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 Cover story: 10 May 06 / Vol. 23 No. 3
 Thailand's Important
        Buddhist Days
                                                               By Ubasika

A 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.

1 Maghapuja Day
Maghapuja means "worship on the full-moon day of the 3rd lunar month in commemoration of the Great Assembly of Disciples".

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.

Buddhist Activities: 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 Day

A mural of Chaiyathit Temple, Bangkok, describes
the scene of the Lord Buddha preaching
to his father and relatives in the
city of Kapilavastu.

3 Asalhapuja Day
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 order.

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.

The 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 as useless.

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.

Buddhists presenting
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 Day

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 Thewo Day
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.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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