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Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Baci Ceremony, Northeast Thailand had no Business in a Buddhist Monastery

Much of the following taken fromThe Baci Ceremony The Lao Heritage Foundation.
Baci is an animist ritual used to celebrate important events and occasions, like births and marriages and any event of importance in the cycle of life,
Briefly the Baci is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or one of the annual festivals. A mother is given a baci after she has recovered form a birth, the sick are given bacis to facilitate a cure, officials are honored by bacis, and novice monks are wished luck with a baci before entering the temple. The Baci ceremony can take place any day of the week and all year long, preferably before noon or before sunset. The term more commonly used is su kwan, which means “calling of the soul.
It is a beautiful ceremony and I was lucky enough to help organize one of the firstmulticultural ceremonies in the Washington D.C.area some 25 years ago. The Baci brought 100s of people. of various faiths and races together.Kwan are components of the soul, but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”.

It is an ancient belief in Laos that the human being is a union of 32 organs and that the kwan watch over and protect each one of them. It is of the utmost consequence that as many kwan as possible are kept together in the body at any one time. Since all kwan is often the attributed cause of an illness, the baci ceremony calls the kwan or souls from wherever they may be roaming, back to the body, secures them in place, and thus re-establishes equilibrium.

The pha kwan is an arrangement consisting of a dish or bowl, often in silver, from the top of which sprouts a cone or horn made of banana leaves and containing flowers, white cotton or silk threads. The flowers used often have evocative meanings and symbols, such as dok huck (symbol of love), dok sampi (longevity), dok daohuang (cheerfulness/brilliance), etc. The cotton threads are cut at the length long enough to wrap around the adult wrists. These are attached to a bamboo stalk and give the impression of a banner.

Around the base of this is the food for the kwan. The food consists usually of hard boiled eggs (symbol of the fetus), fruits and sweets symbolizing the coming together of several parts, in this case the forming of a community (a stalk of bananas, khaotom-boiled sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves), bottle of rice whiskey for purification, and boiled whole chicken with head and feet with claws for divination purposes.

The pha kwan is placed on a white cloth in the center of the room, with the maw pawn sitting facing the pha kwan. The person(s) for whom the baci is being held sits directly opposite of him, on the other side of the pha kwan. The maw pawn or mohkwan is a village elder, ideally an ex-monk who will be officiating the ceremony, chanting and calling the kwan.

But the ceremony has nothing to do with Buddhism, monks do not take part in nor attend Baci ceremonies.
Except of course in Thailand where there is money to be made. In 17 years in Thailand, and in more than a quarter century involved with Buddhism,  Lao and Isaan people in Laos, Thailand, in the villages of Isaan, England and North America and  I have never seen what took place at Wat Phra That Choeng Chum.
Wat Phra That Choeng Chum is home to the Jao Khana Changwat (Head Monk) of Sakon Nakhon. It has hosted film festivals (that certainly were not public service or rated G). Monks with money and dancing girls are not unseen here. So if a wealthy donor wants to hold a baci, why not.
Tis once again is just another proof that Buddhism is a Business in Thailand and has little if nothing to do with the Vinaya nor the Tripitaka (Pali Canon) the basis of Buddhism. Dancing girls, a pigs head and Whiskey, Buddhism Thai style.