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Where Spiritual and Cultural Awareness Intersect: Waso Robe Offering Ceremony @ ILBC Taunggyi

Where Spiritual and Cultural Awareness Intersect: Waso Robe Offering Ceremony @ ILBC Taunggyi

The annual Waso Robe Offering Ceremony took place at ILBC Taunggyi branch on Thursday July 6th in the morning. Five Buddhist monks (one from Oxford, England) officiated at the offering ceremony. This important Buddhist event was marked by allegories pertaining to living a compassionate life, using the teachings of Buddha as a guide,
enlightening speeches, Dhamma analogies and chanting which were combined with historical, cultural pride. The students were divided into three groups: an early Primary set, a late Primary level grouping and a Secondary level assemblage. The five monks separated, dividing among the three groups. Two lectured the Secondary students, two
talked to the early Primary level students and one addressed the late Primary students. At the conclusion of the small group life-style sermons all students converged at the multi-purpose area for a series of traditional
Buddhist call-response chants and singing. All in all the Waso Robe Ceremony had both a religious component and a cultural component mixed superbly together. I for one appreciated that the monks spoke in English during the sermon section since my understanding of the Myanmar idiom is limited.
This combination religious experience and ode to heritage was an occasion to express pride in Myanmar’s unique traditions. The entire school, teachers and students alike wore traditional Myanmar garb: the ‘tite pone’ jacket over English collar shirt for males, while females wore intricate brocaded blouses called ‘yin phone’ and both males and females wore ‘longyis’ (a traditional skirt, though males tie the skirt differently and refer to it as ‘pasoe’). Even the two foreign teachers, Scott and Andrew donned ‘pasoes’ to show their respect to the local culture. Some participants delved into their heritage so far as to apply the thick, pale orange makeup (thanakha) in elaborate curvilinear designs on their faces. It is a custom that is steeped in Myanmar’s exotic, distinctive sense of beauty. The event was an opportunity for the spiritual to interface with culture showing the richness of Myanmar’s complex way of life. The multi-purpose area and two classrooms in the ILBC Taunggyi branch were covered with blue felt carpeting so all the audience members were comfortable while sitting cross-legged, yoga style, on the floor.As a brief background sketch the Waso Robe Offering Ceremony marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist Lent which starts in the month of either late June or early July. This ceremony celebrates both what is believed to be the day Buddha was conceived and Buddha’s first sermon, delivered forty-nine days after he attained nirvana. During this traditional ceremony, monks are offered robes to wear during Lent, a time when they are not allowed to travel. It is a particularly devout occasion: no weddings, feasts, or festivals are celebrated during the Buddhist Lent, and people try to follow the dictates- the Five Precepts- more exactly and with more sincerity.
After the Offering Ceremony concluded gifts of clothing and foodstuffs were presented to the monks to be used during the Buddhist Lent. Additionally a vegetarian repast of Chinese cuisine was distributed to those in attendance. The lunch had six courses: fried ginkgo seeds, vegetable tempura, bean filled spring rolls, sweet corn soup, radish soup and bean curd salad. Note: during Waso Robe the devout limit their diet to vegetarian dishes. This ceremony is a prime example how ILBC not merely enriches the students’ academic knowledge but also enriches their spiritual and cultural awareness. Special thanks to Teacher Ei Phyu Sin and her Primary 4 students for assisting in the cultural clothing terminology and to the Front Office Personnel: Htet Htet Nander Nyo and Nang Lao Moon for translating the lunch menu into English.