Pah bah means 'forest cloth' in Thai; and the festival comes out of the ancient tradition of leaving cloth in the forest for monks to find for them to make their robes after the end of the three-month rains retreat. It's a time for the lay-community to 'draw close' and offer the monastic community gifts of cloth and other supplies they'll need for the coming year as they rely totally on the generosity of the lay-community.
This year's event was rather special in that both Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Pasanno were there. Both were students of Ajahn Chah, and both were at one time co-abbots of Abhayagiri until Ajahn Amaro was asked to take over Amaravati in England. It was a very auspicious reunion, and I'm glad that I had to opportunity to be there.
The day began with the afternoon meal, which was first offered to the monks, and then shared by everyone. Next was some traditional paritta (blessing) chanting followed by the actual alms giving and a Dhamma talk, which was split up. Ajahn Pasanno gave a short talk first, followed by Ajahn Amaro. The place was decorated in traditional Thai style, with saffron-coloured towel gibbons strategically placed all over as if in a forest.
One of the overarching themes was anumodana, which means 'rejoicing together' in goodness and generosity and/or offering encouragement. Gathering together and giving our time and support to one another produces a field of merit or goodness that brings happiness to everyone, those who give as well as those who receive.
Just as charity plays a big role in Christianity, the Buddha placed a lot of importance on dana or generosity as well. Generosity arises out of wholesome mental states, and gives rise to numerous benefits on its own. In addition, generosity is considered a requisite for spiritual development. I've always found it interesting that the Buddha begins most of his discourses on the gradual training with teachings on generosity.
After the ceremony, a group of us drove the short distance to the hermitage for a tour. The main building, a small house, has a kitchen, an office area, and a shrine where the monks gather for chanting and meals. Then there's a guest house, for the abbot or visiting monks, and a couple of small dwellings for the monks to sleep and meditate.
I felt bad that I missed mass in order to go to the Pah Bah, but I'm glad I went. It was a beautiful event. And in many ways, it felt kind of the same.