Revival of “Khang Bu Ya”, Traditional Thai Communal Culture and Principle Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries
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Revival of “Khang Bu Ya”, Traditional Thai Communal Culture and Principle Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries

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The evolution and development of Thai culture is strongly rooted in Buddhism, and it has a strong communal tradition. Traditionally, a Buddhist temple or monastery served as the centre of the ...

The evolution and development of Thai culture is strongly rooted in Buddhism, and it has a strong communal tradition. Traditionally, a Buddhist temple or monastery served as the centre of the community that nurtured and supported the growth of communal culture. But with modernisation, this traditional Thai culture has gradually eroded, and communalism is abandoned and replaced by individualism, even temple or monastery has lost its role as the centre of the community. Some traditional communal traditions like working together, helping one another in organising and hosting communal activities such as traditional religious festivals and celebrations are disappearing or have disappeared altogether. Communal culture becomes weakened. People become increasingly distant from one another, the spirit of camaraderie of a thriving community disappears. Lay devotees no longer visit the temple or monastery regularly. There is progressive disengagement of the devotees from their temple or monastery and vice versa so that people are no longer effectively exposed to learning Buddhist teachings and imbibing Buddhist values as they did in times past. Their understanding of Buddhism is gradually reduced and this contributes to the erosion of the relevance, importance and significance of Buddhadharma in their daily lives.
This paper writes about the revival of such a tradition in Lablae district in the Uttaradit province of northern Thailand, the “Khang Bu Ya” tradition that disappeared more than thirty years ago. Seven years ago, the people of the Lablae community took up the initiative of reviving the tradition to strengthen the communal culture, the relationship of people in the community, the relationships of the lay people with their temples and monasteries in their district, promoting interactions of the temples and monasteries, and to bring back the principle role and values of Buddhist teachings in the community life.

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Revival of “Khang Bu Ya”, Traditional Thai Communal Culture and Principle Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries Revival of “Khang Bu Ya”, Traditional Thai Communal Culture and Principle Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries Document Transcript

  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South Korea Revival of ‘Khang Bu Ya’, Traditional Thai Communal Culture and Principle Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries Suwida Sangsehanat Paper presented at The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum -Monasticism and Lay Buddhism- October 27-30, 2010 Seoul, South Korea.Suggested citation:Suwida Sangsehanat, (2011). “Revival of ‘Khang Bu Ya’, Traditional Thai Communal Culture andPrinciple Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries” in The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum: Monasticismand Lay Buddhism, October 27-30, 2011. Seoul, South Korea. Pages 518-523 (English version) (orpages 524-529 for Korean version).
  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South KoreaRevival of “Khang Bu Ya”, Traditional Thai Communal Culture andPrinciple Role of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries 1 Suwida SangsehanatAbstractThe evolution and development of Thai culture is strongly rooted in Buddhism, and it has a strongcommunal tradition. Traditionally, a Buddhist temple or monastery served as the centre of thecommunity that nurtured and supported the growth of communal culture. But with modernisation,this traditional Thai culture has gradually eroded, and communalism is abandoned and replaced byindividualism, even temple or monastery has lost its role as the centre of the community. Sometraditional communal traditions like working together, helping one another in organising andhosting communal activities such as traditional religious festivals and celebrations are disappearingor have disappeared altogether. Communal culture becomes weakened. People become increasinglydistant from one another, the spirit of camaraderie of a thriving community disappears. Laydevotees no longer visit the temple or monastery regularly. There is progressive disengagement ofthe devotees from their temple or monastery and vice versa so that people are no longer effectivelyexposed to learning Buddhist teachings and imbibing Buddhist values as they did in times past.Their understanding of Buddhism is gradually reduced and this contributes to the erosion of therelevance, importance and significance of Buddhadharma in their daily lives.This paper writes about the revival of such a tradition in Lablae district in the Uttaradit province ofnorthern Thailand, the “Khang Bu Ya” tradition that disappeared more than thirty years ago. Sevenyears ago, the people of the Lablae community took up the initiative of reviving the tradition tostrengthen the communal culture, the relationship of people in the community, the relationships ofthe lay people with their temples and monasteries in their district, promoting interactions of thetemples and monasteries, and to bring back the principle role and values of Buddhist teachings inthe community life.Keywords: Khang Bu Ya, strength, traditions, communal culture, temple, monastery, lay, devotees, Lablae,Uttaradit, northern Thailand.1 Assistant Dean of Bodhivijjalaya College, Srinakharinwirot University, Thailand. Email:suwida.ss@gmail.com
  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South KoreaIntroductionThe evolution and development of Thai culture is strongly rooted in Buddhism andcommunity. It has a strong communal tradition. Traditionally, a Buddhist temple ormonastery served as the centre of the community, in which all activities of the communitywere planned and conducted; in which all decisions and planning related to the communityand its development were undertaken; in which such thought as a life apart from the templeor community or the temple apart from the community hardly arose. The communitysupported the temple or monastery and the people learned the teachings of Buddha and thevalues of Buddhism from the monks in the temple or monastery. The communal natureendowed the community with a strong social cohesion and mutually supportive solid basebuilt on the teaching of Buddha and values of Buddhism. But this communal culture thatgives Thai communities so much strength has been weakened over the years since theprocess of modernisation began in 1961. This paper describes the revival of a Thaicommunal culture, „Khang Ba Ya‟, in Lablae District of Uttaradit Province in northernThailand. It is based on the author‟s interview with Mr. Somchai Pongsrichai, a local leaderand his materials and a couple of other internet posts as given in the reference list.Traditional Communal CultureTraditional Thai culture was built on Buddhist values and ethics as the core with the templeplaying a significant spiritual guiding role while the community provided the support, eachdependent on and mutually strengthens the other as illustrated in the following figure(Figure 1). Thai Culture Buddhist monastery Buddhism Community Figure 1. The relationship of Thai culture, community, and monastery .
  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South KoreaIn the past, all the important days and events in our lives and the life of the communitywere marked in the temple or monastery. These include various milestones and events suchas the days of birth, the marking of adolescence as in cutting of hair when one reached nineyear-old, events in our careers, wedding, death, transfer of merits to one‟s ancestors, NewYear celebration, midyear celebration, rice harvest festival, etc, in one‟s life or community.All these celebrations and marking of important days and events of the individuals orcommunity were organised and participated as communal events where everybodycontributed and participated together as a community in the Buddhist temple or monasteryas the centre of gathering and communal activities. During these occasions, monks wouldgive Dhamma talks and spiritual advice. These were the occasions and times the peoplelearned Buddhist teachings, actively contributed to the monastery, supported Dhammaactivities and strengthened the community spirit. Regular communal activities like theseheld in Buddhist temple or monastery as the centre strengthened the relationships betweenthe temple and the community and the people within the community.However with modernisation set rolling by the implementation of the First EconomicDevelopment Plan introduced in 1961, traditional community-supported form of labour-intensive agriculture gave way to „green revolution‟ or so-called modern agriculturalpractice that is capital-intensive, relying heavily on monocropping and heavy use ofagrochemicals and machineries. Communal culture became unnecessary. People in thecommunity became more individualistic. As communal culture weakens and individualismgrows, people become more distanced from one another and from the community‟s templeor monastery. The role of the temple or monastery diminished over time. New generationsgrow up without the benefit of a supportive communal culture and guidance on Buddhistteachings and values as their lives and the community are no longer closely associated withthe community‟s temples or monasteries. Lacking regular spiritual guidance, present dayyouths lose their roots in the Buddhist communal culture, and they are now easilyinfluenced by modern‟ western‟ or „pop‟ culture to which they are constantly exposedthrough easily accessible media of all kinds in this globalised world.Revival of „Khang Bu Ya, in LablaeLablae is a district in Uttaradit Province in the lower part of northern Thailand. Like otherparts of Thailand, the communal culture and strength in Lablae has weakened
  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South Koreatremendously. Over the more than thirty years of modernisation, many communaltraditions have disappeared. New generations are increasingly distanced from communallife and from the temple or monastery and Buddhist teachings. They are losing the culturalroots and find it easier and „natural‟ to follow indiscriminately any „modern‟ trends infashions and life styles that come with globalisation. They easily assimilate „pop culture‟.Seven Years ago, in 2004, the communities of Lablae people began reviving a communaltradition called „Khang Bu Ya‟. This is a tradition in which the people of the communitiesget together to prepare and make dana (offerings) to the monks of the community‟s templeor monastery. A particularly attractive feature of this tradition entails the preparation andpresentation of „wish-granting trees‟ (like the wish tree of Kuvera, the Buddhist God ofFortune) to the temples or monasteries. These trees would be filled with money andagriculture produces which the people would like to offer to their ancestors. When thepreparation of the trees is completed, the trees would be carried in a procession to thetemples or monasteries for the ceremony of offering to their ancestors. The tradition teachespeople to remember and pay respect to their ancestors, to be humble and ask for forgivenessfor their misdeeds. The occasion gives people of the community an opportunity to worktogether and cooperate and interact socially in meaningful and beneficial ways, and topractice generosity in giving to the temple or monastery.In Lablae district, the local community is responsible for the temples and monasteries in thecommunity. The community organises a roster of lay households to be sponsors (maindonors or hosts of the event) of „Khang Bu Ya‟. Each year, there will be about ten or moreoccasions of „Khang Bu Ya‟. The sponsoring household will organise a team to prepare thewish-granting trees or „Khang Bu Ya‟. This team usually comprises sponsors‟ neighboursand relatives. They gather together and arrange all their offerings on the wish-grantingtrees. The materials for offering include foods and dessert, books, stationary (writingimplements such as pencils, books), local produce such as chilli, red onion, garlic, rice,„dollar or Baht‟ bills of any denomination are folded into the shape of a fan or any otherattractive shapes and hung on the trees. The sponsors and friends would work and help oneanother decorate the wish-granting trees, usually a day before the actual day of celebrationof „Khang Bu Ya‟. Every other household in the community also prepares and presents“Gua-Salaak”, a small bamboo basket of produce for offering on that day.
  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South KoreaOn Khang Bu Ya Day, there will be a colourful procession of the lay people of thecommunity who have come together to help one another in carrying the wish-granting treesand Gua-Salaak from the host‟s house to the temple or monastery selected to be the venuefor that day. The participants wear local costume and perform Thai dance as part of thecelebration. A leader or respected person in the community would be asked to recite a localpoem for the hosts and people present. The wish-granting trees would be presented to themonks and the monks would lead the ceremony in „sending‟ the wish-granting trees to theirancestors. On this occasion, monks would give Dhamma talks. The event thus gives themonks an opportunity to transmit Buddha‟s teachings to the lay people. It also gives thelay people a chance to listen to Dhamma, learn the Dhamma, perform and share the meritsof their good deeds. In this way, the practice of the tradition helps nurture communalculture and strengthens the community.Apart from the individual households that take turn in hosting the event, every school in thecommunity is also assigned responsibility to host one wish-granting tree every year.Students, teachers and parents work together to decorate a wish-granting tree with all theofferings collected and join the local host in celebrating the event in the monastery. In thisway, the new or the younger generations are given the opportunity to learn more aboutmeaningful traditions, the value of communal activities and culture and Buddhist teachingsthat promote social cohesiveness and celebration of good wholesome deeds for oneself andothers.On Khang Bu Ya day, the host temple or monastery invites monks from other temples(usually three to four temples in the neighbourhood) to join the celebration. Eachparticipating temple or monastery will bring back one wish-granting tree. In this way, themonastics from various temples share the dana offered by the lay people. This event thusalso promotes, renews or refreshes and strengthens the interrelationships among the varioustemples in the district and the devotees of the communities in the district.Khang Bu Ya is celebrated during the period between August and October of each yearduring new moon days, first quarter moon days and full moon days. The hosting of theevent rotates among all the communities and monasteries in the Lablae district. Khang BuYa is also sometimes known as the festival of brother- and sisterhood that aptly reflects thecommunal culture and community spirit promoted by the event.
  • The Fifth Lay Buddhist Forum, October 27-20, 2011, Seoul, South KoreaReferences:Suwida Sangsehant, Author‟s interview with Mr. Somchai Pongsrichai, a respected person in Lablae District on July 28, 2011.Somchai Pongsrichai. “Twelve Months‟ Tradition of Lablae.” Unpublished document used as teaching material for Wat Nam Sai School.<http://www.xn--l3cjf8d8bveb.com/blog-season-ประเพณีถวายค้ างบูยา> accessed on July 30, 2011.<http://www.taklong.com/north/show-north.php?No=411295> accessed on July 30, 2011.