History of Bon Pchum Ben

Bon Pchum Ben or Feast Festival for Ancestors
Overview Snapshot

Bon P'chum Ben is the remarkable celebration of Cambodian annual gathering. On the 15th day of the waning moon(Ronouch) during the tenth month of the Khmer calendar, called Pheaktrobotr, Cambodian Buddhists celebrate this auspicious P'chum Ben event (the Festival of the Dead or Feast Festival for Ancestors). This celebration usually falls in the first half of September in the western calendar. This year it falls on October 8. It is called P'chum Thom(big festival). Actually, the celebration has begun since the waxing moon(K'nert) day falling in September 24; and this is called P'chum Touch(small festival). During the period between big festival and small festival, people always commit to take turn in offering food to the monks who are staying in door of three months rainy retreat. This is called Kan Ben (food offering turn).
The history, meaning and objectives

According to the Vinaya(discipline) of Bhikkhu Monks; they have to stay in door or rainy season hibernate for three month starting from the first waning moon of Srab(July) to the fifteenth waxing moon of Assoj(October) annually. These three month periods reasonably recommended by the Bhikkhu monks assembly presided by Buddha to amend this law in order to benefits for the Bhikkhu monk community such as - monks have to spend this three month full time to study and practice Dhamma, - teachers, students and laypeople can make acquaintance with each other in one place to bolster their harmony, - and it is the rainy season which is hard for the monks to wander around because it is wet, muddy and easily to step on crops of farmers.

But monks able go outside the door of temple during the rain-retreat unless they have sufficient excuses such as to preach the Dhamma, visit ill relatives, participating functions or get away from some disasters etc. However, if any monks have offended this law, they would be sentenced by a weak condemn of the Sangha's assembly and they can be uncharged when they confess in front of the assembly.

Through this important three months of strict practicing of Dhamma makes laypeople increased their faith and generosity to feed and take care all monk Sangha. So each family and villages will take turn to offer food and other four necessities to monks daily. And there are two specific days which laypeople join together to make the ceremony more crowded and significant. They are the P'chum Touch(small festival) and the P'chum Thom(big festival). Especially, P'chum Thom is recognized as the most important day for all citizens regardless of ethnic background, color, race or faith have to pay attention and join this ceremony.

P'chum Thom have happened since the Sakymuni Buddha period. When king Bhibisara felt sad about his absence to pay back gratitude to his ancestries and heard the crying sound every night in his palace, he went to ask some advices from the Buddha and he got insight that he has to celebrate the food offering ceremony annually. We don't know that when this cult of celebration was being celebrated by Cambodian Buddhists, but following our observation, it must be arrived in Cambodia in the same time of the arrival of Buddhism. It has become the root of Khmer culture and unique identity. This celebration has coincidently combined with the genuine religious cult of Cambodia that dominantly respects and worships their ancestors. This religious cult is called the Religion of Neakta.

The full outcomes of P'chum Ben day signifies many different aspects to bond Cambodia together in both material and spiritual, social value and unique identity, harmony and prosperity. It is not different from the Choul Chnam day or Cambodian New Year Day that these two celebrations are remarkable events and the most auspicious days. We can outline some of these prospects beneficial of P'chum Ben day.

1. To offer the chance to everybody to stay away from all evils, to cultivate the good and to purify their mind.
2. To provide the opportunity for everybody to empower their peaceful mind and spiritual adherence.
3. To pay gratitude to their dead ancestors as well as their living seniors.
4. To share their kindness and compassion by exchanging of their food, snacks and money with each others and especially to the poor people. Remarkably, this period is considered as the hardest time for low income or poor conditioned people to find food to eat in Cambodia.
5. To bond everybody together through their spiritual practice, gratefulness, socializing and local stylizing.
6. To increase the sense of multiculturalism, fraternity, compassion, unity and righteousness.
7. To unify the interests, concerns and identity roots of the national or international distinctions or stratifications.
Truth of fact about P'chum Ben Day

There is the reality and legendary about P'chum Ben Day. - Buddha taught and explained that our ancestors who died and reborn as angels, animals, human beings or in hell cannot receive our meritorious dedication. But if any of our ancestors or relatives who were born as the hungry ghost (Praet); they need food a lot and they cannot eat like us; they eat only through our goodness, generosity and offering; and has dedicated to them by naming those relatives. Doing this, all those relatives of hungry ghost can receive all those delicate food and offerings. So it is possible to gain merits as our ancestors can receive our offerings, through our own hearted generosity and gratefulness. - Buddha encouraged King Bhimpisara to celebrate this festival as well as everybody has to celebrate this too. Nobody in this world has never had relatives or ancestors who have been passed away. More than this, this auspicious celebration also inspires us to pay gratitude with our living parents, grandparents or seniors too. - As the season is remarkable for its darkness during the night makes Cambodian people think that their dead ancestors could be released from the abysses of hell and wander around all over seven temples. If they don't see any of their children or relatives have not offered any food or gain merits to dedicate to them; they will be sad and sorrowful in their heart. This reflects badly to their survival relatives which can bring along with bad Kamma, bad luck and sufferings.
Practical ways

During this time everybody prepares their body and mind, and sacrifice both materials and time to join this day. All villagers and all different stratification of people prepare their food and sweet, four necessities, offerings, special clothes dressing; and they obligate to undertake the five commandments during this auspicious occasion.
For the food comprises of:

- Ordinary meal such as rice, soups, salted grilled fish, fresh grilled fish with mango sauce, spring roles, salad and fermented fish etc. - Some seasonal snacks or baked such as Num Onsam and Num Korm (steamed cakes wrapped in banana leaves). Num Onsam is a kind of cylindrical cake of glutinous rice wrapped around a mixture of pork, salt and other ingredients. Num Korm and Nom Thmey is shaped like a pyramid and made of rice-flour and filled with a coconut and palm sugar mixture. Some other distinctive fruits and snacks.

For the four necessities include:
1. Saffron robes
2. Other storable food
3. Umbrella, raincoats or other shelters
4. Medicine, shampoo, toothpaste and tooth brash etc. These four necessities always pack with brightly, pyramid wrap

Some other Offerings include:
Incense sticks
Garland or leis

Clothing is very colorful and delicate which include Sompot Hol or Sompot Phamoung which is the silk skirt of Cambodian women. It is dressed for national important day and Buddhist ceremonies. These delicate skirts always dress with short sleeve blouse(Aov Pak) made in Cambodia and put with tiny scarf. Men wear neat dresses and polite.
Five commandments or prepts

The five precepts in which every Cambodian Buddhist is aware about it and practice them in their daily life. Importantly, in this occasion they have to observe it to re-affirm their obligation and purification.
1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
1 3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech such as lying, malicious words, harsh words and talk in vain.
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

The appropriate practices during the cession When food, dressing and other necessities are already prepared; individuals have to be aware when they are stepping into the monasteries compound or ceremonial places. They should keep quiet, modesty and polite. Wearing hats are not allowed. They should take off shoes before stepping into the hall or ceremonial space. People will go in front of the Buddha statues and sit with a right position, bow down three times, lit the candles and incense sticks, offer flowers and perfume. After listening attentively to the monk's preaching, chanting or other blessing; they should prepare food which is ready to offer to the monks. Most of the time, all participants will put their rice into the rice bowl collecting by the long process of monks. During offering food into alms bowl, they have to take off shoe and concentrate on merits and dedicate to their dead ancestors or the family. All of these good deed activities must be attentive, silent, peaceful, mindful and compassionate. When our mind is peaceful during the cession; we can feel the great merits growing in our heart and the blissful sense we should receive from this paying gratitude to our ancestors. More than this, when the application of our mind access deeply, subtle and insightful to the Dhamma; we can get into the Dhamma stream which is the stream of Enlightenment.

There are many other things symbolizing Cambodian culture and identity, but P'chum Ben Day is considered as the most important one. In this day, people will not only attend because of their faith, their generosity or habit, but to survive their daily life and strengthen the "family society tradition of Cambodia". Distinctively, to develop their individuality of right thought and right understanding; and walk persistently toward individual's goal follows the eightfold path of ethnic awareness, peaceful meditation and insightful wisdom. This is rigorous for everybody to come, participate and enjoy with this auspicious day.
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