Thursday, 17 May 2007

History Of The Buddhist Kathina Festival

History Of The Buddhist Kathina Festival Image
Thai Buddhist shrine room with golden Buddha (

The rains retreat period has just ended worldwide. Buddhist monastics are emerging from months of intensive practice and teaching. And with the culmination of this annual "lent" like period comes the offering of a very special robe, which the Buddha reputedly singled out as an extraordinary offering.

England's Chithurst Buddhist Monastery explains the meaning behind this celebration. (Check local Theravada temple schedules all around the country for nearby ceremonies).

In the Buddha's time, because of the rainy season in India, the "Sangha" were obliged to stay in one place [as was the Indian custom for all wandering ascetics]. The season lasted three months, and the period became known as the Buddhist Rains Retreat ("Vassa").

Once, a group of monks were on their way to spend the "Vassa" with the Buddha. But they were overtaken by the season and had to stay where they were. When they reached him and told their story, the Buddha rewarded them for their joyful, patient endurance by permitting them to gather cloth for robes and to offer the finished robe to a deserving monastic among them.

The frame on which the pieces of cloth were spread and stitched was called a "Kathina" [sturdy, durable, strong]. This tradition of offering cloth during the month after the end of the "Vassa" continues.

At Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, for the past several years, cloth has been offered to the Nuns' community as well and is formally presented to the nuns at the same time as the cloth to the monks.

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Thursday, 10 May 2007

Buddhist Magic And The Supernatural

Buddhist Magic And The Supernatural Image
Venerable Master Hsing Yun (Taiwanese Mahayana)

When we mention the word "magic," we immediately think of mysterious, unusual, superhuman actions. When we face an obstacle, do we not all wish for a miracle? Maybe Superman will appear and eliminate our problems.

When someone hits or curses us, would it not be great if we were martial arts masters? We could use one little finger to pin the person down. When being chased, would it not be wonderful if we could fly? We could easily escape the calamity. When someone wants to cause trouble, would it not be great if I could whisper a spell to make him immobile? When a rich person does not believe in doing good, would it not be nice if I could magically gather his money and give it to the poor and needy? Magic, to most people, is essentially the wish to be outstanding, to be powerful, to be capable of accomplishing the impossible. Although magic can be used to punish the evil and help the needy, it can also be misused to endanger humanity.

Does magic have any benefit for society? Is magic good or bad? What is the meaning of its existence? I would like to discuss the Buddhist perspective on magic and the supernatural from four aspects.

I. THE DEFINITION AND CLASSIFICATION OF MAGICAccording to the scriptures, magic is a supernormal, unlimited, unimaginable power attained during meditation practice. We often believe that only the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, gods, or fairies have magical or supernatural power. In actuality, ghosts and demons can also have magical power. We humans have magical power, too.

Magic is not limited to the unusual acts of causing rain and storms or riding on clouds. Magic is everywhere in our lives. We can recognize it if we look carefully. When we are exhausted and thirsty after a long journey, a glass of water can quench our thirst. Is that glass of water not like a magic potion? A non-swimmer sinks like a rock after falling into water despite a frantic struggle.

In comparison, a good swimmer simply makes a few easy strokes and kicks to move around like a fish. Is this not miraculous? Beginning bicyclists may grip the handles with all their might and still fall off their bicycles. The experts can let their hands go and remain securely on their fast moving bicycles. Does this not seem supernatural? We can also describe those amazing circus performances as magic. According to science, the body itself is a miracle. Tears flow when one is sad, and laughter comes when one is happy. Hunger can be cured by food. Cold sensations can be alleviated by clothing. Are all these phenomena not "magical"?

A woman's mammary glands not only secrete milk but also vary the nutrient composition and amount according to the changing needs of the baby. Once the baby stops nursing, all milk production stops automatically. Is this not amazing? Magic is not limited to tricks and sorcery; it is everywhere. The change of the four seasons, the blooming and wilting of flowers, the changing faces of the moon, the large and small sizes of animals, are they not all expressions of magical wonders?

Magical wonders are all around us. How many types of magical powers are recorded in the Buddhist scriptures? According to the most common classification, there are six main categories. These are celestial [divine] vision, celestial hearing, the power of knowing others' minds, the power of performing miracles, the power of knowing past lives, and the power of eradicating all defilements.

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