by Atthasith Khupratakul
On the full-moon day of the third lunar month, foreign visitors to the kingdom will get a chance to observe how Thais celebrate one the country’s most important religious festivals
“Makha” is the Thai word for the third Lunar month, while “Bucha” means to honor or to venerate. Combined together, the two words represent an occasion that translates to one of the most important religious festivals in Thailand: Makha Bucha Day.
Makha Bucha Day commemorates two separate Buddhist events that happened 45 years apart: the first one (nine full months after the Buddha got Enlightenment) was the simultaneous and spontaneous coming together of 1,250 monks from different places to visit the Buddha and pay him respects. The Buddha saw this as an opportunity to give an important sermon that laid down Buddhism’s three fundamental teachings (The Heart of Buddhism): “to do what is good, to cease from all evil, and to purify or cleanse the mind.” The second event happened in the last year of the Buddha’s life when he delivered his teachings and “Parinibbhana” (to leave the mind from the body, or to die).
On Makha Bucha Day, it is customary for devout Thai Buddhists to go to the temples to pay respects to Buddha, to listen to Dhamma preaching, give some donations and make merit of some sorts, and join in other activities lined up for the occasion.
A highlight of the observance is the candlelight procession (“win tian”) held on the evening of the full moon day. The monks and congregation members – holding flowers, incense, and a lighted candle – walk around the phra ubosot (ordination hall) clockwise, circling it three times, once for each of the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dhamma (teaching), and the Sangha (monkhood).
As part of the observance, Thai Buddhists are encouraged to do their best to observe the Five Precepts (Rub Sil’), even for just the next couple of days. The Five Precepts, which is the basic Buddhism code of ethics and is a practice of renunciation, tells Buddhists to abstain from harming any living thing; from stealing; from taking intoxicants; from backbiting, gossiping and telling lies; and from engaging in immoral sex.
Devout Buddhists may also observe additional precepts during the period. They will abstain from eating after midday; from using a soft chair or a high bed and from wearing ornaments or perfume, and from public entertainment, dancing, or singing. Those who observe these precepts strictly, practice meditation and mental discipline, stay in the temple, wear white robes, and eat only vegetarian food for a number of days.
For visitors to Thailand, Makha Bucha Day presents a great opportunity to observe first-hand the Thais’ religious practices and local lifestyle. While most restaurants and other dining establishments will probably be open on this public holiday, bars might be closed, and those that open will not be serving alcohol.