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Wan Ok Phansa: Its Meaning & History in Thailand

Wan Ok Phansa (วันออกพรรษา) literally means the “Rains Retreat Exit Day”. This religious holiday marks the end of the Buddhist Lent period in Thailand. Wan Ok Phansa falls every year on the 15th day of the waxing moon of the 11th lunar month. In 2023, it is celebrated on October, 29th, the first day of the Buddhist Lent period (Wan Khao Phansa) having been celebrated on August 2nd.

The end of Buddhist Lent also is known as Maha Pavarana Day (วันมหาปวารณา), which means that it is a time where monks can offer admonitions and helpful advice to other monks. This often comes in the form of older monks offering corrections to younger monks, based on what they witnessed over the last 3 months, but it also can involve the pointing out of mistakes that older monks may have made (though this kind of correction obviously occurs much less frequently).

While Wan Ok Phansa marks the end of Buddhist Lent (aka Vassa), the monks cannot leave the temple yet until the next morning. The following day they can leave the temple at their leisure to preach the dharma, serve the community, and do other traveling, without seeking the permission of the abbot — although many may still do so, depending on their responsibilities at the temple.

On the morning of Wan Ok Phansa, Thai villagers visit their temple to offer food and alms to monks, engage in other merit making activities, and listen to sermons delivered by monks at the temple. Many Thais abstain from drinking alcohol (and some go vegetarian) during the Buddhist Lent. Every year some decide to quit drinking and eating meat altogether after having abstained for 3 months, while others will resume drinking alcohol and eating meat now that the Lent period is over.

 

ปราสาทผึ้งสกลนคร
The Wax Castle Festival in Sakon Nakhon Commemorates the Buddha’s Return to Earth after the Buddhist Lent

Tak Bat Devo in Thailand

The day following Wan Ok Phansa is called Tak Bat Devo (ตักบาตรเทโว), pronounced dtàk bàht tay-woh. It commemorates the Buddha’s return to the human world after he had spent his 3 month “rains retreat” (Lent) in the heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods (Trayastrimsa), where he preached the dharma to the Gods and his mother. This event in Buddhist lore is celebrated by a number of festivals in Thailand, such as the Wax Castle Festival in Sakon Nakhon, the Illuminated Boat Processions in Nakhon Phanom, and the Chak Phra Festival in Surat Thani.

A Short Wan Ok Phansa Prayer (Sermon)

Many sermons delivered on Wan Ok Phansa share a similar theme which is captured in the following prayer:

อัศจรรย์ใดที่เคยเกิดในครั้งที่พระสัมมาสัมพุทธเจ้าเสด็จลงยังพื้นโลก ขอความอัศจรรย์นั้นจงเกิดขึ้นกับข้าพเจ้าทั้งหลาย ให้ข้าพเจ้าได้คิดดี ให้ข้าพเจ้าได้พูดดี ให้ข้าพเจ้าได้ทำดี คือการแบ่งปัน การให้อภัย การอาทร การุณย์รักใคร่เมตตา อนุเคราะห์ ขและก็ขอข้าจงยืนหยัดตั้งมั่นอยู่ได้อย่างองอาจสง่างาม ไม่หวั่นหวาด ไม่หวั่นไหว ไม่สะดุ้งผวา ต่อเภทภัย

What miracles occurred when the Lord Buddha descended to earth? May that miracle happen to us all. Let me think well. Let me speak well. Let me do well — which means sharing, forgiving, caring, loving, being merciful and supporting. And may I stand firm and stand strong and dignified, not afraid, not shaken, not frightened in the face of danger.