The day started with 'Puja Kaew Phra,' an offering of sustenance to the Buddhas, past, present and future, a path of purification that was discovered in deep meditation at Wat Paknam during the time of the late Chao Khun Phra Mongkol Thepmnu, the late Abbot, the founder of the Dhammakaya tradition in Thailand. It usually takes place on the first Sunday of the month, starting around 9.30am (Thai time). There is a live broadcast through DMC which can be received via satellite or through the internet (dmc.tv). At this time of the year in the UK, that translates to 2.30am! As this weekend there was Magha Puja on the Saturday evening, it was decided to combine and move the Puja to the Saturday.
Buddhists around the world celebrate Magha Puja on the 3rd lunar month. It commemorates the time when 1,250 arahants gathered spontaneously to pay respects to the Lord Buddha, and hear a discourse entitled Ovadha Patimokha, which lay foundations for the propagation of Buddhism. Today, in the absence of the Buddha's physical presence, it's appropriate to use as a focus a chedi (pagoda), so our temple joined the ceremony around the Maha Dhammakaya Cetiya in Thailand.The ceremony itself consisted of more meditation, with particular focus on light, inner light that may bring and spread peace. It is marked by lighting candles and lanterns. The Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Ven. Dhammajayo (royal title: Phra Rajabhavanavisudh) lit the main candle and then passed on the light to the Vice-Abbot Ven Dattajeevo (Phra Bhavanaviriyakhun), who in turn passed it on to a representative of the lay congregation and it spread quickly onwards. At our temple, we had the same kinds of lanterns and simultaneously lit our lights. Once our lanterns were lit (quite a few prepared at the last minute owing to lots of participants), we circumambulated (walk around) the main Buddha image whilst Sangha and lay people circumabulated the chedi at Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Inbetween, there were various proceedings concerning broader efforts for world peace. Ven. Dhammajayo was recently conferred by the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth the Universal Peace Award. A high level delegation came to Thailand to present the award and a senior Venerable explained in his speech that this was in recognition of his efforts to spread Buddhist teachings, especially the path to inner peace through meditation. Ven. Dhammajayo was applauded particularly for the use of modern technologies, notably multimedia to help the efforts. There was another peace award presented on behalf of the House of Representatives of California.
In fact the Abbot was very busy receiving different groups as also there were presentations for the World Peace Ethics Contest awards. I mentioned this previously and mentioned "millions have participed" in Thailand, thinking that was over the 20 or so years. Actually, this is the annual participation rate and I was told that this year there were 5 million participants.! It's an amazing feat of organisation and I'm sure of great benefit to the Thai nation.
The winner of the English version was Andrew Keavney, Student President of the Stanford University Buddhist society. Congratulations to him! At our temple, we had entered contestants in Thai and English. The highest award (English version) was for Miss Watjana Suriyatham, who got one of the runner-up trophies, quite an achievement as she is Thai! A full list of the top performers is on DMC.tv. For myself, I was pleased to be one of a group receiving a "certificate of excellence." :-)Shortly after we had cleared up, I was just about to leave when some visitors arrived - some Sri Lankan students studying at Surrey University (based in Guildford, so only a few miles away). It was nice to have them as Thailand and Sri Lanka share a long-standing association through Buddhism and as I gave them a tour and showed photos from an album they could clearly relate to what I described. It was just a pity they didn't turn up a little earlier to share in Magha Puja, or at least have some food. All being well, they'll come again.