Khao Phansais an important day in Buddhism in which Theravadin Buddhist monks vow to remain in one place for the 3 months of the rainy season (a period known in Buddhism as the “Rains Retreat”). According to the Buddha’s teachings on monastic discipline, monks during this period may not spend the night anywhere else but their chosen place of retreat. The Khao Phansa ceremony is a fundamental practice for monks and is obligatory regardless of circumstances. In 2015, Khao Phansa will occur onJuly 31.
Thai Buddhists believe thatKhao Phansa and the subsequent three months retreatprovides an especially good opportunity to make merit at their temple through giving alms, making offerings, and listening to sermons. What makes this day special is the offering of light bulbs, candles, and bathing robesfor the monks to use during residential retreat at the temple. In the past, it was common for Thai Buddhist men, once old enough to become full-fledged monks at 20 years of age, to ordain for the whole three month duration of the rains. Thaiscall this donning of the robes for the purpose of sitting the rains retreat buat ao phansa (“The Phansa Ordination”).
The reason that the Buddha encouraged the practice of staying in one place for 3 monthsis that it gave monks a break from their wandering ministry (which was difficult to do during the rains)to prevent their walking from damaging the crops planted during the rains. What was particularly important though was that the Rains Retreat was the time of yearwhen monks couldgather to reside in theirtemples or retreat abodes, so they could study teachings fromtheir masters, relate theirexperiences, andfoster harmony amongst the monastic brotherhood.
The significance and benefits of the Rains Retreat can be summarized as follows:
1. The Rains Retreat takes placewhen villagers must labor in their fields. Therefore monks must cease wandering from place to place so as to keep from harming sprouting plants or infant animals.
2. After wandering through the world,teaching for 8 or 9 months, the Rains Retreat is a period in which the monastics can take a rest.
3. It is a time for monks to engage in personal practice and to study the Buddha’s words so they will be ready to instruct the laypeople once the rains are finished.
4. The Rains Retreat gives an opportunityfor those who have reached the age of ordination to train in the teachings and to ordain. This is an important force for the propagation of the Buddhist religion.
5. It gives Buddhists a special opportunity to make merit such as by offering alms to the monks, moulding candles, offeringbathing robes, observing the Buddhist precepts, making prayers, bestowing the four necessities of Buddhist monkhood (food, clothing, shelter, and medicine), refraining from vice and getting a chance to hear sermons throughout the rains.
In the year 2008, the government of Thailand announced that Khao Phansa would now become “a day without alcohol”, and that on Khao Phansa all sale of alcoholic beverages would be banned throughout the kingdom. These measures were part of a campaign to encourageThai citizens to take vows to abstain from alcohol on Khao Phansa and the three months following, in order to promote moral values in Thai society.