To understand the life of the Thais, one must appreciate the vital role
played in it by religion. As practiced in Thailand, popular Buddhism
is a tolerant, receptive faith, following not only the direct words of
the Buddha but also demonstrating a capacity to absorb many early
Brahmanist, animist and astrological beliefs. It offers an ideal moral
code, determining one's relations with other people, with both nature
and the world of spirits, forming a current that runs from birth though
Thai Buddhists range from monks to laymen of varying degrees of devoutness, but the lives of all are affected since each individual is shaped by growing up in a society in which Buddhism is a pervasive, highly visible influence. The child acquires its teaching and practices from family and community rituals, from the ubiquitous monks, and (especially in the countryside) from the monastery or wat which serves as the physical setting for so many of his activities. There are differences in the way these influences come into play in various part of the country, but there are far more similarities that help shape the Thai character.