Wan Asana Bucha and Wan Khao Pansa are very important Thai Buddhist holidays in July. This year Wan Asana Bucha is on Saturday 24th July and Wan Khao Pansa on Sunday 25th July. Buddhists throughout Thailand will make merit this month during the morning alms rounds of Buddhist monks and the faithful will attend candle-lit processions at nearby temples in the evening to mark Asana Bucha.
Many businesses, government offices, schools and the like will be closed. There will also be restrictions on alcohol sales. There will be many activities around the temples, predominantly listening to sermons, making merit and presenting food to monks.
Wan Asana Bucha
Wan Asana Bucha commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon in the Deer Park at Benares (Varanasi) in India. In this sermon, known as Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion, the Buddha first spelled out the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. This day is also regarded as the founding day of the Buddhist sangha (monkhood).
Many Thai people will return to their ancestral homes to worship in their local temple and to bring offerings for the monks. In the evening they will often perform a wian tian, where they walk clockwise around the main shrine of the temple carrying a candle, three incense sticks and a lotus bed. During the day, monks chant mantras or repeat the first sermon of the Buddha.
Wan Khao Pansa
Wan Khao Pansameans the day of entering the rains retreat. This is a three-month annual retreat usually undertaken from July to October, during which monks must stay at the same temple, and refrain from wandering around the countryside. In India, it is known as Vassa. It begins on the day after Asana Bucha.
The tradition dates from the time of the Buddha, when he forbade monks to travel during the rainy season for fear that they might unintentionally harm crops or insects in the places where they walked.
The Rains Retreat in Thailand
In Thailand, monks use the retreat to meditate more intensively. Lay people will often use this period to adopt more ascetic practices, abstaining from meat, alcohol or cigarettes.
For example. Wan Khao Pansa is often referred to as Buddhist Lent, with an emphasis on reflection and self-denial. It is also a time when many young Thai men ordain and join the monkhood for part or all of the period of the rains retreat.