February 10, 2009

On Magha Puja (or Makha Bucha), 1 of 4 main Buddhist holidays in Theravada tradition.

I grew up in an American slash Tibetan Buddhist family, as my friends and readers know all too well. My parents’ teacher was Chogyam Trungpa, founder of Shambhala and Naropa, prolific author and scholar and crazy wisdom guru more infamous posthumously than he was while alive. That’s all very well and good. But the funny thing about Vajrayana or Tantra, Tibetan Buddhist training is you don’t learn a ton about what we call Hinayana (more popularly known as Theravada), which is the Buddhist teaching closer and more traditional to the Buddha’s teachings while he was alive. As Buddhism grew over centuries into cultures far and wide, it took on the garments of said cultures, and changed with the times. The essence, and the mission, the point of Buddhism has never changed: to be sane, compassionate…and practice a whole lot of meditation.

Below is a blog about the Theravada Buddhist tradition, something that though I’ve studied Hinayana in some depth, I don’t know a ton about (as many of my readers reminded me in the comments section of my recent Huffington Post).

Today is Magha Puja (also Makha Bucha), one of the four main Buddhist holidays celebrated in the Theravada countries, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. It commemorates the gathering of 1,250 disciples of the Lord Buddha, each personally ordained by him, at Veluvana Bamboo Grove, near Rajagaha in Northern India. All were arahants, enlightened through the Buddha’s teaching. According to legend, they all knew to assemble together without prior arrangement on the full moon of the third lunar month. On that occasion, the first sermon after the Buddha’s enlightenment nine months before, he gave an important talk which is considered to be the heart of his teachings. Thais mark the occasion by giving alms to monks in the morning, and processing around the temple in the evening three times, to honor the Buddha, dhamma and the sangha, with flowers and candles which they present on an altar when the circumambulation is complete. Last year Pim and I took out-of-town visitors Kathe and Michael to Wat Pathum Wanaram which is squeezed between the Siam Paragon and Central World megamalls. The temple was being repaired so hundreds of us marched around a construction site holding lotus flowers and trying to keep the wind from blowing out our candles. This year I may go by myself to Wat Ruak Bangbamru through the rabbit warren of sois behind my building. But it is not easy without a guide to know what to do.

I’ve engaged in several discussions lately about Thai Buddhism and how odd it seems to an American raised on the generic Buddhism we learned back in the States. Not that Alan Watts and Suzuki Roshi and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Jack Kornfield and…

…for the rest, go to a great new blog discovery, Religion Sex & Politics.

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