The Nation, Thailand: Rather than just having fantastic fun at a party somewhere, beginning the New Year with a serene mind has become a trend. Some 30,000 temples are preparing chanting and meditating activities for tens of millions of people to celebrate 2014 in “Buddhist style”.
The chanting and meditation starts on New Year’s Eve and runs until New Year’s Day. Such a calm celebration has been conducted for many years, especially in Bangkok, where the first official chanting ceremony to welcome the new year took place about six years ago at Saket Temple with assistance from the Pom Prap Sattru Phai District Office, according to the National Buddhism Office.
The popularity of chanting and meditation to mark the start of a new year has spread widely in the past few years.
“My first time was four or five years ago at Suthat Thepwararam Temple in Bangkok. Since then, I’ve practised that every new year. This year I’m thinking of a temple in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. I haven’t chosen one yet,” said Ging, 44, an office lady.
“Sitting inside a temple, chanting and meditating, I feel tranquil,” she said. “Doing this has become a campaign so lots of people have celebrated New Year’s this way. Anyhow, it’s a good thing to do.”
Adjima Neenungnok, 33, a medical technologist in Nakhon Pathom, said she would ask her parents and sisters to chant at a nearby temple, as they believe that it would help bring good luck to the family. She plans to do this after holding a party with her family at home on the last day of this year.
Also, Adjima treated herself by visiting Chiang Khan, a timeless, charming community in the northeastern province of Loei, to chill out in the cool breezes with her friends during the weekend before having a good time and praying for the New Year with her family.
Considering the new custom to be a good value that was worth promoting, the Sangha Supreme Council in 2010 resolved that every temple host the activity across the country, the National Buddhism Office said.
This year, the government expects 30 million people to chant together countrywide. Each region will have a main temple providing the ceremony. Of course, Saket Temple and Buddhamonthon will be the main venues in the Central region. Saket can accommodate up to 60,000 participants.
Sanam Luang will be another major venue with not only chanting but also Dhamma talks and a musical featuring the life of the Lord Buddha. Up to 200,000 Buddhists were estimated to pack the park. Phra That Doi Suthep Temple is set as the major chanting area in the North, Phra That Phanom Temple in the Northeast and Phra Borommathat Chaiya Temple in the South.
After the chanting ceremony, Buddhists can make merit on the first dawn of the year by offering alms to monks at all temples across the country as well as at Sanam Luang.
The rites will be aired live by National Broadcasting Services of Thailand and Thai TV Global Network.
Thai temples in other countries will also celebrate the New Year with chanting and meditating, so those abroad can also join the Buddhist style countdown.
Until tomorrow, Phra Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani is organising a thudong pilgrimage along with chanting.
The spiritual festivities are not limited to temples. More than 2,400 inmates at a prison in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen will also chant and meditate. It will be the launch of Dhamma practice at the prison, as a series of activities will be provided for them throughout the year to inculcate Dhamma in their minds and improve their conduct.
While it is easy to go to a nearby temple to try out the Buddhist style of counting down to the New Year, if it is not convenient to go out, people can still be part of the auspicious celebrations by sitting in front of a Buddha statue at home and chanting and meditating.