In early Thai history, although there existed regional religious movements that usually formed around a charismatic teacher, there was only one order within the Sangha. In the 1830s, however, Prince Mongkut, while a distinguished monk, became dissatisfied with the condition of Buddhism in Thailand and sought to reform it according to his reading of the Canon. He initiated reforms that eventually led to the establishment of a new order (nikai), called the Thammayut. Mongkut questioned the establishment of sacred space at temple grounds and the ordination procedures that had gone on before, as well as the method of chanting and wearing of robes, and began ordaining or reordaining monks. The Thammayut order, due to its claims of purity and orthodoxy, has caused an enduring tension within the Thai Sangha. One Thai scholar has called the establishment of this new order an “awkward” moment in Thai history. The influence of this nikai eventually spread to neighboring Theravada countries in Southeast Asia and as far away as Sri Lanka. Those monks who had not been reordained became known as the Mahanikai. The differences and undercurrents separating the Thammayut and Mahanikai orders, though hardly distinguishable to the untrained eye, still persist today.

Move Along...