Episode 18: What is good and bad karma? Why is karma so important in Buddhism? What do Thais think? What do Thais pray for? In this episode we talk about ‘tam boon’ or ‘making merit’ and the significance it holds in Thai culture. Listen, download or play. Thanks for listening!
Download MP3 to listen offline here
I’ve been wanting to do this episode for quite sometime, so I’m glad Mia and I finally made the time to do it. Because even though I grew up in Hawaii, this didn’t mean I didn’t go to Buddhist ceremonies. I did. And they were boring and whenever I asked my mother (who is Thai, in case you forgot) why we were doing something, she said it was for good luck.
Good luck, good luck, good luck.
So whenever she pushed my younger brother and I towards the chanting monk flinging water on the people, I knew it was for good luck, but mostly I thought it was funny to get wet. After a dog attacked me, my mom threw away my favorite purple striped dress because now the dress was considered ‘bad luck’.
For Thais there are two kinds of karma: good or boon/ บุญ and bad or bàap/ บาป. Mia explained that good karma is like money in a bank account. When you tam boon/ ทำบุญ you accumulate good karma into your bank account of life. The more you tam boon/ ทำบุญ the more you accumulate so you will have a good place to stay after you are dead like sà-wăn heaven สวรรค์ . Consequently you can also accumulate bad karma or tam bàap/ ทำบาป from bad deeds as well.
Things that are considered virtuous in the accumulation of tam boon/ ทำบุญ are: chanting and sharing with a monk, giving of every kind, meditation and taking care of suffering animals. Interestingly suffering animals are considered to have had a past life of a lot of bad karma or tam bàap/ ทำบาป. And if you were born into a well-bred family, you had a lot of tam boon/ ทำบุญ from a previous life.
Ghosts, spirits or pĕe/ ผี are looked upon as folks who are not sure where to go next, are lost, or who don’t have enough tam boon/ ทำบุญ to incarnate into a new life. You can be sure, you can offer tam boon/ ทำบุญ to ghosts, spirits or pĕe ผี as well to help them find their way. Because when most people think about making merit at the temple, or when they pray, I think Westerners usually think of the living, but Thais, like a lot of Asian cultures don’t forget to include the dead.
Thais can do this by spreading loving kindness and generosity (through prayer) or pàe mâyt-dtaa/ แผ่เมตตา to all the people they love both alive and deceased. After which follows the very important water pouring ceremony or grùat náam/ กรวดน้ำ. I see it as the closure to a prayer, like an “Amen”. And I’m guessing most expats and visitors interested in Buddhist culture have witnessed this grùat náam/ กรวดน้ำ on many occasions.
With Songkran/ สงกรานต์ just around the moat corner, you can be sure there will much merry making and tam boon/ ทำบุญ for the Thai New Year, so stay tuned for our next episode on this wet and wild holiday!
Download MP3 and Thai script
สวรรค์ /sà-wăn/ heaven ; paradise
นรก /ná-rók/ hell ; underworld
โลก/ lôhk/world ; earth
ผี/ pĕe /ghost ; spirit
ทำบุญ /tam bun/ [to] make merit
บุญ/ bun /virtue ; merit ; good deeds
บาป /bàap /sin ; vice ; evil
ทำบาป /tam bàap/ [to] sin ; commit a sin ; do evil
แผ่เมตตา /pàe mâyt-dtaa/ [to] be compassionate ; extend loving kindness to
กรวดน้ำ /grùat náam/ [to] pour water ; pour ceremonial water