Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Buddhist Kathina Festival

The Buddhist Kathina Festival is a time when the relationship between the monastic and lay parts of the community is celebrated. 2,500 years ago, the Lord Buddha made his monks and nuns materially dependent on the generosity of his lay disciples and this ensured that his teachings would stay alive through the medium of these relationships.

The history of this festival is that in the Lord Buddha’s time the rainy season in India made travel particularly difficult and so the Sangha (the monastics) had to stay in one place. This rainy period lasted three months and became knows as the Vassa or Rains Retreat.

Once, the rainy season caught up with a group of thirty monks and they were forced to stay where they were and at the end of the rains they continued their journey. When they reported this to the Buddha he rewarded them for their endurance by allowing them to gather cloth to make robes and then awarding this to one of the most deserving monks. The frame on which the robes were made and stitched was called a Kathina and this is how the festival got its name.

This year was particularly special as Luang Por Sumedho (at the age of 76 years) is planning retire to Thailand and this year will be his last year attending this festival in this country. Luang Por Sumedho was integral in establishing the Forest Sangha tradition in the United Kingdom. He was central in establishing Amaravati Buddhist Monastery (where he is now Abbott) and Chithurst Buddhist Monastery (where he was the first Abbott.)

The day’s programme was as follows:

9:00 Arrive at the monastery
10:00 Refuges & Precepts in the Dhamma hall
10:30 Rice Pindapat & Meal Offering
1:30 Ceremony of the offering of Kathina cloth
2:30 Farewell Offering to Luang Por
3:00 Dhamma talk by Luang Por
7:30 Evening Puja and Meditation

It was raining lightly when I arrived but that cleared and soon after 10.00 the sun appeared from behind the clouds although it stayed quite chilly as the wind was fresh.
It was a lovely day, great fun as well as being spiritually and emotionally moving.