The 11th - 13th of November marks the Loi Kratong and Yi Peng Festivals in the Lanna Region of Northern Thailand. It is one of the most incredible sights you will ever see, as thousands of people wander down to waterways, rivers, streams, in fact any flowing water and release beautiful Banana stalk boats, decorated in banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles to symbolise the letting go of sins, anger, hatred and negative thoughts. It is a beautiful, symbolic ritual for the Lanna people stemming from the Buddhist tradition. Adding on to Loi Kratong, is Yi Peng, where for a similar reason, people release thousands of paper lanterns into the night sky on the full moon, letting go of the old, and giving birth to the new.
The Symbolism is enough to give you goose bumps, if you are lucky enough to witness it for yourself you can almost feel the weight physically lifting off your shoulders as lanterns float above you in the skies.
As a facilitator of Bhakti Yoga, one of my loves is to look towards other traditions and to see how they hold similarities to my own tradition and at the same time how they differ. As a devotee of Jesus, I see so much beauty in this festival. It is not my tradition, and in now way do I want to minimise it’s significance for Thai people by appropriating for myself. Though I love to look at it with ‘Holy Envy’ as Barbara Brown Taylor would say. This is beautiful.
And as I think about my years spent living in Varanasi India, on the banks of the Ganges River, another river said to wash away sins for Hindu’s I can’t help but feel a kinship with my fellow humankind, regardless of their path.
We all want freedom. We all want freedom from guilt, shame, the things we have done, and the things that have been done to us. We want release, like a Kratong floating away down the river, a candle light flickering, like a paper lantern, rising into the sky until it is no longer visible to the eye, like the morning puja of a hindu in the Ganga, we all want freedom, the feeling of being made clean, fresh starts.
No matter your spiritual path, or if you don’t even subscribe to one, this feeling is central to our core. The need to ‘Get clean’ from the physical, emotional and spiritual mess our lives can often be.
Whilst it has become popular to say that ‘all paths are the same’, I do not subscribe to that belief, and I am concerned that it reduces people’s cultures, deeply held beliefs, life’s work, study and worship. I in no way, am trying to imply that Hindu’s, Buddhists and Christians are all fundamentally the same. I would be horrified if anyone thought I was lumping deeply held, beloved, sacred, cultural steeped practices into the same pile. We must honor each path, every culture, their history, their stories, and not imply that they are all the same when they are clearly not. We are different and yet, we find these beautiful areas of unity.
For Buddhist this Festival is held every year, for a number of reasons;, to show respect to the river, the goddess of the river, Pra Mae Khongkha, and to worship and to ask for forgiveness. The Thai’s now also see it as a time to wave goodbye to misfortune, wash away sins of the past year, and make wishes for the coming year. (Source). Others have said that Loi Kratong has a history in Hindusim, but has been adapted worship the foot-print of the Buddha on Nammathanati River in India. (Source).
The Water Goddess Pra Mae Kongkha is the Thai version of Gaṅgā (as in Mother Ganga Ji of India).
Which leads us to the cleansing water of the Ganges. Stemming from the Himalayas in the north of India, the root of Ganga is said to be Shiva’s locks. To wash in these waters is said to wash away sins, to die and be cremated with your ashes thrown into the waters is to be set free from the cycle of samsara (reincarnation) and to be set free (moksha).
For Christians, we don’t have a physical river metaphor, but we have the waters of baptism. A symbol of ‘turning around’ from the broken ways of our past and choosing to follow the path of Christ. We can not earn our sins being ‘taken away’, they just are.
Rachel Held Evans writes in her EXCELLENT book “Searching for Sunday”, ”Baptism reminds us that there’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair.” - Rachel Held Evans
For me as a Devotee of Christ, as a long term guest in Thailand, but not a Thai national, as an observer of culture and not as an expert; Loi Kratong is a time to reflect on the times I have messed up, the times that I wished I hadn’t been so angry at my kids, the times I’ve been an asshole to my husband, the times I stayed silent in the face of injustice, and I ask my Jesus, to be my ‘cleansing water’ to wash me clean. The promise of Christ is that during his death and ressurrection, we were cleansed “once and for all”.
Yogic and Hindu philosophy places the emphasis on physically going to the Ganges River to cleanse in it’s waters.
Thai Buddhist philosophy as shown in Loi Kratong, points to any body of water; be it a river, or a canal or a stream, as belonging to the River Goddess, and the invocation of the Buddha to allow the release of the past.
For the devotee of Christ, it is not the water that cleanses us, it is the sacrifice of Jesus, and the ‘blood’ of Jesus that cleanses, once and for all. The waters of Baptism are an outward reminder that Christ has taken away sin, and that daily, God is breaking in, interacting, being close to us, relational, speaking, moving and breathing within, offering grace and love and transformation, again and again and again as we draw close to God, the great lover of our souls. We can not earn it, we do not deserve it, but it is happening constantly.
And it is beautiful.
Y O G A A S A N A F O R L O I K R A T O N G
For Yoga Asana practice at this time of year, I love practicing water vinyasa flows, trying to keep transitions in asana as smooth, like moving through water. Lots of flowing from down dog to plank, and then dropping the hips, lifting the heart, finding ‘water dog pose’. I round of the practice with some time in Yin.
I have never loved Yin. In fact, I loathe it - because letting go is hard, sitting with tension is hard, surrendering to something bigger than ourselves is hard.
But THIS is yoga, letting our asana be a reflection if what the heart and soul deeply desire. Our souls need to not feel alone, but instead held. to be able to release, to cleanse , to be made new, to walk off our mats filled up, a little lighter, not from ‘yoga asana’ but from ‘union with God’.
This Loi Kratong, I encourage you to sit with surrender, let the waters of Divine love wash over you. We can not do it ourselves, it needs to be from something outside of ourselves, something bigger than us. The promise, new every morning,
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1