more shops selling their wares than holy men. Aren’t all these shop owners believers? We are as good or as bad as the Thais, only they are better at marketing.

The sun shone in the Thai sky, as I reached the Airport. As I tipped the driver and walked towards the check-in, his profound words rang in my ears, ‘Same Same Buddha’.