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Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Part Four - Human Life in Society
Chapter 11 - Life and Culture
Traditions, Customs and Festivals
The Buddha advised us not to believe in anything simply because it is the traditional custom. However, we are not advised to suddenly do away with all traditions. 'You must try to experiment with them and put them thoroughly to test. If they are reasonable and conducive both to your happiness and to the welfare of others, only then should you accept and practise these traditions and customs.' (Kalama Sutta) This is certainly one of the most liberal declarations ever made by any religious teacher. This tolerance of other's traditions and customs is not known to some other religionists. These religionists usually advise their new converts to give up all their traditions, customs and culture without observing whether they are good or bad. While preaching the Dhamma, Buddhist missionaries have never advised the people to give up their traditions as long as they are reasonable. But the customs and traditions must be within the framework of religious principles. In other words, one should not violate the religious precepts in order to follow one's traditions. If people are very keen to follow their own traditions which have no religious value at all, they can do so provided that they do not practise these traditions in the name of religion. Even then, such practices must be harmless to oneself and to all other living creatures.
Rites and Rituals
These are included within customs and traditions. The rites and rituals are an ornamentation or a decoration to beautify a religion in order to attract the public. They provide a psychological help to some people. But one can practise religion without any rites and rituals. Certain rites and rituals that people consider as the most important aspect of their religion for their salvation are not considered as such in Buddhism. According to the Buddha, one should not cling to such practices for his spiritual development or mental purity.
Genuine and sincere Buddhists do not observe Buddhist festivals by enjoying themselves under the influence of liquor and merry-making or holding feasts by the slaughtering of animals. The true Buddhists observe festival days in an entirely different manner. On the particular festival day, they would devote their time to abstaining from all evil. They would practise charity and help others to relieve themselves from their suffering. They may entertain friends and relatives in a respectable way.
The festivals that have been incorporated with religion sometimes could pollute the purity of a religion. On the other hand a religion without festivals can become very dull and lifeless to many people. Usually children and youths come to religion through religious festivals. To them the attraction of a religion is based on its festivals. However, to a mediator, festivals can become a nuisance.
Of course, some people will not be satisfied with religious observances only during a festival . They naturally like to have some sort of merry-making and outward show. Rites, rituals, ceremonies, processions and festivals are organized to quench that thirst for emotional satisfaction through religion. No one can say that such practices are wrong, but devotees have to organize those ceremonies in a cultured manner, without causing a nuisance to others.
Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
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