FRIDAY, JULY 15: A nationwide alcohol ban in Thailand signals the beginning of Asalha Puja Day, one of the most important festivals for Theravada Buddhists. (Read more on the ban at CNN Go.) Today, devotees reflect on the four noble truths presented by Buddha: life means suffering; the origin of suffering is attachment; cessation of suffering is achievable and the cessation of suffering possible by following the eightfold path. (Wikipedia has details.) It was only two months after reaching Enlightenment that Buddha, after great encouragement his friends, preached his first teaching. On the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, Buddha delivered his discourse at Deer Park in Benares. Following the discourse, Buddha’s first order of monks was ordinated.
Aside from a day marked with donations to temples and reflections, Asalha Puja Day marks the first day of the three-month rains retreat. During the rainy season, Buddha and his followers would temporarily discontinue their travels, and such practices continue in many Buddhist monasteries today. A government holiday in Thailand, Asalha Puja also begins a three-month period for “short-term monks” who devote themselves during the duration of the rains retreat. (This year, awareness is being raised through “Buddhism Promotion Week.” Read an article here.)