musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Rains Retreat

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Tomorrow marks Khao Phansa, another Buddhist holiday in Thailand. As with most Buddhist events, this day is also observed under different names in other Southeast Asian countries. Khao Phansa marks the start of the annual “Rains Retreat”, a period when Buddhist monks are — supposedly — confined to their monasteries and cannot venture out into public. This period has also been dubbed “Buddhist Lent” due to the fact that monks must abstain from habits such as eating meat and smoking (yes, it may shock many Westerners, but some monks in this region can often be seen smoking cigarettes and chewing betel nut). I would assume that karaoke is a no-no also.

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In Thailand the shocking behavior of one famous monk has been in the news all month. Actually, the offending fellow has now been defrocked and is no longer a monk. He was visiting France when the scandal broke and now is supposedly in the USA. I believe his passport has been revoked and there is also a warrant out for his arrest. Why is this man wanted? Something to do with embezzling money from donations to his monastery, not paying taxes on his fleet of luxury automobiles (yes, he had about a dozen, with more on order!), and fathering a child with a 14-year-old girl. Anything else I missed? Sounds like a great guy. Then there is the radical monk in Myanmar who has urged Buddhists to boycott Muslim-owned businesses, and has been blamed for stirring up locals and causing some of the violence that’s plagued the country this year. Needless to say, this monk’s comments have created a storm of controversy, enough to put him on the cover of Time magazine.

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But I’d prefer to leave those assholes out of the equation and concentrate on the good aspects of Buddhism, as exemplified by some of the monks I know in Myanmar’s Shan State. In today’s post there are some photos of the novice monks (and a few of their teachers) from the monasteries at Shwe Yan Pyay and Tat Ein. If observing Khao Phansa means having to refrain from playing football or watching matches on TV, these youngsters are going to have a tough couple of months ahead of them.

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