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Buddhist Lent and Merit Making

Today marks the beginning of the 3-month long Buddhist Lent period, known as Khao Pansa (or Phansa or Vassa). It occurs at the start of the rainy season, and it’s the time when Buddhist monks return to their home monasteries, there to remain for the remainder of Lent. It’s also a time when ordinary folks increase their spirtual activities and, perhaps, give up some of their luxuries (smoking, drinking, meat) for the period, much like the Christian Lent period. Click here and here for a couple of web sites that talk about this in more depth.

I talked to Nai last night, and he and his family were busy preparing an elaborate meal to serve today to the monks at the wat near his house. I was present several years back during this time, and below are a couple of photos from then.

Here’s the meal, with Nai and some friends who helped serve it.

Guess who got to wash the dishes afterwards?

This is merit making, doing good deeds, not because it’ll gain you spiritual favor, but because it’s the right thing to do. Another way of merit-making is to release animals, like birds, fish or turtles, that have been captured. Many of the animals can be purchased near the temples (a bit of a racket, it you ask me) and then released at the temple or elsewhere. While I was in Laos this summer, Nai made merit this way in the hopes that his fatally ill (according to Lao and Thai doctors) mother would gain favor. First, he purchased a couple of small turtles at one of the markets, then bought some birds at Wat Si Muang, where he prayed for about 10 minutes with one of the monks. Then we went to the Mekong, where he released the birds and the turtles.

Here are a few shots of the various statuary at Wat Si Muang.





Nai also told me that the local villagers have been warned that a repeat of the flooding of 2008 is once again a possibility. Many people blame it on the upstream dams built by the Chinese, but there’s certainly been a huge amount of rain in China that’s contributing to high water levels. Let’s hope they don’t get higher. More later.

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