After tak baht, Thip and I prepare for jahn hahn. It is probably less than a 100 year old tradition, maybe only 50. It is when people come to the temple (wat), with food, in the morning, and feed the monks with some things other than just sticky rice (typical tak baht fare). We’re talking fruit, soups, meats, and packaged food and drinks from the store.
The food is considered sacred in a similar way to how wine and bread is taken as sacred in Christian churches. The mere fact that the monks considered eating the food, even if they don’t actually, gives it special power. This is my main meal of the day. After the temple ceremony, it’s like a Thai buffet, with the offerings different each day and thus somewhat unpredictable.
First, the food is brought before the monks who are all sitting cross-legged, in a row, with their personal food bowls in front of them. They are ranked from the viewer’s left-to-right, according to their time in the sangha. People sit at a distance, facing the monks who have their backs to the Buddha statues that generally sit in the same location where you would find a large cross in Christian churches. The food is mostly on trays that are slid along mats in front of the monks, each monk picking from the offered food what they feel they most want to eat. Some things they add to the food already in their bowl, some are just set aside (like the drinks and packaged items.
There is usually some give-and-take between the head monk and whomever he picks to talk with. As you can imagine, Thip was called upon quite a lot my first month in the village.
After the last monk is done with his selection, the rest of the food is carried off by a lay person and put to the back of the temple floor. When all items have been dealt with, the head monk will begin a prayer and this is followed by all the monks chanting. The prayer and chants take not more than ten minutes, sometimes only five.
Before the prayer and chant, each person will have bowed down on their hands and knees three sets of three; the first three for Buddha, the second three for the head monk and the last three for the sangha, the monkhood that follow the teachings of Buddha since the time of his life, over two thousand five hundred years ago.