Since GVI Cambodia began teaching at the local pagoda here in Kampong Cham, we have enjoyed learning about Buddhism and getting to know our students on a daily basis. In the month just past it was our great pleasure to accept an invitation to attend the Meak Bochea day ceremony that took place on the 19th February. Before we arrived at the festival it was important for us to ask a few key questions.
First and foremost – what is Meak Bochea Day? Meak Bochea Day is a public holiday celebrated in Cambodia and takes place on the full moon in the third month of the Khmer calendar, placing the festival in either late February or early March. The celebration commemorates the final sermon delivered by Buddha. In this sermon he summarised the “heart of Buddhism” in three principles: ceasing from all evil, doing only what is good, and cleansing the mind. On this day, around 2,500 years ago, it is said that Buddha correctly predicted his own death which then occurred three months later – pretty impressive.
Lotuses and Sugar Cane Juice
Decked in white shirts/blouses and black trousers the fifteen-strong GVI team arrived at the pagoda equipped with a lotus flower that – as tradition dictates – was to be offered to Buddha at the ceremony. We arrived by the classic mode of transport that is used in Cambodian towns and cities, tuk tuks. Once at the pagoda, we were warmly welcomed by the local community who were all excited to see us and graciously accepted us into the festival. The locals quickly offered us numerous bottles of water paired with a sugary fruit juice drink that was green in colour. None of us could quite figure out what it exactly was (we later discovered it was sugar cane juice), but it was tasty nonetheless!
Same students, different setting
The monks, all in their positions around the beautifully decorated statue of Buddha, noticed us from a distance. It was heartwarming to see their faces light up as they saw their English teachers arriving, their full-face smiles and waving arms said it all. The students had in a very real sense become the masters.
We were chaperoned to an area that we could all sit comfortably, where we had a spectacular view of the ceremony. Then, we were invited to offer our lotus flowers to Buddha. Once back in our positions, the chanting then began! We were enticed by the chants, our eyes focused on the monks who took the occasional break to give us a smile.
Once the first section of chanting came to an end, the head monk made his grand appearance. His speech had comedic value, we could only assume this by the frequent laughter after a sentence in Khmer. The moments we all thoroughly enjoyed were when the head monk would take time in his speech to directly speak to us, maintaining eye contact with each of us as he translated into English.
Meditation and Gratitude
A 30-minute meditation followed, an incredibly relaxing time period that left all the GVI team feeling re-energised and feeling content. The atmosphere at the pagoda was beyond tranquil. We arose from our seating area for a well-deserved stretch, once standing the head monk took the mic once more. He gave a special thank you to us for attending the important festival, and invited us to the front for a photo, this filled us with pride and joy. What followed was not just one photo, but countless as numerous locals and monks took turns getting photos with their favourite teachers.
The Meak Bochea Day ceremony was truly enlightening and is one of many spectacular festivals that are celebrated across Cambodia. It was an honour and a pleasure to be invited, we give a massive thanks to the local community and the monks of the pagoda for allowing us to be a part of that special day.