Kathina 2015

The Kathina festival in Taiping was held this year on 8 November. About the background of this Buddhist festival you can read more in an earlier blog The Kathina Festival 2013 . This time Aric joined me. The Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS) where the festival is held, is located high up the slopes of Bukit Larut. You have to park your car at the Chinese cemetery, from where volunteers with pick-up trucks and 4WD’s bring you to the sanctuary. Perfect organisation!

When we arrived, around 7am(!), there was already a big crowd, enjoying the large variety of food, prepared by volunteers and free of charge. A very nice, friendly atmosphere. Our friends Mary, Jenny and George had arrived early and were busy distributing mineral water.

There was a remarkable number of Myanmar devotees. I understood that many of them had been helping SBS preparing for Kathina. Another reason could be that Myanmar is Theravada Buddhist, like SBS. Do you know the difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism? Maybe I should write a separate blog about it..:-)

The Myanmar people carried a lot of gifts for the monks and they also performed a very nice musical show, with songs and dancing.

Around 10 am the alms giving ritual started. Very symbolic and impressive. The food stalls closed and everybody received a plastic cup with some rice in it and a small spoon. When the monks were passing you put a little bit of rice in the alms bowl they were carrying.

The atmosphere was solemn. Here are two nice pictures taken by Aric.

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And here is a (too) short video clip

After the alms giving the monks walked to platforms where they sat down to receive gifts from the devotees.

I thought that the monks received here their new robes, but that is not true, the devotees present gifts.  A friend explained that actually only one piece of cloth is presented to the Sangha (the monk community). This is done early morning and during the day this cloth is used to make one robe. Which monk will receive this robe? During the Vassa (the period that monks don’t travel but stay in the monastery) they have to follow many rules and precepts. There are so many rules, that you can easily forget one or two..:-). My friend told me that the monk with the best “precept keeping record” gets the robe. Don’t know if it is true, it doesn’t sound very Buddhist, but it is a nice story.

The last part of the festival is a talk/lecture by the monks.  We listened for a while to the English talk by the head monk (?) before we walked down. This path down had been upgraded by the Myanmar volunteers and was really a pleasure walk, back to the car.

I hope to attend Kathina again in the coming years.

Chingay Johor Baru, 2014

I had never heard about the Chingay parade before I recently watched the movie The Journey. In this beautiful movie, the daughter of an old farmer in the Cameron Highlands comes back from England with her boyfriend to get married. Big clash between conservative Frankie and naive, young Benji. Frankie reluctantly agrees to the wedding, but on condition that the wedding invitations will be handed over personally to the wedding guests. This brings them to Johor Baru (JB) where at that time (three weeks after CNY) the Chingay parade is held.

I was fascinated by what I saw, so we decided to go to JB and watch it for ourselves. To break up the long way to JB, we first spent a night in Muar. An interesting town with good food and a lot of beautiful old architecture. I have published a detailed report about this trip on my Adventure Site, so here only one picture of Muar, the iconic Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim, completed in 1930. The British knew how to create spectacular architecture!

Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim

In JB we had booked a room in a hotel along the route followed by the parade. A JB friend of Aric had also provided us with T-shirts we should wear when following the procession. So for the time being a Kwai Loh and a Teochew became Hakka, LOL. A bit of information about Chingay in JB might be useful:

In the Old Temple in JB, five deities reside, belonging to five different Chinese clans/dialects, Hakka, Hainanese, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew. During Chingay they are carried through the town, in sedan chairs, carried by devotees belonging to that clan. Here is the Hakka deity

The Hakka deity

During the parade the deities are jostled and tussled often, so they have to be expertly bound to their sedans. Here you see one passing. Of course people are taking pictures, but many, often young people, are also praying. It is not just carnival, but religious as well.

Chingay parades are held in other places as well, for example in Singapore. But the JB one is different and very impressive. After the Five deities have left the “Deities’ Depot in Jalan Ulu Air Molek, their sedans are interspersed with a variety of activities, dragon and lion dancers, stilt walkers, giant puppets, floats. A popular float was this time dedicated to the Journey movie, and main actor Frankie was present.

Frankie

Here is a collection of pictures, for more pictures, see the report mentioned above. After watching the parade and having our dinner, we went back to our hotel room (on the 15th floor!), where we had a last view of the parade. We will come back next year.

The next day, on our way back home, we visited the Tanjung Piai National Park, the southernmost tip of mainland Asia.

Tanjung Piai N.P.

More pictures and a travelogue here.

Houses of Worship in Kuala Lumpur

On the first day of the CNY of the Horse, my friend Joe Yap and I decided to spend the day in Kuala Lumpur, visiting as many Temples, Churches, Mosques, Kovils, Viharas and Gurdwaras as we were able to find…:-)

We had a wonderful day and managed to have a look at 21 (!) Places of Worship. For a detailed report about our trip, click here. In this post I will only show pictures of the places we have visited. If I had to choose a favourite, it would be the Holy Rosary Church, built in French Gothic Revival style and completed in 1904. A real beauty, although it is a shame that next to it now high-rise condominium complexes are being built. Holy Rosary Church

Here is a gallery of the other locations we have visited, in chronological order. Some of the well-known ones are missing, the Thean Hou Temple because  it was too crowded with people, and several mosques because it was Friday.

We had prepared a map with the various locations and I also recorded the GPS-track of our route. Sometimes a bit complicated with one-way streets etc..:-)  And the town was much more busy than we had expected on a CNY day.

Map

GE route

The Kathina festival 2013

During the rainy season (Vassa), Theravada Buddhist monks don’t travel and are going on retreat in a temple or monastery. When the rainy season is over, traditionally in October/November, the end of this 3-month retreat is celebrated during the Kathina festival.

The (legendary?) background of this festival is so interesting that I can not resist the temptation to tell you a bit about it.

A group of bhikkhus (monks) was on its way to the Buddha, when the rainy season started. Not to damage the harvest, living creatures (and themselves), they decided to stay where they were, although unhappy about the delay. After the rains stopped, they continued their travel. When they reached the Buddha, to console them, gave them a piece of cloth to stitch a robe. To stitch a robe, you need a frame, which is called a kathina. A detailed account can be found here

Nowadays the devotees offer this cloth (and other items) to the monks during the Kathina ceremony. This ceremony takes place in many locations in Malaysia, but is especially popular in Taiping, in the Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary. I have visited this beautiful, quiet sanctuary on the slopes of Maxwell Hill quite a few times.This time it was still beautiful, but not quiet with a few thousand visitors.

Entrance of the Sanctuary

Many visitors

We went up early Sunday morning, as Jenny was a volunteer at one of the many food stalls. Food stalls, yes, because this is Malaysia, no celebration without food…:-)  Probably many visitors mainly came for the free food.

The Kathina procedure is as follows: the monks (this time there were seventeen plus three nuns) walk along the long row of devotees, who put a bit of rice in the alms bowl of each monk. They then proceed to their seats, where the robes and other items are given to them. One of the monks then gives a talk. It is finished around noon. Officially the cloth has to be sown into robes before the end of the day, but I don’t know if that is still the case nowadays. Here are pictures of the event.

The event was organised very well, one organiser told me there were about 400 volunteers! On our way down, we passed one of the buildings of the sanctuary. This may be where the cloth is sown into robes, as I found a picture on the Internet, which seems to be taken inside this attractive building.

One of the buildings Sowing the robes

 

This was the second time I attended Kathina, it will hopefully not be the last one.

 

A Taoist temple and a festival

Last week, on our way to Aric’s hometown, we had planned to visit Bukit Melawati in Kuala Selangor, but it was quite hazy that day, so we decided to cancel that plan. What to do instead? According to Aric there was an interesting Chinese temple, somewhere in the paddy fields near Sekinchan. How to find its location?

Nowadays that is easy, just take your smartphone, go to the Internet , Google for “temple Sekinchan” and hey presto, you even get a map..:-) Plus lots of extra information, for example that in 1953 (during the Emergency!) the Sekinchan farmers were relocated in three new villages, still named site A, B and C.

Sekinchan temple

Here is a GE screenshot of this small Teochew village and the paddy fields. The fishing village (Bagan) in the lower left and Site A at the upper right. This image was taken in Februart 2012, when the paddy fields were barren. Interesting pattern, almost art…:-) During our visit, the seedlings had been planted, but many fields did not look healthy, the irrigation channels almost dry.

Sekinchan

The Nan Tian temple in Site A is also called the Nine Emperor Gods temple, and attracts lots of visitors, especially during the 9th month of the Chinese calendar. Even now there was a bus from KL with devotees. From far away the temple complex is visible already.

Sekinchan temple

The location is very attractive. You can climb the towers in front of the main hall, from where you have a nice view of the surrounding paddy fields, although this time it was quite hazy.

Temple tower

View from tower

Here are a few more pictures of the temple interior.

Main hallA godDetail

 

We have to come back on a clear day…:-). There are also good seafood restaurants in Sekinchan.

The reason to visit Aric’s hometown, was that there was a Taoist temple festival in the nearby fishing village of Bagan Parit Baru. Once a year in these Teochew villages the anniversary of the temple god is celebrated. A group of actors is invited to perform Chinese opera, there are prayers and offerings. Here you see the huge joss sticks outside the temple, with the Bernam river in the background.

Giant joss sticks

During the past years I have attended several of these temple festivals and slowly learned to appreciate Chinese opera…:-) I understand that in the past these performances attracted big crowds, but now many (young) people have left the villages, so the audience mostly consists of senior citizens and kids.

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We came back the next morning, for the offering and praying.

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Even in the morning, the opera was going on. When I was walking around the stage, one of the actors noticed me and asked me to come backstage. I felt a bit shy, so I took only a few pictures. Some actors waiting their turn to go on stage, others are working on their make-up, or putting on their costume. During the festivities, the group is camping next to the theater. How I would love to stay with them a few days and make a picture report! But there would be a insurmountable language barrier.

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As a part of the praying ceremony, also the actors took part, walking in a procession to the temple. Fascinating

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Journal 23-7-2013

For Aric’s birthday, two weeks ago, I decided to surprise him with a birthday cake made by myself instead of buying one. A simple one, with his favourite strawberries and lots of cream. Note the subtle detail of crushed rose petals for decoration!

Birthday cake

A few days later I had a routine check with my urologist. Everything was ok for a man of my age…:-) Somewhat shy I show you here a ultrasound scan of my interior, don’t ask me what it all means.

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Urologist

After a few weeks rest to let my knee heal, I am walking again in Kiara. Here two “green” pictures, a beautiful (harmless) tree snake and nice green flowers, name unknown.

Snake in Kiara

Flowers KIara

Breakfast in IKEA after my walk. The Kiara Bunch is falling apart a bit, but here we are welcoming back Robert (at the left) after he had been several months in Melbourne. Babysitting,  a common predicament for Chinese grandparents…:-)

Kiara bunch

We are just back from a few days in Sabak Bernam, Aric’s hometown. His mother had been staying with his sister for a while, and we brought her home. I am more a cat person than a dog lover, but the cute dog in the sisters house was so adorable that I had to take a picture. The haze had come back, so we cancelled our planned visit of Bukit Melawati. Instead we drove through the paddy fields, which did not look very healthy, not enough rain?

Cute dog

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We visited a famous temple near Sekinchan, surrounded by paddy fields, see separate post. And we had dinner in Sg Besar in a restaurant famous for its chicken feet, prepared in a special way, really delicious.

Dinner Sg Besar

In Aric’s family house you still take a bath in the traditional way, refreshing but quite cold in the morning. So you are really awake after your “mandi” and in the mood to enjoy the beautiful orchids in the garden.

Old fashioned mandiOrchidOrchid

There was a celebration in a nearby temple, with Chinese opera, and offerings by the villagers. See separate post .

Wesak 2013

In the Christian religion the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated in December (Christmas), his death in March/April (Good Friday)  and his ascension to Heaven in May (Ascension Day).

Buddhism is more efficient and commemorates birth, death and the reaching of Nirvana of Gautama Buddha on the same day, called Wesak. It is celebrated on the Full Moon day in May, which fell this year on May 24. I was in Taiping at that time, visiting my friends George and Jennie.

There are several Buddhist temples in Taiping. In the morning we visited the Thai Wat Phodhiyaram  (Thai)  and the Bodi Langka Ram Temple (Sri Lankan), located next to each other in Assam Kumbang, Taiping. And in the evening we went to the Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS), high up in the hills of Tupai. All of them belong to the Theravada school of Buddhism.

Buddhist flag

As you know  I am a secular humanist, opposed to religion. But I feel quite attracted to the philosophy of Theravada Buddhism. I do not believe in reincarnation, but the concepts of Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (suffering) and Anatta (not-self) appeal to me. Although I must confess that I have not yet made much progress on the Noble Eightfold Path  🙂

In Sri Lanka I have attended Wesak many years ago. There it is a very solemn, quiet event, people are dressed in white sarongs and visit the dagoba (temple) to offer flowers. There may be some food, but that is for the poor.

How different was the atmosphere this time in Malaysia! Many people come just for the free (vegetarian) food, I think, I saw many Indian (hindu) people. In the Thai temple a long queue of devotees was waiting to pour water on a Buddha (and then take this holy water home to bathe themselves). More Mahayana than Theravada…?

Wesak

Many people had been lighting candles, a very nice sight. Candles

Here are a few more pictures taken during our morning visit

The SBS is not a real temple but a Buddhist training and meditation center. I had visited it several times before, once during the Katina ceremony, when the devotees give new robes to the monks, very impressive.

As the Sanctuary, high up in the hills, can only be reached by a narrow winding road, you had to park your car at the cemetery(!) down the hill, after which volunteers with 4WD’s shuttled you up. Well organised!

From the sanctuary you have a magnificent view of the sunset and Taiping, deep down.

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Focal point of the sanctuary is this statue of the Buddha in the so-called Dhyana (meditation) Asana. The back of the right hand rests on the palm of the other in such a way that the tips of the thumbs lightly touch one another.

Buddha

 

Compared with Sri Lanka, also here the atmosphere was more festive, there were even fireworks. And lots of food…:-) We saw  a  few Kungming lanterns (hot air balloons). Altogether it was a bit too carnavalesque to my taste.

Here is a selection of pictures

After the ceremony was finished, the thousands of visitors had to be transported back to the parking. Long queue, but kudos for all the volunteers!

Here is a video of the fireworks

100 days

On February 26 it was 98 days ago that Aric’s father passed away. In the Taoist religion there are several mourning ceremonies. An important one takes place after49 days, and the “100 day” ceremony marks the end of the official mourning.Food is offered to the ancestors and a suitcase is prepared with everything you may need in the afterlife. There exist special shops where you can buy clothes, foodstuff, all made from paper, cardboard etc. At the funeral ceremony itself, even a house, a car, a motorbike etc are burned.

Funeral pyre

Pyre at the funeral ceremony on 22 November 2012

Here is a collection of pictures taken during the 100 day ceremony. Note the credit card for the Otherworld Bank and the flight ticket for the Hell Airlines. After the burning of the suitcase, the roast pig is cut. Part of it is given to the village people, part of it is eaten by the family. After this closing ceremony the family can wear bright colored clothes again and visit the homes of friends.

 

 

The Meaning of Life

When you are getting older, it is probably normal that you think more about ‘existential’ questions regarding Life and Death…:-)

  • Is there an Afterlife?
  • Do we have an Immortal Soul?
  • Has (my) Life a Meaning?

My background is (Protestant) Christian, but already during my student days I lost my faith. For many years I called myself an agnostic, but during the last decade I became more and more interested, reading a lot (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) and I became a staunch atheist.

Actually I try to avoid the word atheist, because it raises aggression in many people.

So I call myself a secular humanist. The god of the Abrahamic religions does not exist, he (she?) is a human construct, a meme. I do not believe in an immortal soul or in an afterlife. This life is the only one I have. When my body dies, my mind will be no more, it will be the end of my “I”.

Life is without meaning. It developed on Earth, 3.8 billion year ago, probably only once. Everything that is alive now, is offspring from this common ancestor. There has been an era of the dinosaurs, now we live in the era of homo sapiens, the next era may be dominated by insects. Let’s not overestimate our importance.

Has my life a meaning? That is a different question and I think the answer is yes. We are social animals and can only survive in a group. Our relation with this group (family, friends, society) gives meaning to our life.

Recently I came across an impressive letter about these topics, written in 1931 by the American journalist and writer H.L. Mencken . The full text can be found here , where also background information is given.

The letter ends with:

I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it. The belief in it issues from the puerile egos of inferior men. In its Christian form it is little more than a device for getting revenge upon those who are having a better time on this earth. What the meaning of human life may be I don’t know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing while it lasts. Even its troubles, indeed, can be amusing. Moreover, they tend to foster the human qualities that I admire most—courage and its analogues. The noblest man, I think, is that one who fights God, and triumphs over Him. I have had little of this to do. When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness. No show, however good, could conceivably be good for ever.

Well said!

This will not be my last post about religion/philosophy and related matters