University of Vermont

Understanding the role of Buddhism in Thailand

Thai Institute participants learn some of the basic elements of Thai Culture at the first planning session

Professor Borchert explains Theravada Buddhist to theThai Institute participants

 “Understanding Buddhism takes a lifetime,” began Bill Williams, director of the Asian Studies Outreach Program. “And it can take just as long to learn about a culture different from your own. Our goal in this first planning session is to give you a little bit of understanding of Thai culture and the role of Buddhism in Thailand.”

This past Saturday marked the first planning session for the Institute on Thailand and Its Cultures. The fifteen Vermont educators selected for the program traveled near and far to attend the day-long event held at Mann Hall. The first speaker of the day was Professor Thomas Borchert, assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Vermont. With an expertise on Theravada Buddhist traditions, a school of Buddhism practiced by nearly 95% of Thailand’s population, and experience of living in a Thai temple for six months, Professor Borchert provided the participants with an engaging and though provoking explanation of how the practices of this type of Buddhism appear in everyday life.

After a Thai-inspired lunch catered by the University of Vermont, the program headed over to the Fleming Museum where they were greeted by Chris Fearon, Curator of Education and Public Programs. The participants were then able to tour the Fleming Museum and get a lecture on Buddhism images.

“It’s all in the face,” explained Chris as she showed a slideshow presentation of Buddhism images. “You may decided to buy a Buddha statue while you’re in Thailand, but remember to look at the face to understand the meaning behind the statue.”

The day concluded with the participants selecting books to borrow from the Thai section of the ASOP library. Although the participants had several required readings to complete prior to the start of the program, nearly all were interested in novels, teaching units and DVDs that provided additional insight on Thai life and culture.