Asalha Puja Day: Buddhists celebrate first sermon, four truths and Triple Gem

Monk in orange wrap sits on ledge overlooking scenic valleys; monk's eyes are closed in meditation

A Buddhist meditates. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JULY 11 and SATURDAY, JULY 12 and SUNDAY, JULY 13: A monumental event in Buddhist history is celebrated today, on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month. (Specific date varies by region and country.) Theravada Buddhists, in particular, hold a grand festival known as Asalha Puja or Dharma Day, in memory of Buddha’s first sermon following enlightenment.

Buddha delivered his first discourse on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, in Deer Park: calculations configure that Buddha reached enlightenment in the sixth lunar month, embarked on a two-month journey, and launched his first discourse in the eighth lunar month. More prominently, the first discourse unofficially established the religion that would become Buddhism. The lessons relayed to a small group of followers were the first structured teachings given after Buddha’s enlightenment, forming the core of all his discourses to come. (Learn more from Buddha Mind.) In this teaching, Buddha unveiled the four noble truths and the Triple Gem—that is, the Buddha, his teachings and his disciples. This crucial sermon is referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of the dharma.”

THE FIRST SERMON:
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

What, exactly, was taught at Buddha’s first discourse? Primarily, the four noble truths: there is suffering (dukka); suffering is caused by craving (tanha); there is a state (nirvana) beyond suffering and craving; and the way to nirvana is via the eightfold path. Today, almost every Buddhist centers his or her practices and meditations around these four noble truths. Celebrants often recognize Asalha Puja with donations and offerings to monks and temples; the monks lead chants, candlelit processions and meditations. (Wikipedia has details.)

Following the Buddha’s sermon in Deer Park, one of the attendees professed an understanding of the truths and asked to be made a disciple. Buddha accepted the man as a disciple, and performed a simple ordination that made him the first Buddhist monk.

THE RAINS RETREAT
AND BUDDHIST “LENT”

Following the festivities of Asalha Puja, the Asian monsoon season begins, and Buddhist monks and nuns begin the three-month rains retreat. For three months, while the countryside flourishes and rains feed fledgling plants and insects, monks and nuns refrain from unnecessary travel, for fear of stepping on and accidentally killing the new life. The season of rain has since become associated with self-restraint, and is sometimes referred to as “Buddhist Lent”.

NEWS: THAILAND WELCOMES TOURISTS,
OFFICIALS PROMOTE THAI-CAMBODIAN FRIENDSHIP

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is actively welcoming visitors to several traditional sites and festivals, among them, the famed Lat Chado Market, which sees throngs of tourists on Asalha Puja Day. (Read more from eTN Global Travel Industry News.)  Meanwhile, officials are seeking to strengthen the Buddhist relationship between Thailand and Cambodia with a joint Sangha and Buddhist Lent Week. (National News Bureau of Thailand has the story.) The prominent Candle Festival Parade, held July 9-12, is expected to draw monks from 87 Thai-Cambodian temples.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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