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overcome the suffering of this world by salvation though enlightenment. Mahayana (Greater Vehicle), or northern Buddhism, is found in China, Korea, Tibet and Japan. Theravada, or southern Buddhism, the only surviving school of Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) system, originated in Sri Lanka and incorporates elements of Hinduism and local beliefs. It predominates in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

Thai Art and Culture : Buddhism
Thai Art and Culture : Buddhism
Thai Art and Culture : Buddhism

Known as dharmacakra, the wheel symbolizes the living nature of Buddhist teachings, the perpetual changing of all objects and beings, and the constant quest for salvation. The deer refers to a deer park near Benares, where Buddha preached his first sermon, “setting in motion the Wheel of the Law”

This bejeweled image of Buddha shows the identification of Buddha hood with kingship in Cambodia, where under Jayavarman II, Mahayana Buddhism was declared the state religion. This devaraja (divine king) cult was introduced by Jayavarman II in the early 9th century and influenced Buddhist iconography in the 11th century when the Central Plains of Siam were under Khmer rule.

Mudra is the hand gestures found in Buddhist iconography. This 14th century image of Buddha shows the bhumisparsa mudra (touching the earth), made when Sakyamuni called the earth to witness his attainment of Buddha hood.

The tree under which the future Buddha obtained full enlightenment was a fig (Ficus religious). There he sat, vowing not to move unit he had gained enlightenment, successfully resisting Mara’s assaults. Many temples in Thailand were built around sacred Bodhi trees brought back as cuttings from India by pilgrims.

It is one of the many ways of reaching enlightenment, a state that can be des be described in Buddha’s own words: “There is a sphere which is neither earth, nor fire, nor, air, which is not the sphere of the infinity of space, nor sphere of the infinity of consciousness, the sphere of nothingness, the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, which is neither this word nor the other world, neither sun nor moon. I deny that it is coming or going, enduring, death or birth. It is only the end of suffering.

Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BC), the founder of Buddhism and better known better as Sakyamuni or Buddha, was educated as an Indian prince. One day he rode from his palace accompanied by his groom, Chana, while the gods muffled the sound of the hooves with their hands. In the countryside, he cut off his long hair and beard, and donned plain clothes to symbolize his renouncement of the world and decision to become an ascetic.

In Theravada Buddhism, only a chosen few can ever reach full enlightenment and terminate the chain of rebirths. However, in Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattva intercessors and enlightened individuals voluntarily postpone their own nirvana indefinitely in order to devote themselves to the salvation of mankind.

Avalokitesvara is one of the most popular Bodhisattvas, who sees all the misery of the world and treats it with compassion, and is often depicted, and is often depicted with 11 hands and 1,000 arms, each symbolizing one aspect of the help he can provide.

Thai Art and Culture : Buddhism

Mara, the god of death, tried to prevent Sakymuni’s salvation, fearing that his own kingdom of deaths and rebirths would be in peril. He vainly attempted to dislodge Sakyamuni from his meditations by sending an army of demons and by tempting him with his beautiful daughters and their voluptuous dancing. But when Sakyamuni performed the earth-touching mudra, and the earth trembled, Mara fled.




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