'Pindapata' warms Buddha celebration

by Tifa Asrianti, The Jakarta Post, May 21, 2008

Jakarta, Indonesia -- A dull alley at the Jakarta International Expo in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, turned into a colorful one Tuesday morning as around 100 Buddhist monks performed an alms-gathering, known as pindapata, as part of Buddha's Enlightment Day celebrations.

Wearing robes of different colors, the monks performed rituals representing 10 Buddhist sects under the Indonesian Buddhist Association (Walubi). Sects such as Mahayana, Majubuthi, Martrisia, Mapanbumi, Kasogatan and Madhatantri were represented. Some monks wore yellow robes, some orange and some black.

The monks quietly walked pass the alley in a long line as people dropped alms into the metal bowls they held against their chests.

Hengky, 13, and his brother Nanca, 6, were excited to see the long line of monks. Holding his little brother's hand tightly, Hengky put an envelope into one of the monks' bowls.

"It's the first time I've participated in pindapata. I didn't have food with me, so I gave them angpao (money in envelopes)," said Hengky, who traveled to the capital from Temanggung, Central Java, for the celebration.

Memey, a 35-year-old resident of Kemayoran, said she chipped in with an envelope as well.

"It's good because it teaches us to help others," she said.

Pindapata is a tradition in which Buddhist monks wander through a village to collect their daily meals. The tradition started when Buddha said monks and nuns should not cook or store their own food in order to simplify the lives of monastics and to enrich the spiritual lives of lay people.

The celebration's committee head Bhikkuni Virya Guna Mahasathvira said the Buddhists usually held pindapata in Magelang, Central Java, a day before Buddha's Enlightenment Day.

"Since we celebrated Waisak in Jakarta this year, we're holding this here too. Unfortunately, not all Buddhists were able to participate in pindapata as some of them came after 8 a.m. The alms-gathering ritual must end before lunchtime because we have a tight schedule," Bhikkuni Virya said.

After performing pindapata, the Buddhists held a mass meditation to celebrate the Three Holy Days of Enlightment: the holy day marking the birthday of Siddharta Gautama, his enlightenment as Buddha and his demise.

During the procession, Bhikku Wongsin Labhiko Mahatera advised the Buddhists to do as many good deeds as Buddha did.

"The value of an animal lies in its body size, but the value of a human being is in his manner," Bhikku Wongsin Labhiko said.

Walubi chairman Hartati Murdaya said the celebration, coinciding with the National Awakening Day, should be interpreted as a time to leave behind negativity.

There are obstacles ahead but the strong ones must help the weak ones," she said.