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Merit-Making Traditions in Buddhist Lent

 Buddhism is a philosophical religion of self-help.It teaches people to depend on themselves-to be courageous and confident in their own abilities. Each person is the center of all things. The philosophy advises people to strive hard to achieve their goals through their own efforts, not through prayer or wishful thinking. It urges people to think freely. It teaches that all people are born equal and free to choose whatever is best for themselves. It also teaches people to be kind and gentle, to be peace lovers, and never make war in the name of religion, race, roots, nationality, etc. Order traditions, e.g. Brahmin, Animism that existed prior to Buddhism and other ideas and traditions, developed during or since the time of Lord Buddha have had an influence on present day Buddhism. Some of these seem to be incongruous with true Buddhism, but ultimately, people have faith in Buddha as he was the great founder or teacher.

 During the season of Buddhist Lent, devotees practise the fundanental moral codes of conduct. On the four auspicious days of each Lunar month, they may spend two or three hours or a whole day in the temple before offening food to the monks. These days fall on the 8th day (keun 8 kaam) and the 15th day (keun 15 kaam) of the waxing moon and the 8th day (raem 8 kaam) and 15th day (raem 15 kaam) of the waining moon. This tradition is known as "Taam Boon" (merit - making)

When the worshippers arrive at the temple, they place rice in the alms-bowl and other foods in separate bowls. Then the temple-boys take the food to the monks waiting in "Gooti" or residence. After breakfast these monks go to the Sala or ceremonial hall where they are later joined by the other monks. The ceremony begins with "Khor Sila" (Oath Taking) of the devotees, in which the Temple Elder leads the crowd in reciting the request for all devotees to seek from the monks, for individual observance of the five precepts (the basic moral codes of conduct), along with the "Triple Gems", which consist of :

  1. Lord Buddha - The founder or the Greatest Teacher of Buddhism
  2. The Dhamma - Lord Buddha's Teachings or Universal Law
  3. The Sangha - The Holy order of Monk Disciples (Brotherhood of Monks) of the Lord Buddha strive to attain a high degree of spiritual discipline, to study, practise and to teach lay people. They set good examples and inspire people to do good deeds.

Buddhist philosophy is divided into two main teaching categories: (1) Sila (pronounced "seehn"), The moral codes of conduct that every Buddhist should follow; (2) Dhamma, the doctrine which leads to higher morality.

The abbot recites the five percepts which are echoed by the lay devotees:

  1. To abstain from taking life of animals and human beings.
  2. To abstain from taking what is not given, i.e stealing.
  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct.
  4. To abstain from false speech,i.e. lying.
  5. To abstain from intoxicants

 The abbot then calls on the devotees to attain a happy state through Sila; prosper through sila; find peace through sila. Therefore, keep sila ever pure. They respond with "yes, indeed" before prostrating three times.

At this point, there is an intermission which is either long or short depending on whether all the Monks have had breakfast. The chanting lasts for 20-30 minutes and is conducted in the Pali Language or Thai so that everyone can understand. People join their palms in a "Wai" throughout the proceedings.

The sacred white cord called "Sai Sin" is draped across the right hand of the Buddha image. The abbot passes the reel of "Sai Sin" to the nearest Monk and from there it passes from hand to hand until all the Monks are holding the white thread. The abbot consecrates the clean water in the arms-bowl by lighting a candle and fixing it across the rim until the melted wax drips into the water. The holy water is known as "Naam Mon"

The head of each family gently pours the holy water from a container into a flat dish whilst being mindful to (a) pay respect to their ancestors and (b) share or dedicate the merit-making with their ancestors. This act is known as "Gruad Naam or Truad Naam". Meanwhile, the abbot leads the devotees in a period of chanting to express thankfulness and good wishes. Finally, the abbot descends from his seat, and assisted by the Temple Elder, carries the alms-bowl of Naam Mon. The Taam Boon ceremony is completed when the abbot blesses everyone with a sprinkling of holy water. Family members depart with joy and serenity in their hearts.

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