To celebrate Vesak Day this year, dozens of monks from various countries in Southeast Asia performed the Thudong ritual by walking to the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia. Indonesia was chosen because there are many Buddhist heritages in the country. But, what exactly is the meaning and essence of this Thudong ritual?
Thudong is a tradition that originated in Theravada Buddhism in Thailand. The word itself comes from the classical Pali language used in Buddhist teachings. Thudong comes from the word "dhutanga" in Pali, which means extra practice or extra training.
Essentially, Thudong is a spiritual travel practice undertaken by Theravada monks who choose to leave the conventional monastic life to live as ascetics in the wilderness. The practice of Thudong has existed for centuries in the history of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand. In Thudong, monks meditate, contemplate, and travel from place to place in search of enlightenment and deeper understanding.
The monks who practice Thudong are influenced by the desire to experience a deeper spiritual life and to be close to nature. They seek direct experience through a life of simplicity and depth in meditation practice, away from the hustle and bustle of the mundane world.
According to a Thai Dharmaduta in Indonesia, Bhante Dhammavuddho, the Thudong tradition dates back to the time of the Buddha, when there were no permanent residences such as monasteries. At that time, the Buddha allowed monks to live from forest to forest, mountain and cave. In addition, this Thudong tradition also aims to train the monks' patience, because in the Buddha's teachings patience is a very high Dhamma practice.
Thudong gives monks the opportunity to test and deepen their understanding of Buddhist teachings through more intense meditation and contemplation. Monks who undertake the Thudong will face physical challenges, extreme weather, and other hardships during their journey. However, they also experience moments of insight, peace, and enlightenment that enrich their spiritual journey.
Over time, the practice of Thudong has undergone variations and adaptations in different regions. However, the main essence of the practice remains focused on seeking enlightenment through travel or wandering, living a simple life, and intensifying spiritual practices. Of course, in the face of changing times, Thudong monks also face challenges such as how to manage relationships with the outside world while maintaining the sanctity and integrity of their spiritual practice.
Through this Thudong ritual, the monks celebrate and honor the deep and rich spiritual heritage of Theravada Buddhism. They undertake this meaningful journey as a form of devotion and the never-ending quest for enlightenment.
Ministry of Religious Affairs. (2023). Dirjen Bimas Buddha Melepas Bhante Thudong Menuju Candi Borobudur. kemenag.go.id
Matics, K.I. (2000). The Phenomenon of Thudong in Thai Buddhism. In Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion (Vol. 14). Brill.
Tiyavanich, K. (1997). Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand. University of Hawaii Press.
Taylor, J.L. (1993). Forest Monks and the Nation-State: An Anthropological and Historical Study in Northeastern Thailand. Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.