DAY OF RELEASE
Now begins a festival season for Buddhists of North Thailand.
Today, the 15th day of the waxing moon, the full moon of Uposatha Day, is the end of the rainy season confinement when monks are restricted from normal travels and stay in their monasteries.
There are two narratives related to this day. The first describes how the season of confinement, called "phansaa" referring to the rainy season, came to be. As the number of monks attending the Lord Buddha began to increase, their traveling about sometimes trampled on the rice planted during the rainy season, so villagers appealed to the Lord Buddha to help them. He responded by instructing his disciples to remain in the monasteries for the season which lasts for about 90 days.
The second narrative is that during the 7th of these seasons after his enlightenment the Lord Buddha traveled to heaven to interpret the Dharma (the Word of release from bondage to error, and thereby release from the endless cycle of birth-death-reincarnation-suffering and death). He preached to his mother and the other divine beings throughout this season. Then, having brought his mother and myriads of these beings to enlightenment, he descended from Indra's heaven.
The rainy season is subdued, but as it ends festivals begin.
On this very day, people go to the temples early in the morning to make merit and to provide offerings of food in behalf of their deceased parents and ancestors.
When that is over, the monks of the sub-district gather in a temple to renew their vows. This is regularly done, but especially on this day. A protege describes it this way: 'Another name for today, "Awk Phansaa" is "Wan Maha Bowanna". Monks of every status "bowanna" (invite one another to give advice about unbecoming behavior) but it must be mutually compassionate based on equality because the word "bowanna" is translated as "permission" or "allowance".' The implication is that the "bowanna" is not forced but is requested. I am pretty sure layers of meaning indicate that through this event monks are released from confinement, released from guilt, and released from complicated suspicions that disrupt monastic life. Dr. Kenneth Wells reports that once a year the bowanna ritual is substituted for the usual recital of the monastic rules which is done fortnightly. At this time the monks are given opportunity to mention faults, rumors of faults, and to admonish one another. In order of seniority, they say "I make bowanna before the Sangha regarding anything they have seen, heard, or suspected (concerning me). May you be merciful and tell me. When I have seen the fault I will correct it." If the group is large, they may agree to make this as a group. In this way the monks make themselves ready to resume their normal duties of disseminating Buddhism.
For the next few days some monks go visiting colleagues, often accompanied by laity.
One more festival is worth mention, as it is related to the Lord Buddha's descent from heaven. In some temples this will be reiterated with a Dhevo-hanna ceremony. The most impressive of these that I have ever seen was quite near our village. On the crest of a ridge of hills stands Wat Doi Sapan-U with gigantic standing images of the Buddha facing the 4 cardinal directions. At an early hour, a line of monks and novices descend a long stairway to meet laity at the base. The festival was suspended because of COVID, but we think it might be coming again soon. For a description of the Dhevo-hanna or "Thay-wo" please refer to my blog of October 8, 2017: http://www.kendobson.asia/blog/beyond-spectacle
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.