The beginning of Buddhism – one single, supreme day
One of the holiest days celebrated in Theravada Buddhism, Asalha
Puja Day, falls this year on July 7, corresponding with the 15th night of
the full moon during the 8th month of the Buddhist Lunar calendar and
commemorating the birth of Buddhism itself, over 2500 years ago. On this
day, having achieved enlightenment, the Lord Buddha gave his first sermon,
ordained his first monk and created the Sangha, the devout followers of
Buddhism. The ‘Triple Gem’ of Buddhism – the Buddha himself, the Dhamma, his
teachings, and the Sangha, his followers, came into being on this single,
The sermon or discourse, which set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma, was given
to the 5 ascetics who had been faithful to him throughout his journey into
enlightenment, and is known as the ‘Dharmachakapavattama Sutta’. It outlined
the ‘Four Noble Truths’; the reality of suffering, (dukkha), the cause of
suffering, (samudaya), the cessation of suffering, ( nirodha), and the path
to the cessation of suffering, (magga)—the Noble 8-fold path of the Middle
Way - comprising the practising of correct views, resolve, speech, conduct,
livelihood, effort, mindfulness and meditation. – a path between asceticism
and indulgence. The 5 ascetics immediately pledged to follow the Middle Way
and were ordained in a simple ceremony, thus becoming the first Buddhist
monks and members of the Sangha. To this day, throughout the world, the Four
Noble Truths are still the central doctrine of Buddhism.
Each year Buddhist temples throughout Thailand conduct ceremonies venerating
the historic founding of Buddhism. Worshippers present offerings of food,
necessities or money to the monks, listen to sermons and perform ritual
prayers. The truly devout may refrain from the recognised eight offences for
the duration of the three-month rainy season just as monks do, while others
may give up a single vice, with yet others avoiding 5-8 offences just for
the one day. Certain ceremonies revolve around the acceptance of novice
monks, including youngsters, who may take vows for periods of up to three
months or even longer. The Wien Tian ceremony takes place in the evening;
worshippers go to nearby temples bringing candles, flowers and joss sticks
and complete three circumnavigations around the temple area’s sacred
The following day marks the beginning of the traditional three-month period
of time during which Buddhist monks must return to, and stay in, their
temples, neither leaving nor staying overnight at another location, ‘for the
duration of the rains’. Often referred to as Buddhist Lent, the correct name
is ‘Khao Pansaa’, one translation of which refers to the beginning of the
rains and the practice of returning. This is particularly significant in
Lanna, the home of the ‘Forest Monk’ tradition for several hundred years, in
which wandering and mostly solitary monks traversed the vast forests and
wildernesses of the north and north-east, living in caves or self-made
shelters outside villages and only occasionally visiting local temples.
The two main items presented to monks during Khao Pansaa are candles and
garments, specifically the bathing robe. Candles were essential in former
times – both for ceremonies and for studying scriptures - this tradition
continues to the present day. The presentation of garments worn by monks is
said to have originated from methods of bathing in former times, commonly
done in community areas using streams, rivers, ponds and other sources of
water, with monks requiring a bathing robe. The garments worn by monks have
changed over the years - the custom now includes presenting the entire
costume worn by a monk.
At the end of the three-month period the Katin ceremony, during which the
new robes are presented, takes place, after which monks are allowed to leave
the temples. Historically, they were discouraged from travelling during the
rainy season as they might accidentally step on rice crops, small insects
and other creatures. Inclement weather also made it difficult and dangerous
to travel. For these reasons, monks were ordered to return to their temples
of ordination to study and discuss the Buddhist scriptures, follow the
proper disciplines, meditate and perform ritual ceremonies.
Both Asalha Puja Day, July 7, and Khao Pansaa, July 8, are recognized public
holidays; banks and most businesses will be closed, and the sale of alcohol
will be forbidden. Many people take time away from their work on Khao Pansaa
to recognise the importance of this holy festival.
An Orchestra with a Difference!
As many music lovers already know, Thailand has a number of
orchestras already, including the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, the Bangkok
Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra plus some
regional ones as well, such as our own Chiang Mai Symphony Orchestra. Now
something both enthralling and exciting is happening in Bangkok which will
hopefully have repercussions throughout Thailand.
This was alluded to in a previous article – the foundation of the Princess
Galyani Vadhana Institute, or Conservatoire as it is likely to be known. And
on Monday June 15 at the Siam Commercial Bank Plaza, a recently formed and
new symphony orchestra with its conductor Hikotaro Yazaki launched into a
first class performance of Symphony No.4 in G by Gustav Mahler. The
acoustics of the hall were adequate rather than good, but nevertheless, the
orchestra gave us a heart-warming and lively performance of this final
Wunderhorn symphony with Leipzig-trained soprano Katrin Starick
presenting a fine rendition of the Wunderhorn song Das Himmlische
Leben, delivered with grace and tenderness.
This dynamic new orchestra led by Leo Phillips, who played with the London
Philharmonic and now lives in Thailand, performed nothing short of a minor
miracle under the direction of conductor Yazaki. He ensured there was a true
balance between the various sections of the orchestra as well as maintaining
an energy and clarity throughout all four movements. And what potential this
orchestra has – at least half of its players are young and feature many
women, including Ajaan Judith Uttley from Payap University here in Chiang Mai on harp.
The players came across as devoted, sincere, determined and professional
throughout, responding with alacrity and keenness to each gesture of the
baton of Yazaki, thereby capturing the nuances of this remarkably romantic
and pastoral symphony by Mahler. Most importantly, however, is the emergence
of a brand new initiative in memory of a very great Lady and much respected
musician. With the talent, energy and enthusiasm in the concert hall that
night, and the dynamic leadership of the conductor, Thailand is set for a
new era of music making as the performance of this difficult Mahler symphony
proved – where there is a deep love of music and a sincere appreciation and
understanding of a composer as complex as Mahler, there should be no doubt
that the future of Thai music making will be an enlightened one! Please
watch this space as there will be more to follow as well as concerts here in
Chiang Mai in a couple of months’ time.
Fireworks fast and furious –
Thaya Kongpakpaisarn on piano
It is relatively rare these days to be inspired and moved by
a pianist of just eighteen years old, but on Saturday June 20th in
the Duriyasilp College of Music, Payap University, this amazing young
man, Thaya, did just that to a capacity audience from the moment he
walked into the room attired immaculately in evening dress. After a
short pause to compose himself, the fireworks began. He showed us
immediately what a deep understanding he had of the music he was
playing, opening with a Bach Prelude and Fugue in A, where the
intricate finger work and contrasts in rhythm and tone shone through
radiantly. His self-assured manner, his posture and arm movements all
enabled his over-worked hands to perform with great agility, enormous
skill and admirable dexterity. From those opening bars, the audience
became aware that this was to be no ordinary recital.
Instead, we were treated to an excellent array and display of high
quality piano playing that brought out the very best of the music in the
enormously wide range of composers chosen for the program – Bach,
Shostakovitch, Clementi, Chopin, Griffes, Liszt and Prokofiev – what a
challenging and demanding repertoire, and all played seemingly
effortlessly and from memory. With the audience in the palm of Thaya’s
hand and with great confidence and commitment, his performance of each
piece was masterful, the Shostakovitch Prelude and Fugue in A minor
being played with fine firm free-flowing energy, clarity and zest.
Back in time 200 or so years for Clementi, and a stunning performance of
the Sonata in F sharp minor, full of colour and deep expression.
The second movement was almost magical as Thaya captured the rich
harmonies so eloquently and with a delicacy that assured the audience of
his great potential. The real gem in the first half was the Chopin
Opus 23 No. 1 Ballade in G minor. Thaya shone in this beautiful and
challenging composition – he maintained a deeply sensitive balance
between the scampering arpeggios and the lyrical passages, never
over-exaggerating nor underestimating the contrasts in this most
grandiose of Ballades. No wonder the concert room exploded into vocal
and hand applause at the end – this truly was quite an amazing display
of musicianship – in fact, it was hard to believe his age - only
eighteen years old!
The second half was just as fine, with marvellous playing in the
impressionist American composer Griffes’ tone pictures, with which Thaya
was equally at home in this very different style of composition. Once
again, he masterfully captured the shimmering waters of the Fountains
and the whipping up of the Night Winds with almost unbelievable
finger work. He was totally in his element as he played one of Liszt’s
Sonetti from Les Annees de Pelerinage – here, there was
clear empathy between the composer, who was twenty-six years old when he
wrote the piece, and this charismatic eighteen year old bringing a
delightfully youthful interpretation to this lovely composition. The
grand finale was Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, and
was exceptional – Thaya approached the work with dignity and respect
and brought alive the drama, tenderness and passion, especially in the
final movement which was a real driving force full of power and
The very well prepared program notes stated that this young man, who has
been the winner already of many prestigious prizes in piano
competitions, is ‘promising’ – his performance on Saturday went far
beyond that – he lit up the sky with an explosion of colour and sound in
a triumphant and splendid recital which will be remembered in Chiang Mai
for a long time. We all wish him well in his future studies, especially
in the USA to where he will be heading shortly and we eagerly await his
return to Chiang Mai.
Khaya himself wishes to thank his audience for their attendance and for
their kind appreciation of his music making.
The Captain begins to
understand Chiang Mai…
If you’re worried by the rain – mai pen rai!
And you’d rather be in Spain - mai pen rai!
If you can’t afford Champagne
And the moonshine rots your brain,
So you think you’ll go insane - mai pen rai!
If you’re smitten with catarrh - mai pen rai!
Someone’s crashed into your car ? Mai pen rai!
If you like an evening jar
Down in the Night Bazaar
But they close your favourite bar - mai pen rai!
If you get a croaky voice - mai pen rai!
If you can’t sleep for the noise - mai pen rai!
If you’re spoiled for your choice
As you wander certain sois
But can’t tell gals from boys - mai pen rai!
If you can’t speak any Thai - mai pen rai!
If you can’t tell “kai” from “kai” - mai pen rai!
If your friends demand you try,
Though you plead you’re far too shy
And know only “mai pen rai” - mai pen rai!