18 October 2011

Kathina Puja

Kathina Puja occurred with the full moon on 11 October in the Central Time Zone (GMT -6).  Various communities are celebrating it on either this past or this coming Sunday; it may be celebrated at any time within the four weeks after the full moon.

Historically Kathina Puja is the point in the year when the laity present the bhikkhus with cloth for new robes.  The rains retreat is now over, and the bhikkhus will once again be wandering about.  In modern times this has evolved into a day when any number of requisites are presented, from foodstuffs to tools to furnishings to personal care items.  These items will make possible the bhikkhus' practice over the coming months.

As is the case with all such offerings, the bhikkhus may not directly request particular items.  It is up to the layfolk to find out what the bhikkhus need.  They may inquire after the bhikkhu's needs, but they can't sit back and wait for the bhikkus to make the first move by sending out a list or teling them directly.   (Layfolk connected to the vihara will, however, prepare and send out such lists.)

This model of sangha support teaches patience to the bhikkhu.  The bhikkhu may or may not get what he needs, yet he doesn't go about pressing others to his ends. 

This model of sangha support teaches solicitude to the layfolk.  The health, well-being and – yes – even the life of the bhikkhu is something for a lay member of the sangha to be directly concerned about. 

Even now, when the bhikkhu doesn't just blow into town and go door-to-door, there is enough mendicancy involved to keep faithful to the original idea that taking ordination means placing oneself at the complete mercy of others. 

I have no illusions here.  Even though I still have an income, for instance, I'm able to do what I can financially because I've built staying at the center into my budget.  Since whatever favor I have in the eyes of the sangha is theirs to bestow or withdraw, if I am unworthy, they can tell me to hit the road at any time.  Significant hardship will ensue: either I'll be SROing it, or some kids won't be getting help with college, or the car won't get paid off, etc.  Things are that tight. 

This is a good thing.  The sangha helps keep me honest in my job of trying to live out the Dharma by holding some of my life in its hands.  Our sangha isn't set up in such a way that they could hold my whole life in their hands.  If they were, I think I'd be inclined to let them!

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