OVERDRIVE: Understanding the Triple Gem

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At Wat Suthat on Wednesday, thousands of people took part in a wien thien procession to commemorate Makha Bucha Day. With a lit candle, three joss sticks and a lotus in their hands, they walked solemnly around the main chapel of Wat Suthat, completing three rounds while pondering the Triple Gem, the foundation of Buddhist teaching.

In the first round of the wien thien procession, they vowed not to do any evil. In the second round, they vowed to do good. And in the third round, they vowed to purify their minds. The Triple Gem is as simple as these three principles. There is no miracle involved, nor is there any need to refer to an all-encompassing God. Yet the Triple Gem is the most profound religious teaching ever.

It was a beautiful night, with a full moon and a slight breeze blowing on the visitors’ faces. The abbot of Wat Suthat delivered a sermon inside the chapel that was broadcast throughout the temple. He is one of the most respected abbots in Thailand, with knowledge of the three worlds. What was strange was the large number of young people at the temple. There were also many families and children. Buddhism is still very much alive in Thailand, although many people have a long way to go towards fully understanding the core of the Lord Buddha’s teachings.

Makha Bucha Day falls on the full moon of the third lunar month. Thailand observes this sacred day as a public holiday. Makha is the name of a month in the lunar calendar used in ancient India. Bucha means to worship. Combine the two words and you get “a time to worship in the month of Makha”.

Makha Bucha Day is a very important day for Buddhism. It marks the occasion when the Lord Buddha presided over a special assembly at the Bamboo Grove (Veluvana). Four special events occurred on this auspicious day.

First, it was the full moon day of the month of Makha.

Second, 1,250 monks assembled to seek an audience with the Lord Buddha without a prior appointment.

Third, all of these monks were Enlightened Ones, or arahants, who had attained supreme knowledge and wisdom.

Fourth, all of these monks were disciples of the Lord Buddha, who had ordained them with his own blessing.

At this special assembly, the Lord Buddha delivered a discourse to his disciples, summarising his teachings on three main principles, the Triple Gem.

One of the best places to commemorate Makha Bucha Day is Wat Suthat, which is located opposite the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Building. In front of it stands the Giant Swing. King Rama II left the temple with a masterpiece in the form of his wood carving on the main door of the chapel. King Rama I made great efforts to renovate Wat Suthat shortly before he passed away at age 72. The principal Buddha statue is Luang Pho To. In gold, this Buddha statue is a beautiful example of Sukhothai-era art. King Rama I had the statue brought down from Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai.

If you practise the Triple Gem with the utmost dedication, you will become enlightened. Begin your day by vowing that you will only do good things (laziness and not doing anything are not good enough). Then you vow to avoid all evil things. Thai society, like any other society in the world, is full of both good things and bad things, good places and bad places, good books and bad books, good people and bad people. You should know how to identify good things and then you will be good.

Purifying your mind can be rather complicated. There are different levels of purification, the highest of which is enlightenment. Try to think objectively. Control your desires. Don’t allow your mind to be carried away by all the things or people around you, the progression of events. Everything is in a state of flux. Keep your mind steady. Nothing is certain. Nothing lasts forever. If you understand that change is the ultimate natural characteristic, which defines the process of this universe, then you recognise your own limits as a mortal human being. Understanding the secret of nature, or Dharmma, which is change, will lead you to enlightenment.

Published on February 25, 2005

BY THANONG KHANTHONG