When love and Buddhism go hand-in-hand

by Pichaya Svasti, The Bangkok Post, 14 Feb 2014

Bangkok, Thailand -- It is rare for the important days of two faiths to fall on the same date. Yet, it happens today when Thais celebrate St Valentine’s Day and Makha Bucha Day. For many young people, especially those in love, Valentine’s Day surely brings more fun to them, while devout Buddhists who believe in true happiness from faith certainly opt for observing Makha Bucha.

Not all people know that the Valentine's Day was not originally meant for romantic love. Instead it commemorates the unconditional love of Saint Valentine of Rome who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering for Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. Legend has it that he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, during his imprisonment and wrote her a letter signed "Your Valentine" as a farewell before his execution. The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer's poetry about "Valentines" in the 14th century, according to Jack B. Oruch's article, "St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February".

Meanwhile, Makha Bucha Day falls on the full-moon day of the third lunar month. It marks the time 1,250 monks visited the Lord Buddha at Weluwan Temple in India without appointment more than 2,500 years ago. All those monks were arahant (perfect ones who attained nirvana) who had been ordained by Lord Buddha. On this occasion, Lord Buddha delivered a sermon called Owat Patimok, which concludes the major principles of refraining from bad deeds, doing good and achieving a pure mind.

In fact, it is not unorthodox for anyone to celebrate both of these important occasions at the same time since the Lord Buddha also teaches about the cause and effect of affection and ways to end unpleasant feelings and suffering caused by love, attachment, lust and craving.

According to the Tipitaka's Visakha Sutra, Visakha, a female millionaire who lived near the city of Savatthi, visited the Lord Buddha at Buppharam Temple she had built — despite her wet hair and attire — because she was devastated by the death of her beloved grandson. The Lord Buddha asked her whether she loved and needed her children and grandchildren as much as the people in that city. She replied yes. The Buddha then told her, "One who has 100 beloved things feels 100 times sorry. ... One who has no love is free of sorrow, lust and craving."

Personally, I am very impressed with some other words of wisdom by the Lord Buddha and the brilliant English translation I read from Sathienpong Wannapok's The Lord Buddha's Words In Dhammapada. Here are some examples:

"Be not attached to the beloved, And never with the unbeloved;
"Not to meet the beloved is painful, As also to meet with the unbeloved.
"Therefore hold nothing dear, For separation from the beloved is painful;
"There are no bonds for those, To whom nothing is dear or not dear.

"From the beloved springs grief, From the beloved springs fear;
"For him who is free from the beloved, There is neither grief nor fear.
"He who is perfect in virtue and insight, Is established in the Dharma;
"Who speaks the truth and fulfils his won duty-Him do people hold dear."

This truth about love is undeniable and should be spread to the young generation so that they treat their loved ones kindly and unselfishly.

This year when Makha Bucha Day and Valentine's Day run parallel, the Sangha (council of ruling monks) goes modern by assigning all temples in Thailand and overseas to organise activities to encourage youths to make merit, give alms to monks and attend religious ceremonies. The council notes that youths are at risk of inappropriate conduct on Valentine's Day and should be taught to be mindful and think and act in decent ways instead.

Today, the Religious Affairs Department hosts additional activities for youngsters, reasoning that Makha Bucha Day and Valentine's Day fall on the same day. In Bangkok, 50 temples in 50 districts are hosting such activities. Moreover, nine pilgrimage trips are being held on nine routes by boat and bus in the Central Region, the North, the Northeast, the East and the South.

Furthermore, an ad hoc centre for moral studies has been set up at Sanam Luang to educate youths on how to pray and worship the Lord Buddha, dhamma and monks correctly through dhamma teachings that are applicable to their daily life.

With or without this campaign, many Thais apparently harmonise the mood of love and joy with religious activities today. Several threads on popular website pantip.com show a number of young lovers plan their Valentine's dates at temples by making merit and taking part in the wian thian candle ceremony. The main reason is that Thai people are known to love to have fun and celebrate every festival no matter what culture they belong to.

Pichaya Svasti is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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