September 4, 2009

Kathina time is (almost) here

Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery has announced its celebration of the Kathina holiday this fall. Click on the link and you’ll find a description of the festival itself.
If you haven’t attended a Kathina celebration before, you’re in for a treat. I’ve come to think of it as the equivalent of all our lay holidays rolled into one. There is the abundance of Thanksgiving with gratitude for the completion of a long retreat and for having monastics in this country. The chance to gather together with gifts resembles the winter holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, combined with a kind of birthday anniversary marking another year of monastic life. It’s a particularly joyous time to show appreciation for those who have gone forth into the homeless life and who provide support and inspiration to lay practitioners. It’s especially timely as fall and winter draw nearer, when visitors become less frequent and a full storeroom of supplies is so valuable.
Some close friends and I have for several years now been recontextualizing Kathina in the giving spirit of Hanukkah or Christmas as another opportunity to bestow gifts on friends, temples and 501(c)(3)s. Since this degeneration of Kathina into a Christmas-clone is (so far as I know) practiced only within small and isolated circles, I’m not too worried about the potential dilution and commercialization of what was once a mighty and precisely meaningful Buddhist holiday. I can’t shake the guilt though—I’m an Asian Buddhist kid whitewashing a perfectly fine and ancient Buddhist tradition with commercialized Western cultural values. But I like it this way.

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