FAQ by a Novice - Part C
FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS
This central ritual of Lao Buddhism follows strict rules and ensures the survival of the Sangha. The ceremony culminates in all participants shaving their heads whilst using words which have been passed down unaltered through the centuries, asking the religious community to take them in. The Abbot reminds them of the four traditional requirements of a monk’s life: collecting alms daily, wearing a robe of a single piece of cloth, spending a period of time in the forest for meditation and using natural medicine when sick. After the ceremony the newly ordained monks turn towards the lay people who have prepared gifts for them. By accepting these gifts the monks give lay people an opportunity to ‘create merit ‘’.
Death Rites for an Abbot
When a monk passes away, one of his closest relatives enters the temple for some time. He then accompanies the coffin which is decorated with silver and golden paper to the place of cremation. According to Theravada Buddhism, existence is impermanent and in a constant state of flux, like the waves of the sea or river. There is not transmigration from one form of life to another. For many Lao though, this is the beginning of a new life in a new being in whom the thirty –Khuan spirits reassemble.
What is Buddhist Lent (Khao Pansa)?
Buddhist Lent (Khao Pansa) is a-three month period during the rainy season (usually from full moon in July to full moon in October) when novices and monks are not allowed to travel away from their temple overnight. They must be at the temple from sunset to sunrise each day during this time and may only go out during the daytime. In the time of the Buddha, there weren’t roads and Buddha’s disciples travelled frequently to teach Dharma in the many villages which they reached by walking across the fields. During the rainy season however, farmers plant their crop of rice, which grows for three months until harvest. There were so many travelling disciples that they trampled many rice fields. The farmers complained to the Buddha that his students ruined their rice crop meaning their families didn’t have food for the next season. The Buddha then started the period of Khao Pansa, also known in some countries as the “Rains Retreat” since it is during the rainy season in Asia. During full moon marking the end of this period is a festival called Ok Paansa (Out of Buddhist lent). At this festival in Lao novices and monks decorate their temple with stars and hand-made lanterns with bamboo and coloured papers. They also build a large “fireboat” which is lit up at night. Lay people also make fireboats and parade them down the main street to Wat Xiongthong where they are judged for prizes and then placed in the Mekong River to float away as a symbol of letting go of one’s wrong-doing and beginning again to follow the Dharma. Thus, it is a festival of forgiveness.
The Sand- Stupa Ceremony
On the third day of the Lao New Year, families, groups of friends and work mates gather in a joyful celebration to build sand Stupas on the big sandbank in front of temples along Khan River and the Mekong. They decorate these with Buddha’s image, candles, rice flower and symbols of the year. Every gain of sand represents a heavy thought or bad memory from the year gone by which will soon be washed away by the swelling water in the rainy season.
The Festival of Praveth
Once a year every temple organizes this three day festival, during which the monks read from old texts the story of Prince Vessantara, who is said to have been the Buddha’s last incarnation before he was born as Gautama Siddharta. The temple’s Sim is adorned with wild flowers, and numerous visitors listen rapturously, often for days on end, to the reciting monks who take turns in the reading which can last up to seventeen hours.
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