A sub jata ceremony is a life-extension event. It usually follows some ominous portent, such as a serious illness or series of potentially life-threatening occurrences that could indicate danger to the person or household (or community [see:www.kendobson.asia/blog/subjata from 3 years ago]). Although the ceremony is often part of a house blessing or major birthday where there has been no cause for alarm. A sub jata is a set of ceremonies that are hoped to satisfy or pacify supernatural forces and to adjust the forces that energize life. This photographic essay is just about the main ceremony in which a chapter of priests is invited to chant while merit from doing that is transferred to the subject(s) in whose behalf the sub jata is being conducted.
Lon and Sri are members of our family, Pramote’s next older brother and his wife. They have two married daughters, and two grandchildren. Lon has been experiencing medical issues and so the family encouraged them to do a sub jata. The ceremony was conducted on Saturday, June 16, 2018; it was at the family home, to be as close to the presumed super-natural cause of the disturbance that has disrupted Lon’s life, as possible.
Northern Thai Buddhism is a complex mix of philosophical Buddhist teaching, re-enactment of the events in which the Lord Buddha dispensed sacred teaching to his disciples and the laity, symbolic divine-human encounter creating sacred time and space in our midst, acknowledgement of the eternal power and reality of nature, and honoring super-natural entities that have influence.
Philosophical Buddhist purists continue to insist that this is an unfortunate and unnecessary mix and that Buddhism would be far better without it. Those academic voices hardly resound in the valley where our villages are nestled. From my perspective as a resident foreigner, however, I believe that insofar as philosophical Buddhism has fertile ground to grow it will be as Buddhist priests continue to respond to the existential concerns and fears of the people. Those concerns are the gateway to anything else, theological or philosophical.
From the perspective of Lon and everyone in our large family and surrounding communities, it is always all about sub jata – the alignment of life forces.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.