Ordination Festival in the month of Waso

  • By Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja
    Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

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Waso is the first month of the rainy season. Its astrological name is Kataka (cancer) and its symbol is crab. This year 1380 ME (Myanmar Era), there are two Waso months — the first Waso and the second Waso. So this year is Wahtat year. It is in the second Waso month that all religious and social-cultural festivities take place.
Before Theravada Buddhism arrived and spread across the country, this month was called “Nweta” meaning the month of measuring land for ploughing. Early stone inscriptions of ancient Bagan mention Waso as “Nweta”.
After the arrival of Theravada Buddhism and its aids spread, thanks to the joint efforts of King Anawrahta (1044-1077 AD) and Primate Shin Arahan, the month came to acquire “Waso” — Wa vow taking month by Buddhist monks to stay in the residing monastery, during the rain retreat, so as to protect natural environment and not to disturb cultivation at work.
The full moon day of Waso is one of the important days in Buddhist history because it was on this day that four great events of Lord Buddha’s life took place. Firstly, it was on the full moon day of Waso Thursday that Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha to be) was conceived in the womb of Queen Maha Maya, the chief Queen of King Suddodana of Kapilavasu kingdom. Secondly, it was on the full moon day of Waso Monday that Prince Siddhartha at the age of 29 years, after seeing the four omens, renounced his mundane life and left his wife, son and palace for the forest to become a recluse. Thirdly, it was on the full moon day of Waso Saturday that Lord Buddha gave his first sermon “Dhammacakya” to the five recluses namely Kondana, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanam, and Assaji, in the deer park “Midadawunna”. Fourthly, it was on the full moon day of Waso that Lord Buddha under the mango tree in Sawutte city showed his miracles to the infidles to subdue them. Myanmar Buddhists observe the Dhammacakya Day on Full moon day of Waso by group-reciting or chanting of Dhammacakya Sutta.
Waso is the month of festivals Waso vow taking festival, Waso robe offering festival, Waso flowers and candles offering festival. But the most important and designated festival of Waso is the ordination festival.
Sangha Order (the body of monks) has to be recruited for the propagation and perpetuation of Buddha Sasana. There are two ways of recruiting new blood — novitiation and ordination. Novices or beginners are recruited from young generation, 5 year or 7 year old up to 19 year old youths. They are Samane in Pali, Koyin in Myanmar. From 19 years plus, males are recruited by ordination. Ordained young monks are called Upazin and elderly monks are called Phonegyi.
Both novitiation and ordination recruitments have historical background traceable to Buddha’s life time. At the request of his father King Sudhodana, Lord Buddha came to the city of Kapilavatus. The king held feasts to welcome his son Lord Buddha. At the offering of lunch to Lord Buddha and his disciple monks, his ex-queen Yasodaya and son Rahula were present. Yasodaya told her son of about 7 years, “Rahula, that Lord Buddha is your father; he would not succeed to the throne. It is you who will succeed to the throne. Go to him and ask for patrimony. He has pots of gold. Rahula obeyed by expectedly asking patrimony from Lord Buddha. When Lord Buddha returned to His Vihara monastery, Rahula with his playmates of his age followed suit, expectantly asking for patrimony. When Buddha heard it, he said, “The only patrimony I can give you is my Dhamma. So saying, he novitiated his son Rahula Samane “beginner”. All his playmates joined him. They became young recruits in Buddha Sasana.
Regarding the recruitment by ordination when Emperor Asoka became a Buddhist after fighting many wars of unifying his empire, causing untold bloodshed and loss of lives, thanks to the Dhamma Teaching of Ashin Moggaliputtasitha, carried out works of religious and social merits such as 84000 water tanks and water reservoirs, 84000 pagodas, monasteries in keeping with the 84000 bodies of Buddha Dhamma. He also sent out Buddhist mission to 9 places and 9 countries.
One day Asoka asked Moggaliputtasitha whether he, Asoka, deserved to be inheritor of Buddha Dhamma, “No, Your Majesty. Your works deserve you as supporter of Buddha Dhamma. If you want to be inheritor of Dhamma, you become a monk and preach Dhamma or make your children monk and let them preach Dhamma. Then only you deserve to be the inheritor of Dhamma.
When upon Asoka’s son Maheinda and daughter Samghamitta asked Asoka to ordain them monks. They took Buddha Sasana to Lankadipa (Sri Lanka) and planted south branch of the Bodi Tree of Bodhagaya, India. After Buddhism declined in India, it flourished in Sri Lanka. Thanks to the support of the people and royal patronage of Buddhist kings of Sri Lanka, Buddhism spread overseas. Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia became Theravada and sub-commentaries were sent to these countries.
Novitiation and ordination can take place any time, any month and in any place. But because the youngest recluse Kondinya became bhikhu ordained monk after hearing and understanding of Lord Buddha’s Dhammacakya on the full moon day of waso, Myanmar Buddhists designated Waso month and full moon day of Waso as the month of ordination festival and ordination day.
Parents of novices and monks who have willingly performed novitiation or ordination receive Prefixes “Shin Dakar”, “Shin Ama”, “Rahan Dakar” and “Rahan Ama” to their names. Myanmar kings honoured them by granting certain tax and hard labour immunity. When they pass away, their bodies are honoured by being carried with two decorative gold umbrella shading.
Myanmar kings held novitiation, ordination and Waso robe offering in the month of Waso without fail. All expenses were paid by the Royal Treasury. That tradition is kept till today in Myanmar.

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