Date 14/08/2015

BHUDDIST LENT DAY



BHUDDIST LENT DAY

Translated by Dr. Somboon Duangsamosorn and Dr. Suthira Duangsamosorn

Origin

Buddhist Lent Day mars the beginning of the annual retreat for monks as laid down by Lord Buddha more than twenty-five centuries ago. On that day all monks take a vow to stay in a particular place or temple for three months from the first Day of the Waning moon in the
8th Month to the 15th Day of the Waxing Moon in the 11th Month. It coincides with the rainy season during which the monks are not allowed to stay overnight anywhere else, except in exceptional cases based on reasons granted by Lord Buddha.

Buddhist Lent day means the day on which the Buddhist monks take the vow to stay only at one particular place or temple which can shelter them from the sun, storms and rain.

Significance

For Buddhism and its followers, Buddhist Lent has the following important characteristics :

1. Buddhist monks who have been travelling from place to place have totake up shelter in a particular place, according to Lord Buddha’s discipline.

2. Buddhist monks who stay at a particular place for a length of time shall teach young boys who wish to be ordained in order to study the Buddhist Doctrine and preach to lay followers.

3. During the Buddhist Lent, lay followers refrain from bad actions, in particular drinking alcohol, taking drugs or leading an inappropriate life.

4. During the Buddhist Lent, laymen acquire merit, observe five or eight precepts, listen to sermons and sit in meditation in temples.

Historical Background

Lord Buddha’s Motives for Laying Down the Discipline of the Buddhist Lent
When Lord Buddha was staying at Veluvana Temple in Rajagriha City of Magadha State, a group of people complained to Lord Buddha that the Buddhist monks did not act appropriately, as they kept travelling even in the rainy season, walking through the rice fields, and damaging the farmer’s paddies, while ordained people of other religions stopped travelling and took retreat. Lord Buddha held a meeting, the Buddhist monks discussed the matter, and in the end Lord Buddha formulated the rule enforcing all Buddhist monks to take retreat during the rainy season by uttering the following words :

"Anujanami Bhikkhave Vassang Upagantung.”

O Bhikkhus, I allow you to observe the Lent Retreat.
Buddhist Lent Day usually falls on the 1st Waning Moon Day of the 8th Month and the retreat ends on the 15th Waxing Moon day of the 11th Month, which is also known as the First Buddhist Lent Day (Purima Pansa). In some years, two Eight Lunar Months occur, and in that case, Buddhist Lent Day is postponed to the 1st Waning Moon of the 2nd Eight Month, or the 1st Waning Moon Day of the Ninth Month (Pajchima Pansa) until the 15th Waxing Moon Day of the 12th Month, which is the end of the Second Buddhist Lent (Pajchima Pansa).

Practices for Laymen during the Buddhist Lent Retreat

In the past, the majority of the Thai people were farmers. They began their work in the fields before the rainy season, and by the time Buddhist monks took the vow to observe the Lent retreat, all farmers were free and could go to temples. There were no modern means of transportation, and the rivers and canals were full of water which enforced a sedentary life upon the farmers, during which they observed five or eight precepts, made offering to the monks, listened to sermons and practised meditation.

In the temples, which were located near the farmers’ houses, the monks would accept their offerings for their stay during the Buddhist Lent, and preach the Buddhist Doctrine, strengthen the faith of the people to acquire merit, observe the precepts and develop mindfulness by sitting in meditation.
The Thai people have been known to observe Buddhist lent since the Sukhothai period, of which the stone inscription made in the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great is historical evidence. It reads as follows :

"King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai together with his noblemen and commoners, both men and women from all walks of life, had great faith in Buddhism and observed the precepts during Buddhist Lent.”

Besides observing the precepts, Thai Buddhists acquired merit during the annual retreat by observing local customs which were recorded in a book ascribed to the well-known Nang Noppamas as follows:
"In the 8th Month a religious rite was held to mark Buddhist Lent, during which Buddhist monks stayed at their temples for the rainy season. At Royal temples, the King commanded his courtiers to look after the monks’ shelters, offer suitable beds, chairs, mats, bathing clothes, food, medicines, joss-sticks and candles, so that they could pay homage to the Triple Gem. The people of Sukhothai also made merit at the temples built by their ancestors.”

The celebration of Buddhist Lent evolves around two important religious rites which will be described here :

1. The Candle Procession

This tradition derived out of a need in the old society when electricity was not available to provide light for the large number of monks staying at temples, to say early morning as well as evening prayers and to promote religious study at night. Laymen, therefore, prepared large candles intended for use in temples throughout lent. These especially large candles known as Buddhist Lent Candles were also meant to be offerings to Lord Buddha.

Before offering Buddhist Lent Candles to the temple, the laymen celebrate and take the big candles out in a traditional procession which is practised even today, particularly in the north-eastern region of Thailand. The significance of this traditional ceremony has been summarised in Nang Noppamas’ book as follows :

"On the 14th Day of Waning Moon of the 7th Month, the army and navy joined in a procession to carry the candles for Buddhist lent to the temples. In the army’s procession, the candles were carried on a palanquin painted with Thai designs, and in the navy’s procession the candles were placed in open-pillared wooden pavilions installed on Royal barges decorated with beautiful coloured flags. The procession moved to the sound of music from conch shells and the beat of drums. At the temple, the candles were offered to the monks, and placed in the Dharma Towers, in the main chapels, and the small chapels where the candles were lit to give light throughout three months.”

This practice was followed even at commoners’ temples, and today, the procession of Candles for the Buddhist Lent is still practised in some provinces, especially in Ubon Ratchathani, where it is an important tradition. In Ubon Ratchathani, candle-making contests are organised every year, and the Candle Procession is an event that attracts many visitors to the province, especially from overseas who admire the intricate carvings and indigenous designs on the large Lenten Candles.

2. The Offering of the Rain-Bathing Cloth
The tradition of offering the rain-bathing cloth dates back to the time of Lord Buddha, and was initiated by the Great Benefactress Visakha. One day when she was visiting the temple, it was raining, and Visakha saw many monks bathing in the rain without any clothing. She thought that this was not appropriate and asked Lord Buddha to allow her to make an offering of rain-bathing cloths to the Buddhist monks. It has become a tradition ever since to offer rain-bathing cloths to the monks on Buddhist Lent Day.

The tradition is said to have been introduced into Thai society in the Sukhothai period more than 750 years ago. Therefore, on Buddhist Lent Day, Thai Buddhists take the rain-bathing cloths together with food and other necessities, for the monks’ life to be offered to the monks. Even today, the religious function is observed annually, and villagers’ leaflets often schedule in their programme the Offering of Rain-bathing Cloth (Vassikasadok), and other offerings at their Preaching Halls in temples near their homes.

The Important Principles of Dharma to be Followed During the Lent
Thai people practise Buddhist Lent by going to temples, offering alms to the monks, observing five or eight precepts, listening to the Dharma and practising meditation. The aim of the practice is to refrain from doing evil, increase good and purify one’s mind. One of the most important principles of Dharma that is contained in this practice is the abstention from evil, or "Virati.”
The word Virati means to refrain from all kinds of sins and evil. That is an important virtue which leads to peace, happiness, safety and prosperity in life.

Virati is divided into three categories as follows :

1. Sampattavirati meaning abstention from all kinds of sins and vices by feeling shamed of committing sin (Hiri) and by feeling frightened to do evil (Ottappa). Such feelings automatically occur in one’s mind. For example the person who has undertaken the precept, e.g. the fifth of the five precepts, not to drink any intoxicants, when invited by his friends to drink liquor, will refuse to do so, because he feels ashamed of doing so and frightened to do so, and as he is mindful, he knows that as a good Buddhist he must not drink alcohol during Buddhist Lent.

2. Samadanavirati meaning abstention from doing all kinds of evil by undertaking Five of Eight Precepts given by the Buddhist monks. A person who has undertaken the Five or Eight Precepts is mindful and has right effort not to violate or avoid any precept even when tempted to do so. He remains imperturbed and never feels victimized.

3. Samujchedavirati meaning absolute and permanent abstention from all kinds of sins and evil, which is the Virtue of Buddhist saints. Samujchedavirati may be practised by all lay persons who can refrain from sins and evil during Buddhist Lent, and after Lent they do not change their minds, they have reached absolute and permanent abstention from sins and evil, for example, if they took the vow to abstain from drinking liquor during the Lent, and hence stop drinking liquor for the rest of their lives, they have reached this stage of Virati.

Objectives

The objectives of observing the annual Buddhist Lent can be summarised as follows :

1. To educate the Buddhists and to encourage them to understand the significance of the Buddhist Lent, namely the three principles of Virati and its practice.

2. To encourage right thinking and right action among the Buddhists, including the ability to apply the principles of Virati Dharma in their daily lives for self-improvement and social development.

3. To promote among Buddhists right understanding of Buddhist Lent in order to realise the value of living in accordance with the three principles of Virati Dharma.

4. To motivate Buddhists to have firm faith in Buddhism and to thoroughly understand the significance of their own religion.
5. To encourage the Thai Buddhists to be qualified Buddhists and to do their Buddhist duties.
Suggestions for Cultural Activities on Buddhist Lent Day

Activities for Families:
1. Cleaning the house, hoisting the national flag and the Dharmachakra flag, setting up an altar in the house.

2. Studying religious texts, and discussing the importance of Buddhist Lent, including the three principles of Virati Dharma as well as giving advice on relevant activities for the family.

3. Consultation among members of the family to prevent any crises and to solve problems with the help of Virati Dharma and encourage the family members to lessen, avoid and cease doing all kinds of evil.

4. Taking the Family members to acquire merit by offering alms to Buddhist monks and donating necessities to the needy.

5. Visiting temples to practise Dharma, observe the precepts and pray, listen to sermons and meditate.
6. Organising other appropriate activities.

Activities for Education Institutions :

1. Cleaning the vicinity of the school, hoisting the national flag and the Dharmachakra flag, setting up an altar.

2. Teachers and students jointly study the significance of Buddhist Lent Day, the three principles of Virati Dharma and give advice on practising the Dharma at the institute.

3. Teachers and students jointly organise exhibitions or make posters or picture books on the importance of the day or hold essay contests, quiz programmes and panel discussions on the Dharma.

4. Teachers assign students to write reports on good and bad behaviour in order to develop the students, ability to distinguish between good and bad behaviour, and to foster good behaviour in the society.

5. Announcement of awards to honour outstanding students as good examples.

6. Teachers accompany students to participate with other people in activities at temples to acquire merit by offering alms and donations, observing the five precepts, listening to sermons, joining conversations on Dharma, and sitting in meditation.

7. Organising other appropriate activities.

Activities at Offices :

1. Cleaning offices, hoisting the national and Dharmachakra flags, and setting up altars.

2. Public relations of the importance of the Buddhist Lent day, the three principles of the virati Dharma, and suggestions to practise Dharma at offices.

3. Organising panel discussions and conversation on Dharma.

4. Participation in Public activities, such as planting trees, and donating blood.

5. Executives allow their subordinates to take part in traditional merit-making.

6. Displaying posters on working ideals free from corruption and other misconduct.

7. Organising other appropriate activities.

Social Activities :

1. Temples, foundations, offices, organisations and the mass media create awareness of the importance of Buddhist Lent Day through publication in the mass media.

2. Publication of documents, such as leaflets and booklets about the significance of Buddhist Lent Day, and the three principles of the Virati Dharma and other Dharma practices to be distributed to the public in residential areas, and public places, airports, railways stations, bus terminals, Dharma preaching halls, department stores, and public vehicles.

3. Inviting people to take part in merit-making, Dharma practice, religious rites, offering alms, listening to sermons, observing the precepts and praying.

4. Campaign through the mass media to urge people to lessen, avoid and cease doing all kinds of sins, and to stop the sale of intoxicants and narcotics.
5. Announcement of awards given to persons for outstanding contributions to the society.

6. Organising environmental preservation, tree planting and cleanliness campaigns.

7. Organising contests to promote prayer recitation. Dharma lectures, composition of slogans, poems, and writing articles on Buddhist Lent.

8. Organising other appropriate activities.
Expected Result

1. Buddhists will receive more knowledge on Buddhism, and understand it better, especially the three principles of Virati Dharma.

2. Buddhists will receive right understanding about Buddhist Lent Day and realise the value of living in accordance with the principles of the three Virati Dharma practice.
3. Buddhists will have a better faith in Buddhism and the right attitude towards Buddhism.

4. The Buddhists will be better-qualified to perform their Buddhist duties in a correct manner.






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