Thais celebrate one of the country’s most important religious festivals, Makha Bucha, this month – with characteristic fervor.by Percy Roxas
It is the full moon night of the third lunar month. At the temple near my village, I notice an unusually large crowd milling about. This happens every year so I’m not really surprised: It is Makha Bucha Day, one of the most important Buddhist festivals of the year. On this day, devout Buddhists go to the temples. They pay respects to the Lord Buddha, listen to Dhamma preaching, give donations or make merit of some sort, and join in other activities to celebrate the occasion.
Falling on March 4 this year, the event commemorates two separate Buddhist events that happened 45 years apart. The first one (nine full months after the Buddha attained Enlightenment) was the simultaneous, and spontaneous, coming together of 1,250 monks from different places to visit the Buddha and pay him respect.
The Buddha saw this as an opportunity to give a sermon that laid down Buddhism’s three fundamental teachings (The Heart of Buddhism): “To do what is good, to cease from all evils, to purify–or cleanse–the mind.”
The second event happened in the last year of the Buddha’s life, when he delivered his teachings and “Parinibbhana” (to leave the mind from the body, or to die).
While not a Buddhist myself, I usually join my Thai friend as he goes through the ritual of the observance.
We would go to the revered Wat Dhammamongkol in the evening for the highlight of the festival: the candlelight procession known as “wien tian,” when the monks and congregation members – holding flowers, incense, and a lit candle – walk around the phra ubosot (ordination hall) clockwise.
They circle it three times, once for each of the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dhamma (teaching), and the Sangha (monkhood).
As part of the observance, Buddhists are encouraged to do their best to observe the Five Precepts (Rub Sil’), even if only for just the next couple of days. The Five Precepts, which is the basic Buddhism code of ethics and is the practice of renunciation, telling Buddhists to abstain from harming any living thing; from stealing and taking intoxicants; from backbiting, gossiping, and telling lies; and from engaging in immoral sex.
According to my friend, devout Buddhists also observe additional precepts during the period. They abstain from eating after midday, from using a soft chair or a high bed, and from wearing ornaments or perfume, and public entertainment, dancing, and singing, is prohibited.
hose who strictly observe the precepts practice meditation and mental discipline, stay in the temple, wear white robes, and eat only vegetarian food for a number of days. Some years, my friend does this and other years he simply attends the festival.
And I, having lived in Thailand for many years, have come to appreciate the virtues of such practices.
But even if you are a first-time visitor to Thailand and you are not so keen on practicing this aspect of Buddhist culture yourself, Makha Bucha Day presents a great opportunity to learn more about the country and its culture. During the festival, you can create great memories with the things you observe, the people you meet, and even the photos you take.
And these will take your Thailand experience to a whole new level.