Buddhist Ritual and festival in Bangladesh
(Application of the Durkheim and Mircea Eliade theory in the Buddhist ritual of Bangladesh)
To the Buddhists each day is good day and sacred day. In the Buddhist Holy Scripture there is no mention of any bad day not even any auspicious day or moment. Everybody gets good result of good deeds . So, religious rites can be performed any day. But the Buddhists perform their religious rites and rituals on some specific days. I like to focus on my paper two significant rituals in our country BANGLADESH which is mostly tide bounded with Myth, religion, symbol and society. There are Paritta recitation and Pabarana are the most popular rituals in our society. My main point how to apply the theory of society and religion according to Durkheim and Mircea Eliade will be discussed here in details. Paritta and Probharona bears an important significance in the Barua Buddhist community of Bangladesh. In this paper I will try to focus the Barua Buddhist belief concerning Buddhist mythology, origin, ethical and moral view, benefit to society and religion to create self confidence, to religious performance, relationship between myth and ritual, connection with some scholars’ idea and explanations.
Descriptions of the Paritta Ritual and Relation with Myth, Rituals
The origin of Paritta ritual comes from myth of Ratana Sutta, Metta Sutta and some other important suttas background stories. It is most popular and significant ritual of Theravada Buddhists followers basically in Thailand, Srilanka, Myanmar, Laous and Cambodia and Bangladesh. According to Ratana Sutta Myth the city of Vesali was afflicted by a famine, causing death, especially to the poor folk. Due to the presence of decaying corpses the evil spirits began to haunt the city; this was followed by a pestilence. Plagued by these three fears of famine, non-human beings and pestilence, the citizens sought the help of the Buddha who was then living at Rajagaha. Followed by a large number of monks including the Venerable Ananda, his attendant disciple, the Buddha came to the city of Vesali. With the arrival of the Master, there were torrential rains which swept away the putrefying corpses. The atmosphere became purified, the city was clean. Thereupon the Buddha delivered this Jewel Discourse Ratana sutta to the Venerable Ananda, and gave him instructions as to how he should tour the city with the Licchavi citizens reciting the discourse as a mark of protection to the people of Vesali. The Venerable Ananda followed the instructions, and sprinkled the sanctified water from the Buddha's own alms bowl. As a consequence the evil spirits were exorcised, the pestilence subsided. Thereafter the Venerable Ananda returned with the citizens of Vesali to the Public hall where the Buddha and his disciples had assembled awaiting his arrival . There the Buddha recited the same Jewel Discourse to the gathering.
In the contents of Ratana Sutta there are some orders to the spirits to protect people. The first passage of the Sutta is as follows,
“Whatever spirits have gathered here, on the earth, in the sky —May you all be happy& listen intently to what I say. Thus, spirits, you should all be attentive. Show kindness to the human race. Day and night they give offerings, so, being heedful, protect them.”
Durkheim’s Sociology and Buddhist Religious Perspective:
To me two main features of Durkheim regarding religion should be discussed here. The two main points of Durkheim are;
a. contribution of religion to maintain social order and
b. relation between religion and capitalist
The above two factors are obviously present in the ritual of Navaratna Paritta Chanting. The teaching or placing the devotees in triple gems refuge and five precepts are undoubtedly to maintain social order. To make a healthy society the importance of carrying out moralities are inevitable. Here the five precepts introduced by the Buddha for the common people play the role to maintain social order. This observing morality strengthen social solidarity, enhances respect to others, one can get the knowledge to appreciate others thought and activities.
“This last fact is especially significant because Durkheim believes firmly that morality, the obligation of each to others and all to the standards of the group, is inseparable from religion. Further, as we shall see, both religion and morals are inseparable from a social framework. ”
Another aspect of Durkheim is that industrial capitalism would undermine traditional religious commitment and thereby threaten the cohesion of society. The sermons delivered during the Paritta ritual explain the rules and regulations about what the natural relation should be between the person and the religion. Capitalistic person is also a human. His destiny is also not beyond the natural law. So Religion is also an important element for his life. “It serves society by providing from infancy onward the ideas, rituals, and sentiments that guide the life of every person within it ”. For a capitalistic person also religion is a guide without doubt. Especially Mangala Sutta of Suttanipata throws light on this aspect. This Sutta says, “To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation — this is the greatest blessing. To be generous in giving, to be righteous in conduct, to help one's relatives, and to be blameless in action — this is the greatest blessing. To be patient and obedient, to associate with monks and to have religious discussions on due occasions — are the greatest blessing ”
The statements emphasize strong commitment of a person, capitalist or common to family, society and religion.
So it may be said that Durkheim’s view role of religion to sociology is a reflection of the teachings of the Buddha which help people to follow good moral codes for the welfare of family, society. It is also a stunning point to lead the capitalist to the way of religion, retarding them from the effect of capitalism and materialism.
On the other hand by the Paritta ritual the society get benefited and people release bad effect and bad deities. And then there are some words upholding the unique qualities of the Buddha and the descriptions of the qualities of the monastic order and wishes of well being by the power of those qualities.
For example another passage says, “Whatever wealth — here or beyond —whatever exquisite treasure in the heavens, does not, for us, equal the Tathagata. This, too, is an exquisite treasure in the Buddha. By this truth may there be well-being.”
In this way the Sutta ends wishing welfare of the people and requesting spirits to bring about betterment to them.
Theravada Buddhists of Bangladesh heartily believe that Paritta are preached by Buddha himself. Buddha recited the Suttas himself of his disciples recited according to Buddha’s advice. Lord Buddha saved the peoples, communities, Societies, Provinces and his great Sangha from various serious problems, diseases and epidemic by holly Paritta recitation.
“Paritta recitation is very fruitful and benefited. The Sutta should be recited with Rhythmical voice. Suttas recited thus brings concentration of mind. The strength of mind inspiration destroys fears and obstructions. It swhould be noted here that man can prosper by his own deed. But deeds should be done honestly. If done so, one may obtain higher life we at last may realize Nibbana ”.
Knowing the about facts- Theravada Buddhists recite Suttas. The Sutta recitation brings good if recited with free and compassionate mind. Mind should be kept pure while reciting. One should bear friendliness towards all beings in his mind. Under no circumstance there should any feelings of animosity towards any one. Towards enemy also, there should be feelings of amity. Thus he becomes free from so many calamities and sorrow. It is Buddha’s ultimate truth and gain of spiritual truth and Buddha’s truthfulness. The theory of Durkheim’s mentioned that myth always keeps noble achievement of the society and restless peoples mind. There have no doubt that by an aeon or time to time the society developed with connection to myth. But Buddhism explained it an angle of another vision. That means all is depend on Karma or good deed. Myth some time false and some time true it doesn’t matter but functions is main point and view. It is true that most of the Buddhist myth real and keep good contributions in the society.
A brief description of Prabarana Festival:
This auspicious full moon festival is one of the important and significant events of Theravada Buddhists and is observed in the month of Aswin . The Pabarana Purnima is known as Aswini Purnima and it is closely related to Basrhavasa . On the full moon of Ashar Theravada monks start three months long Rainy seasons retreat. This retreat of the Bhikkhus beginning in the Ashari Purnima continues up to the Pabarana Purnima. The full moon of Ashara is memorable for three sacred events of the Buddha’s life. It is one of the most significant festivals of Theravada followers in the world. The full moon of Ashara night Bodhisattva took his refuge in his mother Mahamaya’s womb. Another day at the same lunar time he left home for search of ultimate truth. Again after six years attainment of supreme Enlightenment he delivered first sermon Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta in Saranath . The continue three months monks stay theirs definite sacred place begin to observe the three months long practicing meditation and all keeping themselves confined their respective monasteries. The Buddhist lay devotees of both sex undertake the five precepts and eight precepts to practice. During these three months the pious devotees regularly go to monastery to listen to Dharma talk from the resident Bhikkhu. This enhances the religious trend and friendly relations among the devotees. On these auspicious days Buddhists lift the sky-lamps and bring them down again after three months in the Prabarana . The Buddha on this day directed his disciples go to all around for preaching and propagation of Dharma for human beings and deities. The Prabarana Purnima is more significant then another festival because after Buddha hood, he spent his seventh Barrshavasa in the heaven of Tavatimsa . The Buddha explained the Abhi Dhamma to his late mother Mayadevi with many deities continually three months. The Buddhists believe that the holy night of this Prabarana Purnima is the time of Buddha’s landing down to the Sankasya Nagar from the haven of Tavatimsa. The Prabarana Purnima holds unique position; meet-together; moral value; ethical observation and religious connection to the Buddhists as a sacred festival. The observance of the auspicious Kathina Dana Ceremony (yellow robes offering) begins from the second day Prabarana. The yellow robes offering ceremony to the Bhikkhus continue for long one month in the different monasteries. The daylong program lay peoples gather to the Ceremony for take precepts; give offering Dana to Bhikkhus and comprehend the Dharma. The myth above mentioned that myth is statement and without function but rituals operate independently in the society to reach our goal.
From the Viewpoint of Mircea Eliade Symbol, Myth, Sacred and Profane:
According to Mircea Eliade Religion should be explained on its own terms; because religion is a matter of psychological. Matter can be seen but mind cannot be seen. When mind assume something to sooth itself we can say the mind has a close relation to it and the mind is happy with it. This “it” is symbol. “Symbols are rooted in the principle of likeness or analogy. Certain things have a quality, a shape, a character that strikes us as similar to something else .” The sky-lamp lift during the three months rainy seasons retreat is a symbol which people think they worship by this lamp to the Buddha who were teaching Abhidhamma to his mother. This lamp is also a common thing like other lamps. When one lamp is used for this specific purpose it assumes an extra quality of function. Because it is used to do some special job which appeals to the mind. “All symbolic objects acquire double character ”. This symbol was introduced from the story of the Buddha that as his mother was reborn in the Tusita . heaven, she will be re-born in the world unless she can attain Nibbana. The Buddha also has a duty of a son to his mother and he has the ability to perform his duty to help his mother to attain Nibbana not being reborn in the world. For this he must teach Abhidhamma to his mother and he did it in the seventh rainy season retreat. He spent the three months of the retreat in the heaven teaching Abhidhamma to his mother. From this myth the symbol of sky-lamp was introduced in the culture of Buddhists society in Bangladesh. “A myth is not just one image or sign; it is a sequence of images put into the shape of a story. It tells a tale of the gods, of the ancestors or heroes and their world of the supernatural ” .
The other object a city, Sanksya Nagara is also a symbol. This is the place where the Buddha came down from the heaven. This is a very sacred place for the Buddhists all over the world. So we see when the Buddhist people visit the place during their pilgrimage, they pay respect to this place bowing down their heads. What is there in the place for paying respect? It is also a place like other place. It is profane. “In an intuitive burst of discovery, the religious imagination sees; things otherwise ordinary and profane as more than themselves and turn them into the sacred. The natural becomes sacred .”
Religion is the result of far reaching thought of sages and wise man. It tries to keep the people united creating some inspiring thought through tales, sermons and with the hope of blissful condition in the world or in heaven or complete overcoming the suffering through some systematic way for their respective welfare. In this respect, Paritta or Navaratna Paritta recitation ritual and Prabarana festival play the pivotal role in Buddhist society creating awareness among the people about the reality of life and existence, about their duties and responsibilities. This may benefit mankind, no doubt.
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