Thursday, March 2, 2017

What is Buddhist "LENT" in Theravada Thailand?

Karuna Kusalasaya, Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past and Present (Wheel 85, via; Amber Larson, Ashley Wells (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly Wikipedia edit
Thai woman offers dana to group of temporary monks (novices) in Thailand (Bugphai).
Buddhist "Lent" is a time for intensive study or practice. A samanera (lit. "little monk") quietly reads in Burma. Novices, usually aged 7 to 20, temporarily go forth to try monastic life (Anek Suwannaphoom/flickr).
Golden Thai Buddhas (drhill/
With the rapid progress of science and with the shrinking of the world, Buddhist leaders of Theravada Buddhist Thailand, monastics and laypeople, are awakening to the necessity of imparting broader education to members of the Monastic Order (Sangha) if it is to serve Buddhism as the historical Buddha intended: "for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many."
As a result of the new outlook there now function in Bangkok two higher institutes of learning exclusively for monastics and temporary novices (trainees). ...Inclusion in the curriculum of some secular subjects compatible with Monastic Code of Discipline (vinaya) is among the notable features of these two institutes.

The aim is to give an all-round education to monastics in order to enable them to be of better service to the cause of Buddhism amid modern conditions.

There are monks and more and more nuns in Thailand; they practice long-term. Mostly, there are novices, who enter the Monastic Order temporarily, many for a period of three months during the Rains Retreat or Vassa, called Buddhist Lent (explained below).

Buddhist novices in Burma offer candles to seated Buddha statue (notjustnut/
Their education is brief and devoted to the main tenets and features of Buddhism. Such people enter monasticism either by their own genuine intention to gain for knowledge of the Dharma, others who enter out of Thai custom, or the two reasons combined.

Monastics of this kind return to lay life again as soon as Lent is over.

This is the reason why accommodations in monasteries and nunneries (wats) are usually full during the Lenten period of the Rains Retreat.

Nowadays, owing to the pressure of modern life, the custom of temporarily entering a monastery is not so rigorously observed by people living in urban areas as by those in the countryside. The custom has its parallel in Burma, Cambodia, and Laos where Theravada Buddhism prevails.

What do they do for Buddhist "Lent"?
Dhr. Seven, Pat Macpherson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly Wikipedia edit
Theravada monk kindly taming a wild elephant (Nudiat69/
The traditional Asian rainy season known as Vassa is often glossed in English as the Rains Retreat or Buddhist Lent.

It is "Lent" by analogy to Christian Lent (which Vassa predates by many centuries).
For the duration of Buddhist Lent, monastics remain in one monastery or temple grounds (vihara). In some monasteries, monastics dedicate this period of three lunar months to intensive meditation.

Some Buddhist lay people choose to observe Lent by adopting more ascetic practices than usual, such as giving up meat, abstaining from alcohol, or breaking the addiction of smoking.

While Vassa is sometimes casually called "Buddhist Lent," some object to this terminology. And the Buddha's birthday -- which also falls on the day of his great enlightenment and passing into nirvana -- probably should not really be called "Buddhist Christmas," but the West needs the shorthand.

Commonly, the number of years a monastic has spent in monastic life as a fully ordained bhikkhu or bhikkhuni is expressed by counting the number of Vassas (or rains) since ordination.
Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh
Most Mahayana Buddhists do not observe Vassa, but Vietnamese Zen (Thiền) and Korean Zen (Seon) monastics observe an equivalent retreat of three months of intensive practice in one location, a practice also observed in Tibetan Buddhism.
Lent begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month, which is the day after Asalha Puja or Asalha Uposatha (the fasting or lunar observance "Dharma day"). It ends on Pavarana, when all monastics come before the community (Sangha) and atone for any offense or monastic rule infraction that might have been committed during Lent.
Lent is followed by Kathina, a festival in which the lay Buddhists express gratitude to monastics. Lay Buddhists bring gifts, donations, and offerings of support to temples, especially new robes for monks.
No rain, but we follow the same dates.
The Lent or Rains Retreat tradition predates the time of the historical Gautama Buddha. It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in and around Ancient "India" (when it was many independent kingdoms and clan territories) not to travel during the rainy season as wandering ascetics might unintentionally harm crops, insects, frogs, or even themselves during their travels.

Many Buddhist ascetics now live in regions of the world that lack an actual rainy season. Consequently, there are places where formal Lent may not be typically observed. The 2016 dates for Vassa were July 20 through October 16. More

What is a Buddhist wat?
Monastic temple complex aerial view with central reliquary, stupa/pagoda, laid out as map of the cosmos, Wat Phra That Luang, Vientiane, Laos (Sasin Tipchai/Bugphai/
The central reliquary or stupa
The word wat means monastic-temple complex. It is the residence of monastics and novices. There are about 21,000 wats in Thailand. In Bangkok alone there are nearly 200. Some big wats in Bangkok have as many as 600 resident monastics and novices.

Wats are centers of Thai art and architecture. Thai culture, to a considerable extent, flows from wats. Temple lands and construction on them is donated by royals, wealthy people, and the public in general.

The wat is the most important institution in Thai rural life. The social life of the rural community revolves around the wat. Besides carrying out the obvious religious activities, a wat serves the community as a recreation center, dispensary, school, community center, home for the aged and destitute, social work and welfare agency, village clock, rest-house, news agency, and information center.

The Buddha surrounded by devas
It is headed by an "abbot" (chao avas) who is responsible for the maintenance of the wat discipline, the proper performance of religious services and rituals, and the general welfare of residents. Besides monastics and novices, there are also the "temple boys" in wats, who assist monastics and novices in various ways, such as bringing and arranging food, cleaning dormitories, washing saffron robes, and so on.

Usually these boys are related to resident monastics in one way or another, and their stay is free of charge. Most of them are students whose homes are far away and who would otherwise find it impracticable to get an education. This is especially so in Bangkok where accommodation is difficult to get and where all higher seats of learning of the country are situated. 

The census of 1954 revealed that there are as many as 119,044 temple boys in Thailand. The social institution of the wat, a gift of Buddhism, therefore contributes to the social welfare and progress of Thai Buddhists.
Apart from engaging themselves in sutra studies and observing the disciplinary code in general, monastics are expected to be "friends, philosophers, and guides" to people.

Teaching face to face or on the radio is one of the most common ways by which they help the promotion of moral stability. To reiterate, Buddhism emphasizes the necessity of leading a virtuous life in order to obtain happiness in this life and lives hereafter. More

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