A message on the End of Lent
Dear All Dhamma Friends,
Today 14th October 2008, is the end of Budhdist lent, or phansa in Thai, vassana in Sinhalese, Waso in Burmese and Vasa in Tai. It is important culturally because during the last three months, Buddhist monks oberve a vow to remain in one place, except in special circumstances, signifying community bond as well as collective dedication to the practice.
Over the ages, the lay Buddhist communities have followed this monastic example by refraining from wedding or even major construction. During these three months, the lay people also dedicate as much as they can to the practice more than any time of the year. This has been a beauty in the Buddhist culture.
There are some things we should know of this important full moon day.
First, the Buddha promulgated a rule that monks or bhikkhus should live in one place so that they develop spiritual bond. This was so important as during the early periods of the Buddha's time, most wandered from place to place and did not live in a community. The three-month rains-retreat offered them an opportunity to get to know each other. On the other hands, it also gave them some comfort of being sheltered during the rains.
Second, this spiritual community bond, which the Buddha termed as sangha, is to be strenthened by another ecclesiastical act, called pavarana. This pavarana practice has to take place today. It is about all the monks of within a certain distance coming together and then formally invite each other for their criticism on one's behavior. This openess to constructive criticism is required by the monastic law, Vinaya or Phra Winai or Winee. The Buddha wanted to build the Sangha as an examplary open society; and that could be achieved only if members of the sangha live and practise together. Indeed, the most open person without any secret is called arahan or the enlightened one. He is the open person of the highest order.
Without having invited his fellow members of the Sangha to criticise him, a monk is to be censured; and he is not to receive any kathin/ kathina robe and its associated benefits. This is again the Vinaya law.
We can see how the Buddha was paying so much attention to the development of a community spirit, based on both the Dhamma and the Vinaya. He knew that only such a community will be able to carry on his teaching.
So much for the Vinaya.
On the dhamma side, today marks the day when the Lord Buddha completed his Abhidhamma teaching. This collection of analysis of consciousness and its associated factors is very important to the realisation of non-self, anatta.
It is said that th Buddha decided to put the concerns of a heavenly being who was his mother in his human birth because he, the Buddha, wanted to repay the gratitude of his mother. So, some leading western members of the Sangha, e.g. at Amaravati Monastery in England use this day as Parents' Day. An event is held to strengthen the bond between parents and their children. That includes holding talks, creating plays and a Budhdist family camp. This family bond is very crucial for the health of the society. the Most Venerable Ajahn Sumedho has indeed published a book on the gratitude of parents; that was a dhamma talk he gave on one of such days. In Asia, we usually pay respect to our parents on such occassion.
So, today, you can do something to strengthen the community spirit, for both the monastics and lay, and you can also put in some effort to promote the awareness on the gratitude we owe to our parents.
May the Dhamma prevail everywhere on earth.
Yours with metta and in the dhamma,
Venerable Dr. Khammai Dhammasami MPhil (Kelaniya), DPhil (Oxford)
Research Associate, The Centre for Buddhist Studies, SOAS, University of London;
Trustee, the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (www.ocbs.org), University of Oxford;
Abbot, the Oxford Buddha Vihara, UK;
Executive Secretary, the Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities (www.atbu.org);
Executive Secretary, the International Association of Buddhist Universities (www.iabu.org) &
Executive Secretary, International Council for the United Nations Day of Vesak, Bangkok