Tuesday June 19, 2018

Buddhists in Thailand Celebrate Asanha Bucha and Lent Day

Buddhism’s Lent Day, which falls the day after Asanha Bucha, marks the beginning of Buddhist monks’ three-month retreat to their temples during the rainy season

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Buddhists carry candles while encircling a large Buddha statue during Asanha Puja Day, the eve of the Buddhist Lent, at a temple in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand. Image source: Reuters
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Buddhists across Thailand gave offerings to local temples as they celebrated Asanha Bucha Day on Monday, July 18 and their religion’s version of Lent on Tuesday, July 19.

The Asanha Bucha holiday falls every year on the full moon of the eighth lunar month. It is the day that Buddhism was established when the Buddha established gave his first sermon to five disciples after attaining Nirvana in the Maruekhathayawan forest in India more than 2,500 years ago.

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Buddhism’s Lent Day, which falls the day after Asanha Bucha, marks the beginning of Buddhist monks’ three-month retreat to their temples during the rainy season.

Migrant workers from Myanmar offer donations at Wat Saket, July 19, 2016. Image source: (Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews)
Migrant workers from Myanmar offer donations at Wat Saket, July 19, 2016. Image source: (Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews)

In Narathiwat, a predominantly Muslim province in Thailand’s Deep South that is in the throes of a separatist insurgency, Buddhists offered alms in the morning at Khao Kong Park temple in Sri Sakhon district. Soldiers from the 9th Ranger Task Force and villagers attended the religious ceremony, carrying Lenten candles as part of the tradition.

Buddhist monks receive offerings at Wat Khao Kong park in Narathiwat province, July 19, 2016. Image source: Rapee Mama/BenarNews

In nearby Yala province, teachers and students from a local school offered  phansa candles to monks. Traditionally, candles are given to the monks for use during their retreat.

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In the Deep South, a traditional candlelight procession was held during the daylight hours for security reasons.

Teachers and students from a local school offer phansa candles to monks at Wangmai temple in Betong district, Yala province, July 18, 2016. Image source: Nasueroh/ BenarNews
Teachers and students from a local school offer phansa candles to monks at Wangmai temple in Betong district, Yala province, July 18, 2016. Image source: Nasueroh/ BenarNews

In Bangkok, Buddhists from Myanmar who work in Thailand joined Thai Buddhists during festivities at the famous Golden Mountain Chedi, at the Wat Saket temple.

“This is a sacred place, you can wish for anything,” Nopeh, a Karen woman told BenarNews, referring to the Golden Mountain, which she visits at least once a year. (Benar News)

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)