Vap Poya Reflections: Can only males attain Buddhahood? -A Thai experience

26 October 2015 08:37 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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hai Theravada scholars Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu and Ajahn  Sujato believe the “Garudhammas”,  the eight rules that restrict, rather constraint  Buddhist nuns [Bikkhunis], including the rule that is more Jainist than Buddhist which says,  “a bikkhuni, irrespective of her seniority, must bow down to every novice male monk”, was introduced by prejudiced and anti-women participants at the First Council after the Buddha.
   The writer had an opportunity to visit a Thai Temple, some 100 km south of Bangkok on a Vap full moon day; being curious to learn the similarities and differences in the practice of Theravada Buddhism in that country through direct observation of practices of the Thai Buddhist way of conducting the Katina Pooja.  I attended this remote Ashokarama, which I came across browsing through the places of worship close to Bangkok. The traditional performance carried out there reminded me of my home-town temples.  It was during an official visit to Bangkok a decade ago, that I took time off to visit the temple, leaving the city hotel around 5.00 am.


  There too the Buddhists believe that ‘Katina’ – ‘Cheevara Pooja’, is the most noble and meritorious ritual or sacred wholesome act that one can perform; it is just one among  the Great Eight Merits [Ata Kusal],  the Thai Chief Priest explained .
  Very few spoke English in Thailand where the Buddhist population  was around 93 percent. I was lucky that there was a young Samanera who could converse reasonably well. Apart from the gender ratio of the devotees, I observed a similar set of rituals are being performed as we do back in Sri Lanka. Unlike in the Bangkok city’s showpiece golden temples, which charge visitors an entrance fee, the rest of the temples in the outskirts of city are very similar to local set up in both the practice of traditional rituals and in the Dayake-priest relations. Talking about  the gender ratio one could notice a significant difference compared to our very high Upasika involvement: in Thailand one can witness a fifty-fifty male and female participation.
 

The controversy over meaning of the term ‘Katina’

The Katina originated with 30 forest-dwelling monks, Pindapatika wearing rag-robes who were on their way to visit the Lord Buddha at Sravasti says, Mahavagga Pali, the third book of the Vinaya Pitaka. The bad weather forced the monks to break journey  as it was the rainy season, or “Vassa”. However, they resumed the journey despite the rain, and reached Jetawana exhausted, and their robes soaked with rainwater. The Blessed One relaxed some of the rules for Bhikkhus, after hearing about the monks’ difficult journey, but made them applicable only during the rainy season, or Vassana.
 There are two schools of thought, both of Theravada origin, that interpret the meaning of the word “Katina” differently.  Our scholars believe ‘katina’ means hardness; hard as Diamond, whereas the Thais interpret the word as originating from “Katrina”, which means ‘weaving cloth.’
   The ceremony and the robes were called “katina”, according to the Vinaya commentary, because of the merit achieved from a gift of robes was as hard as diamond. Sri Lankan scholars consider that the word implies firmness, stability or long-lastingness. The vas viseema, or the sojourn during the rainy season and related religious rituals are performed from the Vap Full Moon to the Il Full Moon. All Theravadines  believe, the Katina Pooja and the related performances are the most meritorious over every other ritualistic acts. The Buddha was very clear on this phenomenon when he declared that in this noblest performance the accumulation of merit is limitless.
 

Significance of Vap Full moon

The Buddha visited the heavenly abode of Tavatimsa on a Vap Full Moon Poya Day for preaching ‘Abidhamma’ to the Devas of that celestial plane, which included the ‘Matru Deva’ (Mother Deity, Queen Mahamaya).  She attained ‘Sotapanna’ and the chronicle says, another 80 million of Devas too attained various stages of Sainthood. Vap Poya is of great significance for yet another reason, as Buddhist history reveals an important landmark connected to this Full Moon; it was on this day that the future Buddha, Maitriya Bodhisatva, entered the order with a large number of his followers. On termination of his retreat Buddha descended to the city gate of Sankassapura and  informed Arahant Moggallana about his arrival.
  The arrival of Sangamitta Theri was initiated by King Devanam Piyatissa on a Vap Poya day paving the way for Emperor Asoka his friend to send his daughter, Sanghamitta Theri who set up the Bhikkhuni order in the island.
 

Why no female Buddhas;Is gender an obstacle?

The Buddha did not discriminate against women in any sphere of activity. In Sri Lanka, it is usually the Upasika, or lay female devotee who plays a leading role in the ceremony.  Yet it is a mystery why there isn’t a single female among the 28 past Buddhas; isn’t it most puzzling?   The Blessed One, our Gautama Buddha had already predicted that the next Buddha too would be a male.
Is gender an obstacle to becoming a Buddha?  Why cannot a woman attain Buddhahood?
The teachings say that no one is superior to another by birth, caste, race, creed or gender. Clinging to gender identity is discouraged in the Bondage Sutta.  The Buddha praised the mental strength and capacity of the Upasikas in many instances. The Buddha in fact compared motherhood to Buddhahood in the Kundalakesi story. Maha Prajapathi Gothami, Kisagothami, Vishaka, Sujatha and Patachara were among thousands who entered the Sasana and attained Arahanthship.
 

Waste of money on extravaganza in the name OF the Buddha

Vap full moon Poya is a day is of utmost importance to us in Sri Lanka due to some special events that took place on this day.  It marks the end of Vas season, or the rainy period’s retreat for bhikkhus. It is also timely that we on this day of significance reflect upon recently added extravaganza to Katina pageants making it a costly pageant with several pachyderms marching along.  As Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera stated an year ago, some temples waste a few millions in organizing  a grand perahera: isn’t it a misuse of  funds that can build a small house for a deserving dayake? It is time that the Nayake priests and Dayakes give serious thought to the learned Thera’s golden advice.   
 May the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem be with you!

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