Pchum Ben

6 10 2011

WARNING: THIS ENTRY CONTAINS RELIGIOUS INFORMATION FILTERED THROUGH AN OUTSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE DURING A VERY SHORT PERIOD OF TIME AND IN A LANGUAGE VERY DIFFERENT FROM MY OWN. THERE WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE FACTUAL INACCURACIES, INSENSITIVE COMMENTS, AND THINGS THAT ARE JUST PLAIN WRONG. I APOLOGIZE TO ANYONE OFFENDED OR CONFUSED BY THIS POST.

During the last week at our training site, we were able to celebrate the Buddhist holiday of Pchum Ben with our families. Pchum Ben is technically a fifteen day holiday, but is only officially celebrated for the final three days. These last three days are a time for family members to return to their homes from their jobs or studies in Phnom Penh and honor the memory of loved ones.

During Pchum Ben, nearly everyone goes to the pagoda to pray, receive blessings, give alms, and, most importantly, pay respect to their deceased relatives. Since reincarnation is a central tenet of Buddhism, Pchum Ben is a time to pray for (and feed) those spirits that have not yet been passed to the next form. It is unclear (at least to me) why some spirits get caught in this sort of reincarnation purgatory, but there was some mention from our language teachers that the more sinful spirits may have to spend more time between worlds than the do-gooder spirits. Since Pchum Ben is a rare opportunity for these spirits to come back to earth, it is important that they receive blessings and food in hopes that they will be reincarnated.

Our family went to the pagoda (wat) twice during Pchum Ben and we attended both times. We went to two different wats in our village and performed the rituals involved to the delight of the onlookers. First, we came to a ceremonial table with pots for rice and containers for money. As we walked down the table we alternated between spooning rice brought from home and giving money. From there, we sat for the blessings/ceremony given by the monks. Food was also offered to the monks, money was offered to the wat, and tea was offered to the wat-goers. Overall, it was an incredibly warm, communal event and it was nice to see many people we knew in a different environment than usual.

After returning home from the wat, our family was busy making asom, which is a snack wrapped in a banana leaf made from sticky rice and filled with either banana or beans and pork. Our family made a ton of them, as did the rest of the village. Asom quickly went from one of my favorite foods to something I’d rather not touch after eating so many. In addition to being my staple food for a few days, asom were also a critical part of the offering made for the spirits inside our house. Fruit, asom, rice, vegetables, drinks, and blankets were all laid out in the house as an offering to the spirits.

Pictures from Pchum Ben and swearing-in here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2502768492614.142600.1355022833&l=f0fe7389f1&type=1

-Tim

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