CHIANGRAI TIMES – Buddhism is an essential part of Thai culture which has retained its significance in the modern world. In the second edition of Thai Life we are looking at the fourth largest religion in the world. We’ll also get to experience one of the most important dates in the Buddhist calendar: Vishaka Bucha day.
The monotonous chanting of the monks sets the spiritual tone of the festival. The whole of Thailand comes together to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and the passing of Buddha. However, this year’s festivities are extra special: it’s the 2,600th anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment and Thailand is getting ready to host visiting Buddhists from all over the world.
Kim McSweeney is an Australian Buddhist devotee:
“It’s beautiful to see everybody in national dress, coming together in a cultural way, it’s always in a spiritual way. And it’s wonderful to see other traditions, there are other monks here. I have just met some Cambodian monks and there are Chinese ones as well and all the different nationalities are represented because we all come together with our hearts for Buddha.”
Buddha – the awakened one – is not worshipped as a saint, but as a role model and as the religion has no God, its keystones are personal and spiritual development.
Followers are encouraged to learn and apply Buddha’s practices to daily life, as Ajahn Jayasaro explains:
“Buddhism is a different kind of religion to the ones that we are familiar with in the West. If the religious traditions of the West could be characterised as belief systems, Buddhism is a education system. So it’s a whole different idea of what a religion is or what it should be.”
For Chantri Srivichai, Visakha Bucha day is a precious time where the entire family comes together. With her sisters in law in tow, Chantri sets off to market to prepare offerings for the monks.
She talks to euronews about the food she plans to make: “We offer alms to the monks. For fresh food we have chicken wings. We also have Thai sweets and the traditional Thai soup tom yum goong.”
Passed from generation to generation, the art of folding the Lotus flower is an integral part of the preparations. Representing purity, the Lotus is an important Buddhist symbol.
Up since 4am, Chantri and her family head to the temple in their best dress as hundreds of followers line the path with tables of offerings, anxiously awaiting the monks arrival from the golden mountain.
“I feel very happy, very delighted. We’ve all come here as a family to attend the ceremony and to honour Buddha. I feel so good, we’re all healthy and we think of our ancestors and share our happiness with them.” Chantri Srivichai said.
It is a symbiotic relationship. The people honour the monks with physical support, like food and money, while the monks offer spiritual support based on meditation. This is at the heart of Buddhism and is fast becoming popular throughout the world.
Ajahn Jayasaro, a Monk describes how daily life can be detrimental to reaching enlightenment:
“Our life is such a busy, distracted life that we loose contact with the inner world. When you let go of that addiction to thought and activity and allow the mind to settle down often there are insights just popping up in your mind which were there already but you couldn’t really communicate with them or couldn’t really hear them.”
Banjob Bannayuki, a Buddhist expert gives his views on how to meditate:
“It’s not difficult, it’s easy: meditation starts with keeping mindfulness. You can practice meditation everywhere, every time when you walk you meditate you keep mindfulness on your walking.”
The highlight of the celebrations is “Wien Tien”, a candle-lit procession where devotees walk three times around the temple whilst meditating, their right side facing Buddha, to cleanse their souls.