Yesterday we celebrated Asalha Bucha Day here in Thailand. This is one of the most important Buddhist Holidays, celebrating the Buddha’s first teaching over 2,500 years ago in India. What started as a sermon for only 5 believers has turned into a worldwide celebration with almost 400 million followers!
But that’s not the only holiday we’re celebrating this week, as today is Buddhist Lent Day, which marks the start of the three-month Buddhist Lent period. For this three-month period, monks retreat to temples for the rainy season, and the farmers are planting their rice crops.
But why this three month period for monks’ to stay in one place? One of the reasons is that the rainy season makes it difficult for the monks to meditate in the forest or ask for alms in villages. But the main reason dates back a long time ago. This is the time of year that rice sprouts are growing. In the olden days when the monks went out of the temples to meditate, they would walk over these rice fields, thinking it was grass. This obviously damaged the rice, and so the farmers went to the Lord Buddha to see whether he was able to come up with a solution for this problem.
After thinking about this issue the Lord Buddha decided that the monks had to stay in the temples during the rainy season, from the first waning moon day of the 8th Lunar month to the 15th waxing moon day of the 11th Lunar month. This period – usually from the end of July to end of October – would be known as Buddhist Lent (or “Rains Retreat”), and was used for studying, meditation, and teaching of new monks.
As the monks need to stay put during this period, Buddhist followers make special offerings on Buddhist Lent Day – the start of the Buddhist Lent period. The offers are similar to other Buddhist holy days, however you will see many people offering candles (in the olden days there was no electricity so the monks used the candles for meditation and reading – it is believed that doing this will make you brighter and smarter) and garments that are worn by monks (especially the bathing robe, as it’s rainy season and all).
On Buddhist Lent Day, you’ll see plenty of Buddhists going to the temple to join in meditations, candlelit processions and making offerings to the monks. For the rest, there is not much happening on this holiday.
For tourists, however, it’s important to know that some shops will be closed and that companies are not allowed to serve or sell alcohol as it’s a holy day.
Hope that everyone celebrating Buddhist Lent Day has a great day today!