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The beginning of Buddhism – one single, supreme day

An Orchestra with a Difference!

Fireworks fast and furious – Thaya Kongpakpaisarn on piano

The Captain begins to understand Chiang Mai…

 

The beginning of Buddhism – one single, supreme day

Elena Edwards
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, supreme day.
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 grounds.
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!

Jai-Pee
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

Jai-Pee
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 poignancy.
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…

Archie James
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!