Monday, 29 July 2013

Monk Supply Store

On the western outskirts of Bangkok there is a shop called Hang Sangkapan which sells everything a Buddhist acolyte could need.

At the store, the name of which translates as "Monk Supply," aisles are stocked with candles, Buddha statuettes (both seated and standing) as well as altar tables, CDs, books and countless odds and ends for all monks from novice to abbot.

Thailand has 61.5 million Buddhists among its 65.9 million population, nearly all of them practicing in the Theravada tradition. Males are expected to take robes at least once in their lives. With heads shaved, they spend a few weeks seeking offerings and learning the Buddha's teaching, disciplines and meditation.

For most, it is back to jeans and consumerism afterward. But some return and spend much of their lives in monasteries. According to the National Buddhism Office, Thailand had nearly 300,000 monks and more than 60,000 novice monks at the end of 2012.

(There is a strange reference at the begining of the video to "Buddhist Lent season", they are actually refering to Vassa, the the three-month annual rains retreat. For the duration of Vassa, Bhikkhus remain inside monasteries and temple grounds. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation. Some Buddhist lay people choose to observe Vassa by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking. 

Vassa is followed by Kathina, a festival in which the laity expresses gratitude to monks. Lay Buddhists bring donations to temples, especially new robes for the monks, hence the relevance of the "Monk Supply" store! 

The Vassa tradition pre-dates the time of the historical Buddha. It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as roads were washed out and they may have unintentionally harmed crops, insects or even themselves during their travels.)

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