What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Passover, Holy Week and Easter plus Jain, Hindu and Buddhist dates, too

Seder Passover

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HERE IS …

What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 29 to April 4, 2010)
By Stephanie
Fenton

GET READY FOR ONE BUSY WEEK!
This is rare: The world’s 2 billion Christians unite on Easter! (Most years,
Eastern and Western Christian calendars mark their most important holiday on different dates.) Also this week, Jews begin their
most widely observed tradition:
Passover! Monday, Jains recognize their most important holiday of
the year, too, with Mahavira Jayanti. To complement these major
festivals and observances, there’s much more: Firstborn male Jews fulfill the Fast of the
Firstborn, Hindus revere a monkey god on Hanuman Jayanti and some
Buddhists reflect during Sangha Day. Jehovah’s Witnesses observe a unique event in their calendar on Tuesday—and in the midst of the
holy days leading to Easter, we celebrate a mail-order anniversary. Read
about these events and observances below!

Mahavir MONDAY, it’s the
most important holiday of the year for Jains: Mahavir(a) Jayanti (spellings vary). Read
about modern Jains and this celebration at AsiaOneNews, from Singapore
Press.

    This birthday celebration for Mahavira, the last
Tirthankara, is a tribute to the figure who taught his followers how to
achieve true happiness through complete nonviolence and austerity.
(There are 24 Tirthankaras, or Jain prophets, in recorded history.) Scholars disagree about Mahavira’s exact year of birth but
agree that he was born sometime around 600 BCE. (Read more on
Wikipedia’s page
.)
    Jain legend has it that Mahavira’s mother,
Trisala, had a series of auspicious dreams about her son-to-be, just as
the mothers of the other Tirthankaras had. Mahavira was born into a household deeply devoted to Jainism and to the
philosophies of the 23rd Tirthankara, Parswanatha.
    In his young
life, Mahavira spent more than a decade in meditation and penance. (TajOnline,
an Indian resource, offers plentiful details on Mahavira’s life
.)
After coming to a self-realization, according to Jain tradition, Mahavira began spreading his knowledge to others. During his lifetime,
animal sacrifice was widespread, superstitions were popular, and elaborate religious rituals were abundant. Mahavira was bothered by such practices and made it his mission to clear
society’s religious “excess” and teach about the simple life changes he
deemed most important. In his teachings, Mahavira would often state, “Do
unto others as you would like to be done by.”
    Today, Jains
decorate temples with flags, bathe sacred images of Mahavira, parade around
cities, offer food to the poor and attend public lectures that focus on
Mahavira’s path to virtue and happiness. (The
colorful FestivalsInIndia site has interesting facts on celebrations.
)
At home, many believers meditate and pray.

Firstborn son Through MONDAY MORNING,
a very specific group of Jews observe a fast: firstborn males. Jewish
men who are the oldest child in their family fast on this day, known in English as the Fast of
the Firstborn. (Chabad.org
has more.
There’s also a helpful Wikipedia

page.)
    The fast is a commemorative remembrance of the biblical Plague of the
Firstborn in ancient Egypt that is part of the Exodus story remembered during Passover each year. For
tips on breaking down this fast day for young people, visit
TorahForTots.

Passover MONDAY at SUNDOWN,
Jews begin the great festival of Passover. As the most-observed Jewish
holiday, an estimated 80 percent of Jews have attended a Passover
Seder, according to the National Jewish Population Survey of 1990.
    After days—even weeks in some households—of laborious preparation, Jews have now completely
eliminated any crumb and trace of the five major grains (wheat, rye,
barley, oats and spelt) from their homes and are ready to observe the
Passover Seder. To completely clean their homes of these grains, referred to as
chametz, Jews scrub corners and edges
with toothbrushes and toothpicks—even getting rid of some utensils that touch the grains! In families with small children, this often becomes a festive search for every last scrap of chametz—and parents sometimes make the search more of an adventure by sprinkling a few bits of cereal in odd corners of the home. To become entirely Kosher for Passover, observant families change over kitchen utensils and entire sets of dishes for the holiday period. It’s a whole lot of work! (Read
more at Judaism 101
. Or, the Jewish
Virtual Library
.)
    In remembrance of the ancient Hebrews
who had to leave Egypt hurriedly for their Exodus, Jews since have
marked Passover by eating bread that is not allowed to rise. This
unleavened bread, known as matzah or matzoh, is also a symbol of Jews’
removal of “puffiness,” or pride and arrogance, from their souls. (For more on family Passover reflections, you’ll enjoy this ReadTheSpirit story by author Debra Darvick.)
     Passover marks
the “passing over” of the Hebrews’ homes when firstborns in ancient Egypt perished in a final plague that eventually swayed Pharaoh. Israelite families had marked their doors with lamb’s blood and were not inflicted with this terrible plague. (A detailed history is at
Wikipedia
.)
    Tonight and tomorrow night, Jews host or attend
an elaborate Seder, or ritual meal, often with family members and friends. (A
how-to, audio, Passover for Kids and much more is at Chabad.org.
)
Elders tell young people the story of their heritage during the Seder—but youngsters also play key roles, including asking questions that kick off the whole process.
Diet is strict, and nearly all of the Seder foods are symbolic and
representative, including multiple glasses of wine.
    Looking for some fun Passover-related activities? Check
out this site,
where you can learn about unleavened bread, take an audio tour of a
matzoh factory, laugh at a
Passover-themed cartoon and even follow Exocus on Twitter
!
   
Did you know that vacations for Passover are growing in popularity? Read
about them—and how to keep them Kosher—in this article from the Wall
Street Journal
.
    Passover continues for a week—for a list of
observances for each day of Passover, visit
Chabad.org
.

Hanuman TUESDAY, it’s
the Hindu jayanti of Hanuman, a monkey god and a great devotee of Lord
Rama. (Lord
Rama’s festival was celebrated last week and the week before; read all
about it in last week’s calendar
.)
    Legend states that
Hanuman was born to the king of the monkeys and his wife, Punjiksthala. (Indian
site TajOnline has details.
) More specifically, Punjiksthala in
human form was punished for her deeds and told that, as a result,
she would be born again as a monkey. When she repented, her fate as a
monkey was already sealed, but she was told she would bear a son
who would be a great devotee of Rama. (Here is Wikipedia’s
page.
)
    According to Hindu tradition, Hanuman crossed an ocean
by chanting Rama’s name and restored life to figures who had crossed
into the netherworld, among many other great feats. Yet just as his
power was a result of his selfless devotion to Rama, Hanuman never
credited himself with his feats and, instead, declared: “I am a humble
messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, and to do His
work.” Hanuman is worshiped in folk tradition as having magical powers.
   
On his jayanti, Hanuman worshippers often gather in temples and carry sacred images of the deity. Some Hindus wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey
god, and when the day’s festivities have finished, all partake in a
vegetarian feast. (You
can watch a Hanuman procession, hear festive music and more right from
your own home! Check out this video
.)
    Last year, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed talented young Indian-American novelist Cheeni Rao about Cheeni’s semi-autobiographical book, “In Hanuman’s Hands.” Rao writes about the long and twisting journey of a recovering substance abuser and relates those difficult challenges to the image of Hanuman as a helpful guide. The book also includes Cheeni’s long narrative about the ancient Hanuman story. Remembering that resourceful image of this monkey god was key in Cheeni’s own recovery, he writes.

Buddhist Also on TUESDAY,
some Buddhists remember the 1,250 followers of Buddha who spontaneously
came to see him on the same night. (A
neat explanation is available from Assumption University of Thailand
.)
    On this, Magha Puja or Sangha, Buddhists pay particular attention to avoiding sin and purifying their minds. There are four elements remembered on this day: the 1,250 followers who converged on the Buddha, the fact
that all 1,250 followers were Enlightened and had been ordained by
Buddha, the date of a full moon and, fourth, the fact that Buddha
revealed the primary principles of Buddhism on this day. (Wikipedia has more
details.
) The original gathering of 1,250 followers occurred
approximately 2,500 years ago at Deer Park.
    Note that the dates of Buddhist observances vary widely, so only some Buddhists recognize Magha
Puja today. Here
is the BBC’s page.
Buddhist rituals also vary widely, but many Buddhists hold candlelight
processions, light incense, visit temples, meditate and don white robes
on Magha Puja. In the West, it has even become custom to give gifts!
    The three primary Buddhist principles
announced at Deer Park are: do good, abstain from bad actions and purify the mind.

Jehovah TUESDAY at SUNDOWN,
Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal. Although Jehovah’s
Witnesses do not observe any other Christian holidays, they do observe
the Last Supper. (Exact details are
at Watchtower.org, the official site of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
)
   
Billions of Christians will be remembering the Last Supper this
Thursday, but because Jesus held his Evening Meal on the Jewish
Passover, Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal in closer conjunction to the start of Passover. (Wikipedia’s
page on Jehovah’s Witnesses has a section dedicated to this
.) Although all Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal, only
the anointed receive the blessed bread and wine. Some congregations have
no anointed members! But tonight, all devotees can listen to a talk on
the meaning of the Lord’s Evening Meal.

THURSDAY there are many names for the Christian observance, including the mysterious-sounding Maundy Thursday. (Wikipedia helps sort out the various names.) This is when most of the world’s Christians remember the Last Supper of Jesus.
    This day also is marked with other important rituals, including foot washing in many Christian denominations. That’s a humble practice of service that the Bible describes Jesus as performing for his followers—and many Christian clergy reenact this ritual annually. Also, the Catholic Church organizes central services, primarily attended by clergy, where holy oils are blessed for parish work in the year ahead. If you’re free on Thursday, contact your diocese and inquire about the schedule for blessing the oils—it’s a moving liturgy worth attending, if you’ve never seen it.

Good FridayFRIDAY, Christians observe the
solemnity of Holy Friday—or it’s known as Good Friday in some traditions. Today, Christians
remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia’s page delves
into lots of details
.)
    According to the Gospels, Jesus was
arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, then suffered through a series of interrogations, humiliations and torture before he finally was crucified by Roman soldiers on Friday.
    In many Western
Christian churches, a service is held on Good Friday (read the Catholic
tradition at FishEaters
), although in the Eastern tradition Matins
are held on Thursday night. On Thursday night, Eastern Christian
churches hold a service with readings of twelve selections from the
Gospels and discuss the passion of Christ. (Orthodox Church
in America explains more.
)

Holy Saturday SATURDAY,
Christians remember the day that Jesus lay in his tomb, on Holy
Saturday. (View
Wikipedia’s Holy Saturday page here.
) In the Eastern Orthodox
tradition, Holy Saturday is known as the Great Sabbath, since Jesus
physically “rested” on this day (Matins are actually held on Friday
evening). In some Orthodox Churches, this is known as Joyous Saturday,
since believers hold that Jesus used this day to bring salvation to
deserving spirits and raise them from Hades to Paradise.
   
According to Western Christian liturgy, Holy Saturday ends at dusk and
the Easter celebration begins (Eastern Pascha vigils begin after
midnight). Get an Eastern
Orthodox perspective from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
.

Mail Also on SATURDAY,
it’s a double anniversary that highlights the exponential progress of
the American mail system! On this date in
1860—150 years ago—the Pony Express began between Missouri and
California. (Read more at the
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
.)
    The Pony
Express ran until October of 1861, but it became the most direct means
of communication between the eastern and western sides of the United States. (View
a map of the Pony Express here
.) The Pony Express used horseback
riders to carry messages across plains, deserts and mountains and, for
most mail, it boasted a delivery time of approximately 10 days. (More is at
Wikipedia’s page
.)
    On this same date 10 years ago, in 2000,
the world was focusing its attention on virtual mail—Email—and Microsoft
was found guilty of violating antitrust laws and monopolizing the Web
browser market. (Here is an article
from CBS News
.) Microsoft’s market value fell $70 billion over the
case, but it recovered and, today, remains back near the top of the market.
   
The delivery time boasted by Email? A few seconds.

Easter SUNDAY, Christians
rejoice, break their fasts, don their best clothing and celebrate the
primary belief of their faith: Jesus’ resurrection. This is Easter!
    After weeks of fasting and
repentance, both Eastern and Western Christians revel in the joy of this
day, which calls to mind their hope that one day they will enjoy resurrection as well. (Check out the thorough page
from Wikipedia
.)
    Easter (or Pascha) is the most important day of the
Christian calendar year. Eastern Christians refer to it as the “Feast
of Feasts.” (Read more about the
Greek Orthodox tradition here.
)
    Just how rare is it for East and West to converge on the same date? Well, it happened in 1990, but then only three more times during the past 20 years: 2001, 2004 and 2007. Complex differences in secular and religious calendars, coupled with distinctions between Eastern and Western practices for marking the proper date, leave the world with this separation that Christian leaders agree is embarrassing. For many years, global negotiations have continued in an effort to unify the dates, but the preservation of centuries-old traditions also is important. For now, there’s no solution. The possibility of convergence runs in cycles—and the next unified year is 2011. So, enjoy this rare and all-too-brief show of unity!
    Gospel accounts vary in their details concerning Easter morning. In one account, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother, approached Jesus’ tomb—only to find the tomb’s entrance stone rolled away and the tomb
empty. They were told that Jesus had
risen from the dead. As they were instructed, they gave the message
of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples. That version is especially prized by advocates of the ordination of women, since it appears to show that women preached the first Christian message of good news.
    The Resurrection remains the core of Christianity. Catholic
author J.R.R. Tolkein said of the Resurrection: “There is no tale ever told
[that people] would rather find was true.”
    Even though Easter is a
Christian holiday, don’t worry if you’re not Christian—there are plenty
of pretty much secular celebrations of new life as well! (Kids’ activities are at
Kaboose, a site from Disney
.) Many celebrate Easter by searching for
eggs, eating chocolates, telling tales about the Easter bunny and
holding family feasts. (Learn all about
the history of Easter and more at the History Channel’s site
.)
   
Each year since 1878, the White House has hosted an Easter Egg Roll—and
this year’s event will occur tomorrow, with the theme “Ready, Set, Go!”
in promotion of healthy habits. The Roll will feature live music,
sports, cooking stations, storytelling and more. Put a local spin on
this national event and host a Roll in your neighborhood!

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