Tuesday, December 05, 2006

End of Rain Retreat Ceremony

I was reading a little back over our yahoo group's discussion of a month or so ago and I remembered that this was talked about. October was the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat and it sparked a bit of info sharing from group members, as below ...

October marks the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat
It began in July.
The annual retreat is an essential part of Theravada Buddhism
(95% of Thais are Theravada Buddhists)
The three-month retreat is a traditional time for men and boys to
enter the monastery and it is also the time for all monks to remain
in their temples (Wat) to study the teachings of Buddha.

Various terms are used to describe this three -month period including
Buddhist Lent and Annual Retreat but more commonly, it is known as
the Buddhist Rains Retreat, this classical term being used because it
more accurately describes its origin.

While the Buddha lived and taught in the foothills of the Himalayas
in northern India, there was a three -month rainy season and Buddha
is said to have initiated the retreat at that time.
The end of the retreat is a momentous time and the Thai people will
start celebrating the event at least a week before the big day.
Offerings of practical gifts will be bestowed and a number of parades
and processions held to mark the occasion.
Awg Pahnsa, the name given to this special day is not just a signal
ending the monks retreat but it also signals the end of the rainy
season and a time for the Thai people to start afresh.

This sounds like a story I've heard about the Buddha instituting this
retreat as, due to the rainy season, there are many more insects about
than normal. As Buddhists practice non-harm to all sentient beings, or
they attempt to, as best they can - (humans; animals - whether
large or very, very small; anything with a central nervous system really)
this allowed them to retreat and stop from harming multiple beings.

If you're not familiar with how seriously Buddhists take non-harming,
here's an interesting story. We had a visiting Rinpoche here a couple
of months ago. His name is Lama Zopa Rinpoche. We were travelling home
after a teaching along the highway at night behind Rinpoche, his
attendants and his driver who is a friend of ours. After a while we
passed their car as they were driving very slowly. Tasmania is
reknowned to have a lot of wildlife on/around the highway and as a
result lots of animals are killed accidentally by drivers. Naturally
our friend was trying to prevent this happening with Rinpoche in the
car! There was already quite a few animals that had been hit by drivers
previously and their bodies lay by the side of the road. Rinpoche asked
our friend to stop when he saw a deceased animal and he chanted mantras
and prayers for the animal's rebirth into their next (and better!)
life. This happened, as you can imagine, quite a few times along the
highway before they actually reached home. What was normally a 20
minute drive took well over an hour. Such is the life of a Lama, whose
compassion for humans and animals alike knows no bounds.

This may sound somewhat strange if you are not familiar with this
practice.

The way we think about it, as it was just as strange to us at
first, is that if it were *you* lying beside the road after being hit by
a car, would you not want someone to honor your life and wish you
well. Or would it seem right if they just left you there without thought
or word because you were already deceased.

That's how important all living beings are.