On May 19, the moon will pass into its full phase, marking the festival on which Theravada Buddhists celebrate Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana. This date marks the most important and largest Buddhist holiday.
Devotees often undertake the eight precepts, make donations to charity and also go to temple to pay respects to Lord Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This festival is filled with celebrations of joy and also the intent to renew one’s dedication to the path.
But for the people of Burma, the full moon of the month of Kason will mark two and a half weeks since the landfall of Cyclone Nargis. I cannot begin to describe this tragedy, especially as many others have done so thoroughly already (also see here, here and here). How will this festival be marked in Burma? How will Buddhists celebrate this day around the world, while so many Burmese flounder in destitution, abandoned by their own government?
What is an appropriate Buddhist response on this occasion?
Recently, I was cleaning up the list of Theravada Buddhist monks on Wikipedia. Sometimes names get accidentally sorted by their honorific. For example, Ṭhanissaro Bhikkhu should be sorted by ‘T’, and not ‘B’, since bhikkhu is a title, not a last name. I was making sure each name was sorted right. It’s fun because you have to visit each page, and then you get to learn about monks you’ve never heard of before.
One such monk was Bhante Kassapa.
He’s described as the “first non-Vietnamese Monk in the Vietnamese Theravada Sangha in America”. I didn’t read on because I was still hung on the first question that popped into my mind. There’s a Vietnamese Theravada Sangha in America?
See, I regularly attend a Vietnamese temple, but my practice is more in line with what I’ve learned from my Theravada teachers. For me this means that I could actually merge my temple and my personal practice! Anyway, I did a search, and found an article by Binh Anson all about the history of the Theravada Sangha in Vietnam (also here). I’d previously thought that all Theravada Buddhists in Vietnam were Khmer Krom, but Vietnamese in fact have their own recently conceived Theravada sangha. How cool.
Now all I have to do is find a Vietnamese Theravada temple in Southern California.