Tod Kathin

Tod Kathin (Robe-Offering Month)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: October-November
Where Celebrated: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand
Symbols and Customs: Kathin, Meritorious Deeds, Padetha Tree
Related Holidays: Waso

ORIGINS

Tod Kathin is part of the tradition of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Tod Kathin falls at the end of the Buddhist Lent-a three-month period also known as WASO, Vassa, or Vossa in Southeast Asia. This usually falls at the end of the rainy season in October, on the full moon day of the month of Thadingyut. It is marked by a three-day Festival of Lights commemorating the day when Buddha returned to earth after his three-month stay at the heavenly place known as Tavatimsa. His path was illuminated by thousands of lights, and today Buddhists in the Southeast Asian countries of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand set off fireworks, launch fire balloons into the sky, and float tiny rafts with candles on the waters to celebrate.

The Festival of Lights is the beginning of what is known as Tod Kathin or RobeOffering Month. It is a time for Buddhists to show their appreciation to the monks of their local monastery by bringing them food, useful household items and cleaning supplies, and above all, robes (see KATHIN ). Because Lord Buddha believed that material possessions were the source of much human misery and longing, he instructed his monks not to burden themselves with anything beyond a simple robe and a few necessary personal items, such as razors and needles. The Buddhist community must supply them with everything else they need, and Tod Kathin provides a formal opportunity for them to do so while at the same time showing their gratitude to the monks for the services they have performed and the teachings they have kept alive.

Tod Kathin ceremonies are held wherever there are Buddhist monasteries, although they tend to be more elaborate where large or well-known monasteries are located. The offerings themselves are carried to the monastery in a procession, often involving brightly colored costumes and music, with the gifts piled up on floats or carried on lacquer trays. If the offering consists of money, it is usually presented in the form of a PADETHA TREE . When the procession arrives at the monastery, there is a formal ceremony during which the robes are presented to the monks, which is then followed by a blessing and other festivities.

The Buddhists who make these contributions do so willingly and joyfully because they know how important MERITORIOUS DEEDS are to following the Eightfold Path that leads to Nirvana, the state of bliss that is every Buddhist's ultimate goal.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Kathin

A kathin was originally a wooden frame the Buddhist monks would use to stretch remnants of cloth. The scraps were then sewn together and dyed an orangey-yellow to make their robes. Although Buddha eventually decided that the resulting garments were too shabby-looking and permitted the monks to accept robes as gifts from lay people, the robes continued to be identified with the frames originally used to make them. Tod Kathin means "laying down of the holy cloth," but the word kathin has also come to be associated with the pilgrimages Buddhists make to deliver these gifts to the monastery.

Because Tod Kathin also marks the end of the monks' three-month Lenten seclusion, freeing them to go out into the world to preach and to visit their parents and teachers, it is an appropriate time for them to receive fresh robes.

Meritorious Deeds

According to Buddhist belief, there are various acts that bring merit to the individual, and supporting the monks, or members of the sangha, is one of these. Giving the monks food and clothing, contributing to the building and maintenance of the wat (monastery), and participating in ceremonies such as the Robe-Offering are among the most highly valued merit-making activities. Tod Kathin

Padetha Tree

A common way of collecting gifts and money from local people for Robe-Offering Month is to set up a wooden structure that resembles a tree wrapped in silver or gold paper. People attach cash and other useful gifts to these so-called padetha trees, which are then presented to the monks. Such trees can often be seen standing by the side of the road or in the marketplace. Groups of people who work together or belong to the same profession will often organize their own padetha trees.

FURTHER READING

MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

WEB SITE

The Buddhist Association in Washington DC www.watthaidc.org/index.php?section=90
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009