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The Buddhist Holidays (Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asian Countries )


 Buddhist Holidays

 

1 Makha Bucha Day:  

 

Makha Bucha Day is another important Buddhist day. Like other Buddhist festivals, it is significantly related to the Triple Gems – the Buddha, the Dharma his teachings, and the Sangha his disciples.

“Makha” means the third lunar month, and “Bucha” means to honor. Makha Bucha Day is on the full-moon day of the third lunar month, usually in February, designated to honor the Buddha, his teachings and his followers. The day is religiously significant because it marks a very important event dating back to the time the Buddha was still living. Nine months after his Enlightenment he was residing at the Veluvana Bamboo Grove in Rajagaha City, India. On one very same day, four auspicious occasions took place. First, as many as 1,250 monks, who came to the meeting without any prior appointment, decided to come to pay respect to the Buddha. Second, it was a holy congregation because all the monks were Arahantas (attained the enlightenment) and ordained by the Buddha himself. Third, at this special congregation the Buddha delivered a discourse on “The Ovadhapatimokha” which significantly laid down the principles of Buddhism (i.e. to refrain from doing evil, to do good deeds, and to purify one ‘s mind.) Fourth, this sacred assembly took place on an auspicious full-moon day. So Makha Bucha activities have been observed by devout Buddhists to commemorate this historic event.

The Makha Bucha merit-making activities start with food offering to monks in the morning. Later, many go to the temple to listen to sermons delivered by the monks and to join in other religious activities. They also observe the Five Precepts or the Eight Precepts. For some it is the time to do meditation or mental discipline as well. Then in the evening, led by the monks, people perform the “vian tian” ceremony (vian means to circle; tian is candle), whereby they join a procession of 3-round walking around the main sermon hall of the temple – with lit candles and incense sticks, and flowers in their hands. The three rounds are meant for to the Triple Gems,

 

 Songkran Day (The Buddhist New Year Day): 13 April,2022

 

Actually, Songkran Day is not a Buddhist holiday, but due to the Thai Buddhist people are the majority in the country, all cerebrations in Thailand are related to Buddhist celebration. However, Songkran is a Thai traditional New Year which starts on April 13 every year and lasts for 3 days.  Songkran festival on April 13 is Maha Songkran Day or the day to mark the end of the old year, April 14 is Wan Nao which is the day after and April 15 is Wan Thaloeng Sok which the New Year begins.

Songkran means “movement” or “changing” since according to Thai astrology, the sun will move into a new sign of the Zodiac on this day.  Songkran is also called the “Water Festival”.  Water is believed to flow and wash away all bad omens during this time.  Thus, it is a time for cleaning; houses, villages, and temples.

In the Thai tradition, the New Year begins early in the morning when faithful Thai Buddhists give alms to Buddhist monks.  After that, they release caged animals, especially birds and fish.  Elders and parents will be visited and respected by their children and grandchildren.  The young pour scented water over their elder’s hands, they in return, wish them good health, happiness and prosperity.  This tradition of paying respect is called “Rod Nam Dam Hua”. April 14 is called “Family Day”.

 

 2. Visakha Bucha Day (The Buddha's Day):  May 2022

 

Visakha Bucha (or Vesak Day by other Buddhist denomination), also known as Buddha’s Day, is an annual public holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists all over the world especially in Southeast Asian and South Asian countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. The festival commemorates the Birth, the Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha, and his entry into Nirvana or his Death, on the same date. This major Buddhist festival of the year is celebrated in different ways all over the world. The date varies according to the lunar calendars used in different countries. In Thailand it is always on the first full moon day. In 2021 the day falls on 26th of May.

Monks will chant sacred hyms and recite verses uttered by the Buddha 25 centuries ago, to invoke peace and happiness for the people. Then the devotees will listen to Dharma talks given by the monks. It is an opportunity to reiterate our determination to lead better or noble lives, to develop our minds, to practice loving-kindness, and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.

Celebrating Visakah also means merit-making and alms giving to the unfortunate, humans and animals included. Some examples of these good deeds are: freeing caged birds and animals and fish, distributing food and gifts to the poor or the needy and to various charitable homes, and mass donating of blood at hospitals.

 


3. Asalaha Bucha Day:  July 2022

 

Asalaha Bucha Day is another most sacred Buddhist holy days. Buddhists celebrate this day because of its important historic events in the past, or actually of over 2,500 years ago. Asalaha Bucha means paying hommage to the Buddha. This particular day commemorates the first Dharma discourse given by the Buddha to his first Buddhist monk, and thus constituting the birth of the Triple Gem of Buddhism; namely, the Buddha, the Dharma or his teachings, and the Sangha or his disciples.

After the Buddha had attained his Enlightenment, he decided to disseminate or teach the Dharma to others. At a Deer Park (Sarnath), near Benares, in India, he delivered his first sermon on the “ Four Noble Truths ” to his five- disciple group. Kondanna, the group head, was the first to achieve the “Eye of Dharma” or the first level of enlightenment. He was then ordained, and therefore became the very first monk. So, Buddhism, characterized by the Triple Gem, came into existence. From that day, known later as the Asalaha Bucha Day, the “Wheel of Dharma” has been set in motion, until these present days.

This year, Asalaha Bucha Day falls on the 24th of July, one day before the beginning of Buddhist lent (Khao Pansa), a 3-month period of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. The celebration of Asalaha Bucha involves many religious ceremonies, cultural and traditional events, taking place in temples all over the country.

 

 

4.Buddhist Lent Day:  July 2022

 

On the day right after Asalaha Bucha Day another important religious event, the Buddhist lent (Khao Pansa or Vassa in Thai language) or the Rains Retreat, is celebrated. The event starts from the first day of the waning moon of the eighth Thai lunar month (normally the first day after the full moon day in July), and lasts for 3 months. During this rainy time monks will remain in the temples and devote themselves to religious studies, serious contemplation and mediation, and to observe their religious obligations. The Buddhist lent begins on July, and ends on October.

For Buddhists in general, Khao Pasa means the time to cultivate good deeds. During Khao Pansa, they make merits by donation things such as food and essential supplies to the monks. They also donate beautifully crafted wax candles to the temples as homage for the Buddha.

On the more spiritual side, this 3- month period is the time to attain the dharma, i.e. to do spiritual training. So the devotees stay away from all causes of disasters or sins by giving up alcoholic drink, smoking, and meat eating. In addition, they spend more of the time training their mind by studying the dharma or Buddha’s teachings, chanting prayers, meditating, and listening to sermons delivered by monks.

Another common practice observed throughout the country is the entering into monkhood, or the ordination, of large numbers of young men at the age of 20, or over. They are ordained for 3 months, during which time they stay in the temples for 3 months. This time-honored tradition is believed to be a religious worship of very great merit.

 

 

 5. The end of Buddhist Lent: October 2022

 

Awk Pansa means “leaving the period of rain” as it also marks the end of the rainy season. Religiously and traditionally the end of the retreat means that once again monks can leave or come out of the temples where they have confined themselves during Khao Pansa.

Awk Pansa is on the first full moon day of the 11th lunar month. Like other major Buddhist holidays this festive occasion is a day of joyful celebrations and joint merit-making activities. For some Thai families, it is also the day they welcome home their sons, considered mature adults, who have just ended their temporary Khao Pansa monkhood.

Many activities of faith take place throughout the country to celebrate Awk Pansa. People would meet in the temples close to their places to listen to sermons preached, and to jointly make merits by presenting food, monk’s robes, and other necessities to the monks. Actually the merit-making period after Awk Pansa known as Tawd Gathin – or the “laying down of robes”, lasts for 30 days from Awk Pansa through to the full moon day of the twelfth lunar month.