Category: Buddhist holidays
Asalha Puja (known as Asanha Bucha in Thailand, Thai: อาสาฬหบูชา) is a Theravada Buddhist festival which typically takes place in July, on the full moon of the sixth lunar month. Asalha Puja, also known as Dharma Day, is one of Theravada Buddhism’s most important festivals, celebrating as it does the Buddha’s first sermon in which he set out to his five former associates the doctrine that had come to him following his enlightenment.
This first pivotal sermon, often referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of dharma”, is the teaching which is encapsulated for Buddhists in the four noble truths: there is suffering (dukkha); suffering is caused by craving (tanha); there is a state (nirvana) beyond suffering and craving; and finally, the way to nirvana is via the eightfold path. All the various schools and traditions of Buddhism revolve around the central doctrine of the four noble truths.
This first sermon is not only the first structured discourse given by the Buddha after his enlightenment, it also contains the essence of all his subsequent teaching. At the end of the talk, one of the five participants recounted his understanding of what had been said and asked to be received as a disciple, a request the Buddha granted, thus establishing the first order of monks.
The history of Asalha Puja Day began more than 2,500 years ago before Buddha had begun his time as a great teacher. Since the Buddhist Lent begins in the 6th lunar month, it was the time that holy men spent the next three months in what was called a “rain retreat” since it was also the monsoon season.
They would not travel unless totally necessary and stayed in a permanent dwelling together. It is also a timeframe when it’s possible to be ordained as a monk. Plus, Buddah’s son Rahula’s birth and Buddha’s decision to relinquish all this royal and worldly pleasures to go on his quest to spiritual enlightenment both occurred during the month of Asalha.
On the original date, Buddha gave his first sermon to five disciples while at Deer Park in Benares, as well as being the first date for the worship of the Triple Gems, which consisted of Buddha, his lessons and his disciples. This sermon is sometimes known as the sermon that set the Wheel of Dhamma into motion. The wheel consists of four noble truths: life means suffering or dukka, the origin of suffering is attachment or tanha, the cessation of suffering is attainable, and the way to that cessation is through the eightfold path.
Asalha Puja Day is also known as the day Buddha chose his first disciple, Kondanna; who is also the first Buddhist monk ordained by Buddha. He would be the first of many men to join in becoming a Buddhist monk over the next several centuries up until today.
Some of the traditions that modern Buddhist monks practice on Asalha Puja Day include reciting the Eight Precepts, giving sermons and leading meditations, chanting in Sanskrit and leading a candle procession around their temple three times. Plus, the congregation will give offerings to the monks. Buddha’s first sermon contained the essence of all of his future lessons. A very common event is when the monks chant the discourse, which is called the Dhamma Cakka Sutta or the Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Truth.
It is tradition for Buddhists to worship Buddha by giving offerings to the monks and practicing Dhamma on the Asalha Puja holy day. Therefore, this religious celebration is one of the most beloved and holy days of the year for those of the Buddhist faith.
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