MONDAY, JULY 26, and throughout this week, Theravada Buddhists especially in Thailand are recalling the Buddha’s first sermon at Deer Park, an observance known as Asalha Puja, and traditionally monks prepare for a lengthy retreat, timed to coincide with the rainy season. Of course, headlines from Thailand continue to reflect the political tensions and fear of deadly violence that have dominated life in that Asian country this spring. (Here’s a Christian Science Monitor update. And, the Washington Post carries an AP story about the aftermath of a bomb blast.)
Traditional observance of this period by Buddhists includes donating offerings to temples, listening to sermons and bidding good wishes to retreat travelers. (This Buddhist tourism site has more.)
According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha achieved enlightenment but was initially hesitant to teach; eventually, he preached his first discourse at Deer Park. Buddhists believe that this first public teaching is especially significant because it contained the essence of all teachings that followed. At Deer Park, Buddha “set into motion the wheel of dhamma” by announcing the four noble truths: all life is suffering; suffering is caused by craving, or attachment; there is a state beyond suffering and craving; and the way to freedom from suffering is an eightfold path. (Get details at the London Grid For Learning.) This was the pivotal day when Buddha took his first disciple and many mark the event as the emergence of Buddhism as a world religion.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)