Moral Decline in Thailand? Why the Government Always get it Wrong?

 | Fri 19 Jul 2013 11:02 ICT

According to a recent survey by the Abac Poll, 75.2 per cent of respondents believe that Thailand’s moral standards has declined, which raises an interesting question: what governs Thailand’s moral standards?

Role Models? 

The short, official, answer: Thai Buddhism.

Thailand is a Buddhist country with more than 80 per cent of Thais claiming to follow the religion. It is common for Thais to associate moral standards with following someone, whether it be a higher power or a code of conduct. The most basic religious principle of Buddhism is the five precepts: 1) not to kill, 2) not to steal, 3) not to commit adultery, 4) not to lie, and 5) not to consume alcohol.

Yet, we often hear about the violation of these five precepts from all around the country. Thai society regards killing, stealing, adultery, and alcohol consumption as common occurrences. But does this mean moral decline? No, not according to the report. 

In 2012, a Durex survey found that out of 29,000 males and females from 36 different countries, Thai males were ranked No.1 and Thai females No.2 for being the most unfaithful married people in the world.

Lying is common, as evidenced by the lies committed by the government, politicians may believe that it is sometimes necessary to lie to the people to maintain stability. Noble lies are at work within Thailand, while saving face through not telling the truth is also common in all stratum of society. Lying has been normalised as a cultural inevitability. 

But when this poll was analyzed it compared moral standards not to the above but to Buddhist practices, such as attending the temple on Buddhist holidays, or making merit, rather than everyday life attitude and our bahaviour. The precepts don’t even get a mention. Ethics, it seems, might be more about following rules than it is about self-awareness, open-mindedness, an awareness of other’s feelings, and a willingness to not harm or hurt anyone. And ethics it seems, needs a leader, preferably an oligarch with an acumen for public speaking. Strange, because this is in direct contradiction to Buddhist philosophy. 

Even Chinnapat Bhumirat, the Permanent Secretary of Education in Thailand, said it is likely that having too few classes teaching morality is contributing to the problem, therefore religious and spiritual leaders must be invited to help instill a moral conscience and understanding of ethics in students.

The survey by the Abac poll was conducted among 2,102 respondents in 17 provinces between July 14 and July 17. It focused on Asarnha Bucha Day and ethical role models. The people of Thailand who might be followed, that might lead as examples.

When people were asked about what they intended to do on Asarnha Bucha Day, 84.3 per cent said they would make merit, 62.4 per cent planned to visit temples, and 40.4 per cent said they would join a traditional candle-lit procession.

The survey also revealed that almost 50 per cent of Thai people believed that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is a politician who could become an ethical role model, The Nation reported.

But maybe it is time people grew up and became their own role model? Being good doesn’t mean following wealthy politicians’ conduct, or even turning up to the temple and releasing fish into a river. It means being good from day to day, helping other people, realising the consequences of your actions and realizing when you are hurting others. Perhaps the Abac poll is barking up the wrong Bhodi tree.