Religious chanting has replaced parties and alcohol for many devout Buddhists on New Year’s Eve
This festive season, many people are planning to hang out at one of the popular countdown parties around town. But Thapanat Thongprasit is preparing to visit a Bangkok temple, where chanting is his mission.
“I have been chanting at a temple on New Year’s Eve for the past five years, after getting so bored hanging out and drinking for years,” a 33-year-old IT salesman said.
Former journalist Pensri Chaleekul does the same thing.
“I was sick of hangovers, I wanted to change my life. So I persuaded my gang to chant at a temple,” said Pensri, also 33.
“At first you might need friends to come along. When you’ve practised more, you can do it at home.”
They both agreed that chanting creates a means of directly accessing higher states of consciousness, and that it is good to enter the year with a peaceful mind.
Chanting in the New Year has become a trend among urban people, thanks in part to promotion from the Culture Ministry.
Culture Minister Vira Rojpoj-chanarat said the campaign kicked off in 2005.
“Since then, more and more people have joined each year,” he said. “We aim to encourage the young generation to join these religious activities. Instead of going out for a party and drinking alcohol, let’s go to the temple and chant to welcome the New year with a peaceful spirit and mind.”
Vira said that the chants were for the monarchy and nation, and for devout Buddhists themselves.
He added that the campaign also aimed to reduce the number of accidents caused by drunk partygoers, as Thailand now tops the road-death list on the World Atlas website. The leading causes of accidents every year are drunk driving and speeding.
In 2017, nearly 20 million devotees chanted in the New Year at 23,577 temples and 879 non-Buddhist monasteries throughout the Kingdom and abroad, according to the Culture Ministry.
This year the ministry, along with more than 20 religious institutes, will host New Year chanting throughout the Kingdom. In Bangkok, the ministry will host the campaign called “Wai Phra 10 Wats” or “Make Merit at 10 Temples”.
The 10 royal temples are under the patronage of the Chakri Dynasty from King Rama I to King RamaX. They are Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Wat Ratcha Orasaram, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Bowonniwet, Wat Ratchabophit, Wat Suthat, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Phra Ram 9 Kanchanaphisek and Wat Wachiratham Sathit.
The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority will provide free buses to take people from temple to temple on December 31 and January 1 from 8am to 4.30pm.
The Culture Ministry will host the official chanting at Wat Arun on the Chao Praya River. However, most temples in Bangkok and main temples in rural areas will also preserve the tradition.
During the New Year Festival, the National Museum in Bangkok will display 10 ancient Buddha statues to allow people to pay their respects. Other national museums throughout the Kingdom will also showcase rare Buddha statues with exhibitions running from Saturday to January 31, 2018.
Cooperation on religion
Since the campaign began, the ministry has extended its religious cooperation into the rest of Asia.
More than 100 Thai temples around the globe, along with a dozen other Buddhist temples in Asia, will join the religious activities. Among them are Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda, Indonesia’s Borobudur Temple, Malaysia’s Wat Match-imawat, Phra That Luang Temple in Lao, Japan’s Asakusa Temple, the Royal Thai Monastery in Nepal, Sri Lanka’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and China’s White Horse Temple.
Early this month, Vira and Phra Sophonvachirabhorn, the vice rector for Foreign Affairs at Mahachula-longkongrajavidyalaya University, went to Cambodia to call for cooperation on religion, especially in regards Buddhism.
They met Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, Minister of Culture and Religion Him Chhem, Supreme Patriarch of the Thammayut order Samdech Preah Sanghareach Bour
Kry and the venerable monk Sumedhadhipati Non Nget.
“Following Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, we persuaded Buddhist monks in Cambodia to join our religious campaign of chanting in the New Year,” Vira said.
“We will ask our monks to join with the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh for chanting. Reciting is a kind of dhamma practice. The more we chant, the more we practise dhamma,” venerable monk Sumedhadhipati Non Nget, abbot of Wat Botumvatey in Phnom Penh, told The Nation.