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First Buddhist sermon and the history of the Buddhist 'Rains Retreat'

Buddhism grew out of a philosophy of life as conceived by a person over 2,550 years ago or 543 years B.C. and is today a major world religion. He was Siddhartha Gautama, the crown prince of Sakyas Kingdom with Kapilavastu (Kabilpasdu) as the capital, in front of the Himalayan Mountains -- near Nepal. His parents were King Suddhodana and Queen Sirimahamaya. He was born on the 15th day of the waxing moon (full moon) in the 6th lunar month 2,630 years ago and later married Princess Pimpa who bore him a son, Rahula. However, he was not happy to see problems and sufferings of mankind. He then gave up his wealth, palaces, wife and son, and went into the forest to seek knowledge from several famous teachers at that time. He subjected himself to many years of severe austerity. No teacher could satisfy his quest and therefore he went to live alone in a forest and sat under a Bhodi tree to meditate.

On his 36th birthday he arrived at his vision of the world and was given the title Buddha, "the Enlightened", the Awakened. Gautama Buddha spoke of four noble truths which had the power to liberate any human being who could realize them. These four noble truths are

  1. The Truth of Suffering -- "Existence is Suffering"
  2. The Truth of the Cause of Suffering -- "Suffering is caused by Desire"
  3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering -- "Eliminate the Cause of Suffering (desire) and Suffering will Cease to Arise"
  4. The Truth of the Path -- "The Eightfold path is the way to Eliminate desire/extinguish suffering" which consists of :
    1. right understanding, right ideas
    2. right mindedness, right thought, right resolution
    3. right speech
    4. right bodily conduct, right action, right behavior
    5. right livelihood, right vocation
    6. right effort
    7. right attentiveness, right mindfulness
    8. right concentration

The Eightfold path is arranged in accordance with the three groups: virtue, concentration and wisdom. These three are not isolated divisions but integral parts of the one path.

The five disciples of Lord Buddha lost faith in him after he realized torturing himself was not the way to find enlightenment. Once he was enlightened, Lord Buddha searched for his five former disciples in the forest for two months. And so, on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month, Asalha,the Pali word, (within the month of July) / Lord Buddha found them in the deer park at Varanasi (Baranares) in the present-day Northern India. He then preached his First Sermon to them, and this occasion has been regarded as ASALAHA BUCHA day.

During the early part of his 44 years of preaching, a farmer once complained to Lord Buddha about monks who trampled all over his crops and destroyed crops during the rainy season. Another story was that people criticized the monks because while travelling on foot during the rainy season, they caused suffering to small living creatures, e.g. insects, crabs, etc.

After hearing these complaints, Lord Buddha made a rule that all of his monks must remain within their own wiharn or abode during the rainy season, and temporarily refrain from outside activities such as travelling and teaching.

Lord Buddha designated this 3 month period as the Buddhist Rains Retreat, the belief of good behavior observed during this season is similar to that of Lent in the Christian religion. Lent season begins on, "WAAN KHOW PAANSA". (Waan = day; Khow = in, enter; Paansa = residence period), on the first day of the waning moon (i.e. the next day after the full moon = Raem 1 Khum) of the 8th lunar month. This rule still applies and means that monks must remain in residence. They must spend every night within their own temple and must not travel, except in urgent cases with the abbot's permission of not more than 7 days away.

One reason for Buddhism's strength is that in the majority of Buddhist families at least one member has studied the Buddha's teachings in monastic surroundings. After discharging their worldly duties and family obligation, many Thai men spend the remainder of their lives as Buddhist monks. And it has long been a custom for Buddhist males over twenty, once in their lifetime, to be temporarily ordained for a period of 3 to 4 months. This usually occurs during the annual Rains Retreat, or Khow Paansa, a 3 month period during the rainy season when all monks stay inside their monasteries to study, teach and meditate.

As a matter of fact, before the first day of "KHOW PAANSA" a large number of bachelor men (over 21 years old) all over the country enter the monkhood. Therefore ordination ceremonies take place at various temples (wat) throughout the country approximately 1-60 days before Waan Khow Paansa.

Just by coincidence, Asalaha Bucha Day is followed by Khow Paansa Day. The former was established 2,594 years ago while the latter was designated years later.

In view of traditional practice in observing the Lent retreat, Buddhist monks take a vow not to stay overnight outside that particular temple. During this period they should not spend a night at another place, unless they have permissible duties such as an invitation, visiting sick parents and teachers, going to deliver sermons, etc. In such duties monks are allowed to spend at most seven nights outside their confinement.

Theoretically, the Khow Paansa itself is not associated with lay devotees; it is exclusively meant for monks. But, on a reciprocal basis, lay Buddhists regard monks as a field of merit or "thum boon". The lay people earn merit mainly through providing the monks with food, housing, clothing, medicine, etc. That is why the Prapaynee Khow Paansa is called "Boon Khow Paansa", which means the "boon or merit associated with entering the Lent retreat". As world renouncers, monks have no occupation to support themselves and they are not supposed to be engaged in any business. They have to depend on lay Buddhists for their subsistence, thereby the latter, out of their faith, regard it as an opportunity to make merit. Consequently, lay followers make a special offering to the community of monks on the occasion of the Waan Khow Paansa or on the day monks enter the Lent Retreat.

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