Vientiane Times/Asia News Network
Night light at the temple of the lantern festival and the end of Buddhist Lent day in the Luang Prabang, Laos. (Shutterstock/File)
The three-month Buddhist retreat that began during the rainy season in July and is known as Buddhist Lent ends today with colorful celebrations.
People are enthusiastically preparing new robes to present to monks, along with other offerings such as food, in the hope that these acts of generosity will ensure they are rewarded in some way.
This is a reminder for everyone to make merit especially during the early morning almsgiving session.
Various groups are busily preparing activities to make the celebrations memorable.
The End of Buddhist Lent Festival or Boun Ork Phansa marks the conclusion of the three-month rain retreat observed by monks. Lent began at the end of July and ends tomorrow – on the full moon day of the 11th lunar month.
With the end of Lent, monks may travel and visit other temples to spread the teachings of Dhamma and carry out other duties.
Monk Somchith from Haisok temple in Chanthabouly district, Vientiane, said Ork Phansa encourages monks to leave their temples and travel.
“Both monks and ordinary people look forward to the end of Lent as this heralds several religious activities, festivals and social events,” Monk Somchith said.
“We monks will enjoy being able to go from place to place once again, leading people in religious activities or preaching in places where there are no monks.”
“Ordinary people can now organize events such as weddings and parties, from which they have largely abstained during Lent.”
“During the three months of Lent, monks and novices focus on their principles more intensively. They wake up early for prayers at 4 am, meditate for longer, and learn more about the teachings of the Buddha,” Monk Somchith added.
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“It is the most important time of the year for monks, novices, nuns and others who want to become better acquainted with the Buddhist scriptures and those who practice their religion with greater devotion. The main reason that monks remain in a certain temple for three months is to learn more about Buddha’s teachings, purify their minds and meditate. And during the rainy season it’s not good for monks to go from place to place.”
“Lay people get the chance to make offerings, while some people make resolutions to give up their bad habits and do more good in life. These are the important things that characterise Buddhist Lent.”
Boun Ork Phansa is a festival of doing good and all devotees enjoy giving alms to monks in the morning and listening to Dhamma, as well as presenting other offerings.
During this festival, people give new robes to monks so that they have more clothing if they travel any distance to carry out their duties and spread the word of Buddha.
After visiting temples in the morning, people take part in special activities in the evening, such as candlelight processions at temples and Lai Heua Fai. The candlelight procession is a religious ceremony that is held to honour Buddha and his teachings.
During this ritual, participants walk three times around the main temple building.
When night falls, people float small handmade “boats” on the river. These are made from banana leaves, bamboo and polystyrene, and contain flowers and incense as offerings, as well as lighted candles. The main purpose is to mark the end of Lent and give thanks to the river spirits and guardians.
People light a candle on the “boat” before it is sent bobbing downstream. Eventually, some of these little craft will be burnt so they are disposed of and do not pollute the river.
There is a belief that if someone catches or finds their boat along the river the next morning that person will be lucky and the boat will bring him good fortune, symbolized by the offerings it contains.
Those who cannot get to a river to light and float a boat there can instead go to a temple where there is often a model wooden longboat set up in the grounds, upon which lighted candles may be placed.
During the course of the evening, hundreds of colorful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles are set adrift down rivers to carry away bad luck and bring a new start in life.
The faithful believe that doing this will ward off illness and misfortune, and they pray for good luck, health, happiness and success.
But by far the most popular event is the boat races which start today and end tomorrow, and should not be missed. The races and the fun they engender signify an end to Lent and to this most colorful and enjoyable festival.