Dr. Nyan Tun
Myanmar Buddhists never hesitate to perform any meritorious deeds either individually or communally and they are earnest to do wholesome actions in groups for this is the generous spirit of Myanmar Buddhist community by joining hands together to lead the spiritual path in this life and the life after. Even though least developed country in the world, Myanmar is recorded as the richest one in generosity: donation and offering any merit due to Buddhist spirit which is latent in every Buddhist’s heart and soul. People are enjoying for doing charity both in social and spiritual affairs. Among those religious festivals, Communal Kathina Ceremony is the most precious one for Buddhists to invest their generous spirit as well as competition one another in their generosity. From Buddhist point of view, doing meritorious deeds is one of the investment for our life career in this very life and the life after that leads positive sign in our heart. So, Buddhists are investing their labor and wealth in performing merit.
The Kathina ceremony gives the chances to all walks of Buddhist people to participate and join hands together to provide religious leaders, Buddhist monks, the prerequisites for promotion and propagation of Buddhism at home and abroad. Buddhist monks have to depend on the lay devotees for their living because they had given up everything they belong to and renounced the world for the welfare and happiness of the world so lay devotees have to support the prerequisites of the monks as religious duties.
Myanmar Buddhists grasp this great opportunity by joining hands together when the time falls. Now, it is the time for them to carry out this noble job so with the intention of gaining many more meritorious deeds, Myanmar Buddhists are setting up temporary stalls in every corner of the streets and junctions in cities, towns and villages. The volunteer boys and girls are collecting the money through passer by and people donate their money generously dedicating to the monks. Some volunteer groups render their services door to door collecting money with traditional folk dance attracting donors and children and this scene is common to our community annually but it makes us pleasant because we enjoying to perform religious festival. Every Buddhist organization such as rickshaw, taxi driving society; institution such as schools, colleges, universities, private companies and even the Union government, Regions and State government are organizing to offer kathina ceremony. We can imagine how Buddhists’ spirit prevails in people’s heart and soul.
There is no monastery that does not celebrate Kathina ceremony in Myanmar or abroad either in the East or in the West where Buddhist community and monastery are settled down in the land because this is a religion function that pays the way to the people gaining merit. Led by the principal, our Nationalities Youth Resource Development Degree College (NRDC) family organized the 12th Kathina robe offering ceremony together with other offertories to the dedicated monastery in 9th November. The function was conducted in the community hall of the college and all teachings, administration, training staff and students are busy with their assigned work to celebrate the function on the grand scale. Each and every department arranged to offer lunch to the invited Buddhist monks with various curries and snacks. Even though the robes could be offered to the Sangha at anytime of the year, the devotees think that the seasonal robes offering is gaining much more merit. This seasonal offering is considered one of the most meritorious deeds. It can be performed within one month starting from the 1st waning of Thadingyut to the full moon of Tazaungmone in Myanmar Buddhist calendar. The offering is made communally with all the trimmings of music, folk dances.
In addition, what a lovely merit that everyone can make one’s offertories is decorating a wonder tree that bears plenty of religious items including utensil which is called ‘ya’omyif’ in Myanmar. One of the beauties of the kathina offering is that it is a communal offering that everyone is able to contribute whatever he or she can, however little. Even the poorest can be a donor so Buddhists believe this offering is the noblest one in giving. Contributions in money or in kind are accepted and any chance passer-by can gain merit by putting a ‘fruit’ on the Padetha tree. There, standing in front of the decorated marquees are wooden triangular structures, hung with things like packets of yellow robes and other gifts. During this season, it is heart-warming to see lots of padetha tree growing among festivities. They represent the spirit of giving, the trust and kindliness among the people in the community. It is a nice feeling that you too could contribute to the planting of a padetha tree by simply hanging any small gift on the tree.
In our Kathina ceremony, we planted and decorated sixteen Padetha trees hanging every suitable item including money. Collecting offertories and money are arranged department by department, hostel by hostel competing one another whose Padetha has got much more money and items and the total offering and donating are over 30 lakhs. From top to bottom all family members contributes their services willingly and earnestly. Their contributions come from their generous volition. At the ceremony, the audience took the five precepts and then the principal and wife, professors and deans of departments offered Kathina robes to the invited monks. Venerable. Aggasami, Dvipitaka kovida, Vice Chairman of Region Sanghanayaka Committee delivered Dhamma Talk. In his talk he did not emphasize the history and benefits of Kathina but he deliver the Dhamma talk based on the past life of the Buddha-to-be, by giving the title ‘Beautify your heart’. He focused on the behavior of people that need to control by relating the past Jataka story of a Monkey king to whom was taken to the King of Varanasi who kept silent at the Palace by closing his ears, eyes and mouth because people in the Palace were selfish and overwhelmed by greed,(lobha) hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha). The Venerable told the audience to decorate one’s mental feature not physical appearance. By purifying one’s mind one can gain happiness in this life and the life after.
The word ‘uxdef’ in Myanmar is derived from the Pali word ‘Kathina’ In those days, making a robe required spreading cloth on a frame called a “kathina,” The word literally means “hard,” and “firm” because it can be offered once in a year and the benefits of Kathina offering for donors can be gain firmly besides it also connotes stability and durability. So, Kathina is not just about cloth; it is also about firm commitment to monastic life.
The historical back of Kathina can be stepped that once thirty forest-dwelling monks wished to spend the rainy season with the Buddha, and they traveled together to where he would be staying. Unfortunately the walk took longer than they anticipated, and the monsoons began before they had reached the Buddha’s summer dwelling. The thirty monks were disappointed but made the best of it. They found a place to stay together, and they meditated and studied together. And after three months, when the monsoon season ended, they hurried to find the Buddha. But the roads were thick with mud, and rain still drizzled from the clouds and dripped from trees, and by the time they reached the Buddha their robes were muddy and drenched. They sat some distance from the Buddha, uncomfortable and probably embarrassed to be wearing such wet, dirty robes in the presence of their revered teacher. But the Buddha greeted them warmly. The Buddha perceived the sincere dedication of the forest-dwelling monks and felt compassion for them. A layperson had just given him a donation of cloth, and he gave this cloth to the monks to make a new robe for one among them. Due to the difficult situation faced by the monks, the Buddha allowed people to offer robes to the Sangha.
In conclusion, Myanmar people who are pious and generous in performing will keep on offering their generous spirit whenever they settle down either in the East or in the West because they believe that they have a duty to support the Sangha all over the world who are spreading the message of the Buddha for the welfare and happiness of the entire people.