Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Kahn Ha Kahn Phet - A Child's Contrition

This past Sunday was quite a busy day for my wife and me out at Wat Pha That Nong Mat.  I had expected to witness and photograph the daily ritual of offering food to the Monks, a special ritual associated with casting a statue of a Naga, and the actual casting of the statue. I also had the unexpected opportunity to witness and photograph Ajahn Ott creating two Sak Yant tattoos on a young Monk. However, the biggest surprise of the day for me, and even more so my wife was a special Thai ritual called "Kahn Ha Kahn Phet"  My spelling may be off because Romanicing Thai words is very difficult and flexible not to mention comprehending Thai words with the five different tonal versions of many words with each way having a completely different meaning.  I confirmed twice with Duang that I had heard and comprehended "Kahn Ha Kahn Phet" properly.

Kahn Ha Kahn Phet is a Thai ritual for sons and daughters to apologize and atone for transgressions against their parents.  Respect for one's parents is a cornerstone of Thai society.  I have often been reminded of that by Duang but I won't get into those details!  Duang does not gossip about people and is very tolerant.  However I have many times observed her disdain for people who do not take care or respect their parents.

On our visits to hospitals, she has often rhetorically asked me the question why some elderly person was at the hospital alone to see the doctor and not accompanied by a son or daughter.  Often she has answered her question by pointing out to me that their family do "not have good heart".

Duang's daughter and her boyfriend had been visiting Thasang Village for 10 days.  She is thirty-three years old and expecting her third child.  Since she was in high school, her relationship with Duang has been as some people state "it's complicated".  She has been very busy recently with the pregnancy, relocating with her boyfriend to Rayong, and the imminent death of her father due to cancer.

After the pouring of the concrete for the Naga statue had been completed, the young Monks and young male laypeople were occupied casting small detail pieces required to complete the assembly of the statue.  Ajahn Ott and Por Tong (the Abbott from the rustic Wat near our home) were relaxing under the shade trees along with Duang, me and several of the women who had participated in the casting ritual.  After a while, Por Tong motioned to me to take some photographs and pointed to Duang who was seated upon a saht at my side.  I did not understand but who was I to question a Monk?  I turned to look at Duang and prepared to take some photographs.  I noticed that Duang's daughter approaching Duang carrying an ornate offering bowl filled with offerings.

She reverently knelt before Duang and offered up the bowl to Duang.  As Duang accepted the bowl, Pell bowed before her mother and asked for forgiveness for having lied and being disrespectful to her.

Duang was just as surprised as I was.  However, Por Tong, Duang's pahn sii kwan teacher and the other people from the rustic Wat near our home were not surprised.  This was not a spur of the moment act.  It apparently been planned and arranged by Pell.  Pell had contacted Duang's friend and teacher to help make the offerings that were presented in the bowl to Duang.

Inside of the ornate pressed metal offering bowl were 13 cones constructed from banana leaves.  The 13 cones were segregated into two groups - one group of 5 and the other group of 8.  The configuration was not by chance or without significance.  "5" signifies the "5 Precepts" of Buddhism while "13" signifies "The Noble Eightfold Path".

The "5 Precepts" of Buddhism are refraining from:
  1.         harming living things  
  2.         taking what is not given
  3.         sexual misconduct
  4.         lying or gossip
  5.         taking intoxicating substances such as drugs or drink
The "Noble Eightfold Path" is considered to be the means to end suffering, pain, and unsatisfactoriness.  The path is:

  1.           right view
  2.           right resolve
  3.           right speech
  4.           right conduct
  5.           right livelihood
  6.           right effort
  7.           right mindfulness
  8.           right concentration
Each of the 13 cones contained 3 joss sticks (incense), 2 white candles, and "dogmai" - floral buds (white jasmine).

Three is also extremely important in Buddhism.  First and most, 3 represents the Triple Gem of Buddhism - Buddha, The Teachings of Buddha, and the Buddhist Religious Community (Sanga).  There are also three roots of evil - greed, hatred, and delusion. There are 3 characteristics of existence too - suffering, impermanence, and enlightenment. The Noble Eightfold Path has 3 divisions - Wisdom, Moral virtue, and Meditation.

Two represents the "2 Truths" of Buddhism - relative truth and absolute truth.

There is a great use of symbolism in the Thai culture.  It is often the stitching that binds the cultural fabric of society.

After Duang had accepted the offering and her daughter's apology, Pell washed her mother's hands as her son Peelawat watched.

The act of washing her mother's hands was a demonstration and affirmation of Pell's promise to no longer lie or yell at her mother anymore - to properly respect her.

It was a very touching and moving ritual.  It was greatly appreciated and celebrated.  If farmers are not the greatest optimists in this world, it must be mothers.

I sometimes grouse about the tendency today for many American parents to solve their children's problems.  It is extremely important for children to solve their problems on their own without adult interference.  The interpersonal skills and techniques developed in childhood solving their own problems will form the foundation for them to become success and content adults.  They need at the earliest of age to understand and accept that are empowered and obligated to resolve their own conflicts.  The tendency today to identify just about everyone as a victim and teaching them to be dependent upon others for resolution and protection is a dangerous process. 

I share my observations from overseas experiences to provide insights as to how other cultures address issues and concerns that are common to all of us.

The Kahn Ha Kahn Phet ritual, a public act of humility, is a method used in Thailand to resolve conflict between children and their parents.  Humility is a trait lacking too often in today's society.  It is a very powerful trait.  Humility is often the path to forgiveness.

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