May 06 / Vol.
23 No. 3
mural at Buddhaisawan Chapel, Bangkok, depicts the
Lord Buddha, accompanied by celestial beings, descending
from the havens.
Buddhism was first
introduced to Suvarnabhumi, an ancient kingdom believed to
occupy approximately the same area as, and prior to, Siam
(former Thailand), by two Buddhist monks: Sona Thera and Uttara
Thera dispatched by King Asoka the Great of India (B.C.259-222).
Since then, Buddhism has been firmly established in this region.
In Thailand nowadays, Buddhism has the largest number of followers.
In history, Thai kings have always shown a strong faith in
Buddhism by entering the monkhood and supporting Buddhism.
It is also obvious that Thai Buddhists' ways of life get involved
with Buddhist activities from birth to death. This explains
why Thais observe several Buddhist important days. In this
issue, Thaiways presents to you brief explanations of Thailand's
six important Buddhist holy days which are fixed in accordance
with the Thai lunar calendar.
Maghapuja means "worship on the full-moon day of the
3rd lunar month in commemoration of the Great Assembly of
According to Buddhist scriptures, nine months after Siddhartha
Gautama attained enlightenment, on the full-moon day of the
third lunar month corresponding to the zodiacal sign of Capricornus,
in the year 44 before the Buddhist Era, or 587 B.C., a total
of 1,250 disciples of the Buddha from various places spontaneously
assembled at Wat Veluvan in Magadha to pay respect to their
Teacher. This meeting is considered very significant in Buddhist
history because first, it was done without previous appointment
and was therefore a miracle, and secondly, all the disciples
had been ordained by the Buddha himself and had attained sainthood
and become Arahants.
Presenting food to monks is mainly done
to make merit on all Buddhist important days.
At this historic
meeting, the Buddha delivered an important sermon embodying
the fundamental principles and ideals of his teaching and
ways of practice applicable to all communities. These may
be summed up in three points: Abstain from all evils, do only
good, and keep one's mind pure.
Since Maghapuja Day regularly falls on the day near St. Valentine's
Day, there has been an attempt to familiarise Thais to hold
Maghapuja Day as the day of love instead of St. Valentine's
Day which is of Christian significance.
In the morning Buddhists bring food to a nearby temple to
offer to monks, then listen to a sermon. Some laypeople will
observe the Eight Precepts (which are 1. to abstain from taking
life, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, 3. to abstain
from unchastity, 4. to abstain from false speech, 5. to abstain
from intoxicants causing heedlessness, 6. to abstain from
untimely eating, 7. to abstain from dancing, singing, music
and unseemly shows, from wearing garlands, smartening with
scents, and embellishment with unguents, 8. to abstain from
the use of high and large luxurious couches) and stay overnight
at the temple. And late in the evening, people join the ceremony
of evening walk round a temple.
2 Visakhapuja Day
Visakhapuja means "worship on the full-moon day of the
6th lunar month". And this is done to commemorate the
Birth, Enlightenment and passing of the Buddha on that day.
A mural of Chaiyathit Temple depicts
the scene of the Lord Buddha's birth.
It is a very rare
coincidence that all the three important events in the Buddha's
life should have occurred on the same day in different years.
But according to Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha was born
on the full-moon day of the 6th lunar month of the year 623
B.C., attained enlightenment on the full-moon day of the 6th
lunar month of 588 B.C., and passed into nirvana on the full-moon
day of the 6th lunar month of 543 B.C.
A mural at Phuttha Prathip Temple,
London, depicts the Buddha entering nirvana.
With such a significance,
on December 15,1999, Visakhapuja Day was declared by the United
Nations to be one of the world's important days.
Buddhist Activities: The same as those of Maghapuja
A mural of Chaiyathit Temple, Bangkok, describes
the scene of the Lord Buddha preaching
to his father and relatives in the
city of Kapilavastu.
Asalhapuja means "worship on the full-moon day of the
8th lunar month." It is the anniversary of the First
Sermon given by the Buddha after his enlightenment, the ordination
of his first disciples and thus the foundation of the Buddhist
According to Buddhist scriptures, after his attainment of
enlightenment, the Buddha stayed under the bo tree for seven
weeks, during which he pondered over how to spread his newly
acquired knowledge to the world so as to save mankind from
the endless suffering. He first thought of the two instructors
who once taught meditation to him but figured out that both
had passed away.
next persons coming to his mind were the group of five ascetics
-- Kondanna, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assaji --who once
joined him in seeking enlightenment through the practice of
austerities but who later deserted him when he gave up the practice
The evening walk round a temple is
an activity done on Buddhist important days.
On the full-moon day of the eight lunar
month, the Buddha gave his First Sermon to the five. He first
preached the Middle Way. He emphasised that a religious man
should refrain from two extremes and that he should neither
indulge in sensual pleasures nor deny himself of every material
thing, but should follow the middle path, i.e. the Noble Eightfold
Path that leads to the cessation of suffering.
saffron robes to monks.
The eight constituents of the path are:
Right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right
livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
The Buddha went on to teach them the Four
Noble Truths -- suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation
of suffering, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.
A mural at Thong Thammachat Temple depicts
the scene when the Lord Buddha gave his
First Sermon to a group of five asceties.
After listening to the sermon, Kondanna
gained the eye of wisdom, through which he saw that anything
that came into being in a natural way would pass in a natural
way. The Buddha then realised that Kondanna had attained the
first stage of holiness. At his request, Kondanna was ordained
as a monk, being the first Buddhist monk ordained by the Buddha
himself. With his ordination, the Buddhist order that consists
of the Triple Gem -- the Buddha, his teaching (dhamma) and
his disciples (sangha) -- was founded.
Buddhist Activities: The same as those of Maghapuja
4 Rains-Retreat Entry Day
Rains-Retreat Entry Day or Wan Khao Phansa in Thai is a very
old tradition for Buddhist monks to stay in their monasteries
during the rainy season. It has been observed since the Buddha's
times. In fact, it was the Buddha himself who commanded that
all monks should remain in their own abodes throughout this
three-month period, which is called "Rains-Retreat"
or "Rains Residence". This was done to avoid the
damage caused to farmers' crops while Buddhist monks roaming
in the country.
A procession of huge candles held
on the Rains-Retreat Entry Day.
In Thailand, the three-month Rains Retreat
lasts from the 1st waning moon of the 8th lunar month, until
the full-moon day of the 11th lunar month. When there are
two 8th months in an intercalary year, the Rains Retreat will
begin on the day after the full moon of the second 8th month.
Today, the observance of Rains-Retreat
Entry Day is marked by two traditional events -- the procession
of huge candles to temples and the presentation of saffron
robes to monks.
Buddhist Activities: Buddhists usually make merit
by offering foods to monks, listening to sermons, presenting
candles and saffron robes to monks.
5 Retreat-Ending Day
Retreat Ending Day, or Wan Ok Phansa in Thai, is the last
day of the 3-month Rains Retreat which falls on the full-moon
day of the 11th lunar month. After the end of such a retreat,
the monks are allowed to travel elsewhere and stay at places
outside their monasteries. But on the last day of the retreat
there is an important function for the monks called pavarana,
which gives special significance to the day.
At a pavarana ceremony, the attending monks invite
one another to speak of any offences or unbecoming behaviour
they have seen, heard or suspected to have been committed
by anyone among them during the retreat.
Buddhist Activities: Offering foods to monks, listening
to sermons, praying and observing the Buddhist Precepts
A mural at Thong Thammachat Temple, Bangkok,
in which the Lord Buddha is shown coming
down from heaven after visiting his mother.
6 Tak Bat
This Buddhist commemoration day relates to the Rains Retreat.
According to the the Buddhist Scriptures, the Buddha, after
attaining enlightenment, ascended to Tavatimsa, the second
level of heaven, to spend a 3-month period preaching his doctrine
to his mother.
On the 1st waning moon of the 11th lunar month, i.e. one day
after the conclusion of the Rains Retreat period, the Buddha
descended from heaven. Large crowds of followers came to offer
food to the Buddha. Since then it has become a tradition for
the Buddhists to hold special ceremonies to offer food to
Buddhist monks on this day.
Buddhist Activities: Offering foods to monks,
listening to sermons, praying and observing the Buddhist Precepts.
A festival dessert cooked only on this occasion is steamed
sticky rice wrapped with young coconut leaf called khao
tom luk yon.