Asalha Puja or Dharma Day is a Theravada Buddhist festival celebrated when Buddha began teaching at Sarnath near Varanasi after he obtained Enlightenment. This special day of celebration falls on the first full moon of the 8th lunar month, which usually falls in July on the Western calendar.
In 2023 Asalha Puja is on Monday, July 3.
About Asalha Puja / Dharma Day
Buddhism, the fourth largest religion in the world, is based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha, the Awakened One). After the Buddha had obtained enlightenment, he wanted to pass on his newfound knowledge. He wondered who he should teach. First, he thought of his teachers, but they had already died. Then he thought about the five companions who had been with him during the time he was trying to solve the mysteries of life, birth, and death.
He traveled to Sarnath, a town near Varanasi, India, where he had last seen them. Upon finding them, he gave what would be known as his first sermon, which is called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. One of the men, Kondanna, understood his teaching so well that he too became enlightened. The five men, along with the Buddha, established the Sangha, or monkhood so that others could receive his teachings and end their Earthly sufferings. Archaeologists believe that the giant Dhameka Stupa currently marking this spot was built on top of an earlier marker by King Ashoka.
The Buddha delivered what is known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, or the Wheel of Dharma. The Dhammacakka Sutta is the key teaching of Buddhism and is something that should be familiar to all people interested in Buddhism and mindfulness practice. The main theme involves the Four Noble Truths: suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the way to end suffering. These truths are universal truths. Throughout the world, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path remain central doctrines in Buddhism.
The main topic includes the Four Noble Truths:
- The causes of suffering;
- The end of suffering;
- A way to avoid suffering.
In the First Truth, the Buddha explained that in any existence one is bound to suffer and be subject to change, which is the normal condition of life. You cannot be with your lover forever. One day a separation will happen as you grow older, become weaker, and die.
The Second Truth covers the cause of suffering. Quite logically, the Buddha explained suffering in terms of cause and effect. Only through the destruction of the causes of existence will one be able to remove suffering.
The Third and the Fourth Truths show the way out of suffering. This will bring one to a state of perfect calm and bliss, complete freedom from all forms of suffering. One can reach this level by following the Middle Way, which consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This is the ultimate way to complete happiness.
After listening to this unforgettable sermon, Kondanna was the first to attain enlightenment. Subsequently, the four other Brahmins also reached a new level of consciousness by listening to the wisdom of the Buddha.
The Order of Sangha was thus formed, hence completing the Triple Gem, which consists of the Buddha, his teaching, and the monks who further propagate the Buddha’s teaching.
Since then, Asalha Puja Day has become one of the most important days of celebration in the Buddhist religion. For on that day the Buddha delivered his first sermon, the Buddhist religion was formally established, and the Sangha came into being to complete the Triple Gem.
Buddhist Lent (Buddhist Rains Retreat)
Dhamma Day coincides with the beginning of the monsoon season, for the three months, the monks make a retreat and do not leave the monasteries. Only in case of urgent need, they can leave the walls of their sanctuary, and before sunset, they must return. The custom for monks to spend the three months of the rainy season in a fixed place has been observed since the time of the Buddha. In those days, unnecessary travel by monks during this period could damage young seedlings planted by villagers.
They would use this time for meditation and reflection. At the end of the rainy season, they would resume traveling and passing on the Buddha’s teachings. Both Asalha Puja and Buddhist Lent Days are important occasions for Buddhists to perform merit-making and practice Dhamma for peace and happiness.
How is the day celebrated?
Asalha Puja Day commemorates the original act of delivering the first discourse at Sarnath, the act of teaching being termed “the turning of the wheel of the Dhamma,” to the five ascetics. The day is a public holiday in southern Asian countries. On this day, Buddhists will go to the temple, where they will hear a discourse on the Dhamma (observing the Five precepts or veneration of the Triple Jewel’s popular topics) and join in a candlelight procession around the temple. They also donate necessities to the monks and listen to sermons to refresh their minds.
Alcoholic beverages are not sold in stores and in most of the cafes and restaurants on this day. Refraining from drinking alcohol is considered a worthy act, not only for keeping people in good health but also in the observance of Buddhist principles. It is the day after the rainy season begins, at this time, people fertilize the fields, and the earth is gaining strength and fertility.
Suggested Read: Buddhist Festival