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Mon 24 Apr 2017
Tam Boon - Making Merit
Written by Denis Segaller   
Friday, 09 February 2007 01:56

Holding a tam boon ceremony (making merit by offering food to monks) in one's own home is something with which every Thai Buddhist is familiar. The ceremony needs careful planning about a month ahead. The householder must visit the temple of his choice to make sure the monks and the abbot will be free to come on the chosen day - which for the average breadwinner must usually be a Saturday or Sunday.

Each monk must have a cushion to lean against while chanting, and a mat to sit on. If the temple can supply these, the householder must pick them up the day before the ceremony and return them afterwards. Failing that, some Thai families have their own set of nine monks' cushions and mats which can be borrowed by friends.

The housewife must plan all the food for the monks, which must of course be of the highest quality, varied, and abundant in quantity. Several different dishes will have to be cooked early in the day, and dessert and mountains of fresh fruit must be provided as well as soft drink, cigarettes, and a set of flowers, candle and joss-sticks for each monk. They are also given envelopes with money for their day-to-day needs.

Cooking all this food and doing all the arrangements is too much for one person, and the housewife calls on female friends and relations to help.

The day before the ceremony, all the furniture is moved out of the living-room and the cushions and mat prearranged neatly along the walls and floor. The household's main Buddha image is set up on an altar by the door, immediately to the right of where the abbot will sit. Large yellow candles in holders are placed on either side of the image along with flowers. A bowl filled with water to be consecrated during the ceremony is placed on the floor so as to be within the abbot's reach. (The bowl may be of glass, crystal or metal, with the exception of gold or silver as it is not appropriate for monks to touch silver or gold. Sometimes a monk's alms-bowl is used.)

The sacred white cord called sai sin keeps out evil spirits and protects everyone and everything inside it, so it must be draped round the entire outer wall of the compound or garden. This is usually done by agile teenagers who may have to pass the cord over branches of trees or across tall bushes as they unreel it from its large spool.

The sai sin is passed into the room where the ceremony will be held, draped across the Buddha image's right hand, and then passed out again and on round the garden until the premises are completely encircled. Then it is brought back into the room again, to the Buddha image and from there the spool is placed on the abbot's mat.

The householder must pick up the monks on the day, at about 10 a.m. He may hire a minibus or a couple of small pick-up trucks to do this. All the family and their guests must be seated in the room by the time the monks arrive at the house.

The monks take their places, and the ceremony begins with the householder prostrating himself before the abbot and then lighting the two large candles on the altar. He then lights three joss-sticks.

The abbot passes the reel of sai sin cord to the monk sitting next to him, and from there it passes from hand to hand until all the monks are holding the white thread. The abbot then lights a white candle and fixes it firmly across the rim of the bowl. As the melted wax drips into the bowl during the chanting, the water inside becomes consecrated. This holy water is called nam mon.

The Pali chanting begins with the abbot reciting a few short passages which the householder must repeat after him. Then all nine monks take up the chanting, which continues, deep and sonorous, for 30 to 40 minutes, while the family and guests sit with palms joined in a wai.

By now it is time to offer the food which has been so carefully and lovingly prepared. The monks' meal must start not later than 11 a.m. to allow them enough time to eat in comfort and be finished before mid-day, after which all Buddhist monks are forbidden to eat. Everyone lends a hand in serving the monks.

When the monks have eaten their fill and relaxed, the dishes are cleared away and there follows a final five-minute period of chanting. During this, the householder pours clean water over his own out stretched forefinger into a small collecting vessel, wishing that the benefit of the food given to the monks may pass on to the spirits of the dead. (This water-pouring is called gruat nam.)

Finally, the abbot blesses everyone, including the house itself, by splashing holy water from the bowl.

After the monks have left, the householder quietly pours the water from the small vessel onto the ground at the root of a large tree, making another wish as he does so.

The sai sin draped round the garden is left for the wind to blow away during the next month or so.

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Information from: "Thai Ways" by Denis Segaller.

This is a great book for anyone who wants to learn about the Thai culture. I use it very often to answer questions about Thai culture that people asked me.