It is August 2 and it is Asarahabucha day which marks the beginning of the 3 lunar months Buddhist Lent, also known as Rainy Retreat. During this time novices and monks remain in the same Wat; they do not spend nights away from the designated temple and if so they can only be away for 7 consecutive nights. This time is typically used for increased meditation, chanting and studies. It is also customary for many lay people to ordain temporarily during the rainy retreat.
When I came to Thailand I was looking forward to participating in the daily meditation sessions at the monastery, but I soon learned that each monk does this individually in his own room and the only ceremony held as a group was chanting at night. Too tired to attend those I only went to a few. However, in Wat Doi Saket during rainy season, they chant twice a day. So, early morning, I rushed to the Vihara (main temple in the monastery) for the chanting ceremony. I imagined it would be the usual chanting procedure and chants, but this time each one had a booklet, a chant booklet from where they were all reading. The abbot knew them by memory and he was leading them. I sat in meditation listening to them, not understanding anything.
After morning chanting, each novice and monk went to their assigned chores for the day, sweeping, organizing, cleaning, moving furniture, setting up chairs…etc.
By 7:30am the monastery grounds were swamped with lay people bringing food to make merit. As I have mentioned before, they do this on every buddhist holiday, but this time the main ‘items’ are robes and candles. My Thai brother, told me the story behind the robes……
“One day during Rainy Season, Nang Visakha, a wealthy lady who attained first level of enlightenment at the age of seven, wanted to make merit by giving food to the monks; she sent someone to go to the temple to ask the monks to come to her house to eat, as it was customary back in those days. However the news carrier only saw half naked men in the rain outside the temple; he went back and told Nang Visakha that there were no monks in that temple. She realized that the monks only had one set of robes and needed more robes to be able to take a shower in the rain……….so….the tradition began and people give a set of robes which are called “Pa Abb Nam Fon” for them in the beginning of rainy season”
The candles also date from the time when monasteries did not have electricity and since monks could not leave the temple they needed candles for the whole season; they also symbolize to illuminate the mind. Mendicant ascetics would restrain from their wandering and predicative walks during the rainy season…to avoid damaging the crops, insects or hurting themselves.
The making merit ceremony lasted a long long time. The monks were not able to have breakfast until it was over and that meant having a ‘brunch’. I can only imagine how hungry they most have been, their previous meal had been before 12pm yesterday! But they all had a smile on their face and gracefully awaited. Not every monk and novice participates in the ceremony, they all have different responsibilities.
After breakfast there was going to be another ceremony “Bhikkhu Pa Ti Mok Kha” for monks of the Doi Saket district at a nearby monastery, Wat Luang Tai. I went, heard the chanting…very serious and deep this time…. I walked toward the entrance of the temple…while I was taking off my shoes and getting my camera ready I heard a bunch of soft ‘hey’, ‘hey’…and other strange sounds…when I looked back I saw many scared faces of men and women urging me to not go in! “No women allowed” the lady said in Thai (I understood! yes!). “Ah! Kotod kha! Mai Roo” I said….and she smiled. The Bhikkhus were chanting and listening to the 227 precepts that they undertake when ordaining; it is during these 3 months that they are reminded of each and every one of those precepts.
Since I could not participate and I had no idea how long it was going to be…..I decided to go for a ride on my bike!. I got lost, fell and hurt my right ankle but it was a very lovely ride! I do not think I can ever get tired of looking at the rice fields. I saw two workers and asked if I could take a photograph, they looked at each other, and smiled at the camera…! When I realized I was lost, I asked a man…half Thai half English how to get to Doi Saket….finally he looked at me with concern…and said: “good luck to you”. I laughed and kept telling myself, you are not lost, you are in Doi Saket district and the Wat is somewhere around here. I made it to the super highway, and realized just how completely mistaken I was about my location! I wished I had my younger brother’s ability to know exactly where everything was no matter how many turns, which he inherited from my dad.
I went for a walk around the Wat, to see what was going on….and In the afternoon, lay people dressed in white undertook 8 precepts for one day. They will sleep in the temple, meditate, listen to Dharma talks, chant and walk around the Pagoda.
In the evening we had chanting ceremony and there were booklets for everyone to follow the chanting, as well as lotus flowers. We then walked around the pagoda paying respect to the triple gem: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. It was very impressive to see everyone (not me though…;)..)walking barefoot holding flowers, incense and candles under the beautiful full moon. The procession was led by Phra Po Ti Rang Sing, the Abbot; he has difficulty walking long distances, but you can hardly tell, he smiled the whole time.
On August 3 (tomorrow as I write this), it is the official beginning of lent for monks. They have their own ceremonies and chanting in the evening. I will write about it soon.
I have taken time to post this because I really wanted to attach a nice video…but since I am new at this video thing it is taking me forever, so I made a video with photos. It is my very first one by myself, so…lots of work yet to be done….Nevertheless here it is.