This Buddhist walking ritual teaches patience and promotes religious acceptance


Bhikkhus at Borobudur Temple during the recent Wesak celebrations. — Photos: InJourney

Every year, many Buddhist monks around the world choose to undertake Thudong, a walking ritual meant to teach patience, which is considered the highest form of dharma, or Buddhist virtue.

When conducting Thudong, an ordained monk, also known as a bhikkhu (for men) or bhikkunni (women), pledges to adhere to certain ascetic practices, or “wills”, such as only eating food that have been offered to them, eating just once a day, refusing second helpings of food, wearing robes made from discarded fabric, living in open spaces, and not lying down, even to sleep.

In Indonesia, Thudong has become an increasingly popular practice in recent years, even drawing monks from other South-East Asian countries to conduct the ritual there.

“This Buddhism practice has been kept alive for generations, even after modern facilities are available to support the journey,” said Bhikkhu Dhammavuddho Thera, head of the Indonesian Buddhist organisation Sangha Theravada Dhammayut Indonesia.

For this year’s Wesak Day celebration (which was on May 23), 40 bhikkhus from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia carried out Thudong in Central Java, Indonesia. They walked a distance of about 80km from the Buddha Jayanti Wungkal Kasap Temple in Semarang to the Borobudur Temple Complex in Magelang, just an hour’s drive from Yogyakarta.

For the bhikkhus coming from overseas, many had already walked hundreds of kilometres in their home countries prior to being in Indonesia.

Upon arriving at Borobudur, known as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, they ascended to the upper levels of the 35m-tall structure and carried out Pradakshina, a ritual that honours Buddha by circling the temple clockwise three times while meditating.

Buddhist monks conduct Thudong, a walking ritual, each year to learn how to be patient. — Photos: InJourneyBuddhist monks conduct Thudong, a walking ritual, each year to learn how to be patient. — Photos: InJourney

Harmony in diversity

For many, Thudong is also considered a ritual that promotes religious acceptance in a society.

“Indonesia is home to people of many different religions, and monks travelling for Thudong will often receive support and hospitality from whoever they meet along the way, regardless of their religious background.

“We hope this serves as an inspiration to the world that people of different beliefs can live together in kindness,” said Susy Yang, head of the Thudong 2024 Committee that ensured the bhikkhus who came for the event were able to do the ritual smoothly.

Bhante Kamsai Sumano Mahathera of Thailand echoed Yang’s sentiments, adding that the bhikkhus from other countries were impressed and heartened by the welcome they received in Indonesia. (Bhante is ​​a respectful title used to address Buddhist monks, nuns and superiors.)

“In a day, we can walk up to 30km, and even though we are tired at the end, we get the energy to continue our journey the next day from the kindness of the people we have encountered. They’ve given us food, sandals, medicine and so much more.

“We never felt like we were alone while carrying out Thudong. Every day, we would set out at 5am to begin walking and even at that time, there would already be people awake to encourage us, give us water and flowers ... all to help us reach our destination safely,” Bhante Kamsai shared.

‘Practising Thudong is meant to strengthen and purify one’s heart, but what really helps is the support of the community around us,’ said Johorean Bhante Chuan. — HANIS MAKETAB/The Star‘Practising Thudong is meant to strengthen and purify one’s heart, but what really helps is the support of the community around us,’ said Johorean Bhante Chuan. — HANIS MAKETAB/The Star

Among the group of monks doing the Thudong in Central Java that week was a Malaysian, known as Bhante Chuan, 67, from Ulu Tiram, Johor.

Though it was not his first time doing the ritual, it was his first time being at Borobudur Temple, and seeing the many Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike gathering to celebrate the bhikkhus’ arrival was a memorable experience for him.

“I’m so glad to be here with the bhikkhus led by Bhante Kamsai. For some, Thudong is easy, while for others, it can be a challenge. Practising Thudong is meant to strengthen and purify one’s heart, but what really helps is the support of the community around us.

“For me, I just take it one step at a time, even if I’m exhausted or a little discouraged. It is with everyone’s generosity and my own determination that I can keep going,” said Bhante Chuan, adding that he hopes to return to Borobudur in the near future.

Following the peak Wesak celebration at Borobudur, the group went on to Muaro Temple in Jambi province, Central Sumatra to complete their Thudong ritual in Indonesia.

Buddhist monks and devotees offering prayers at Borobudur on Wesak Day. — ANIS EFIZUDIN/Antara FotoBuddhist monks and devotees offering prayers at Borobudur on Wesak Day. — ANIS EFIZUDIN/Antara Foto

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