My reading of your article "Duty marks advent of Chol Vosa" (July 8, 2009) brought to mind a different perspective on the issue. Chol Vosa, or Buddhist Lent, is a universal concept that is much more meaningful than your news story described. In a physical sense, Chol Vosa falls during the rainy season, which prohibits monks from travelling very far to teach the Dhamma and to propagate Buddhism.
In addition, this is the period during which the young rice stalks are coming up in the paddy fields. Travellers moving through the fields could easily damage the young crops.
But mentally and spiritually, Chol Vosa represents a special rainy season retreat programme for all Buddhists. Bhikku monks, for example, and laypeople have participated in this programme since the time of the Buddha in an effort to learn and practise the Dhamma. Lord Buddha wisely understood the need for all Buddhists - especially the Sangha, or Buddhist order - to conduct this programme in order to concentrate wholeheartedly on learning and practicing his teachings once each year.
Buddhist monks must perform Pavarana Kamma, or commitment obligations, such as avoiding going outside the temple's boundary before sunrise, waking up early each morning to chant mantras and practice meditation, participate regularly in the Pathimoka assembly, and many other obligations.
On the first day of Chol Vosa, long discussions take place that focus on the existing Vinaya, or disciplines, relating to the conduct of monks. On the final day of Chol Vosa, a concluding meeting takes place to evaluate the achievements and failures of each monk, including a period during which monks express their solidarity with and forgiveness of each other.
The offering of candles is important for monks, who use them to illuminate the darkness as they study and practice during Chol Vosa. But in modern times, candles and incense sticks are not used by all monasteries. Buddhists also have the option of making offerings of light bulbs and mosquito nets instead of candles.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
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