Magha Puja – The Fourfold Festival of Buddhists
Magha puja (Makha Bucha Day) is the second most important Buddhist festival. It falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month (February / March). The day commemorates the occasion about 2,500 years ago when 1250 enlightened personal disciples of the Buddha came spontaneously to the Bamboo Grove on the full moon of Magha. At a second similar gathering which was held 45 years later, Buddha predicted his death and recited a summary of his teachings and a code of discipline which all monks are expected to recite every fortnight.
The date varies every year on the Gregorian calendar and in 2023 it will be celebrated on March 6 in India.
Magha is the third month in the traditional Indian lunar calendar, on which the celebration is held. It is also the name of the star, which during this period is close to the full moon. In a leap year, the celebration will be postponed to the full moon day of the fourth lunar month.
The traditional story goes that a meeting was held in the afternoon, that had four characteristics, known as the :
1. 1250 Bhikkhus came together without any prior notification
2. They were all Arahants who had 6 Abhinnas
3. They were all ordained by the Buddha with the words ‘Hey Bhikkhu’
4. The Buddha preached Ovadapatimokkha
These four characteristics of Magh Puja also give it the name Fourfold Assembly Day. On this occasion, the Buddha taught those arahants a summary of Buddhism, called the Ovadapatimokkha. During the Magha Puja, the Buddha gave his teachings to the arahants. The occurrence of Magha Puja always happens in the life of every Buddha. Every Buddha gives exactly the same teachings during Magha Puja. A teaching known as Ovadhapatimokha.
The teachings of the Buddhas during Magha Puja are actually simple but they are the essence of the teaching. Moral practice or precepts so as not to do evil as well as active to do good. Purify the heart and mind through meditation, a very special teaching of the Buddhas. Meditation that aims not only to calm the mind or gain supernatural powers, but far from that is to purify the heart and mind.
Purity is the only way to be free from the cycle of suffering that results from repeated births and deaths. Buddhism does not know eternal Heaven and Hell. Heaven and Hell are realms that are also impermanent. Beings can be reborn in hell and heaven. Beings can also die from the hell and heaven realms to be reborn in one of the 31 realms of existence.
Being born as a human and getting to know the Buddha Dhamma is very difficult. Being born as a human and being able to practice the Buddha Dhamma is the highest auspiciousness of human life because that is the highest opportunity one has to be able to break the chain of suffering due to rebirth. The opportunity exists now and in this life. It is not enough just to do good but to purify the heart and mind.
The Buddhist ideology is the ultimate objective of every Buddhist. As outlined in the Lord Buddha’s sermon, Buddhist ideology comprises the following:
1. We should be patient in order to reach our achievement. As our life may be burdened by suffering, we should be patient. Furthermore, patience toward sensual desire can prevent us from sensual indulgence.
2. All the Lord Buddhas have taught that Nirvana is the state of supreme bliss.
3. Monks who kill or harm other living beings do not deserve to be monks.
Subsequently the Lord Buddha suggested the following moral standards:
1. Abstaining from misdeeds because the Law of Karma still controls us. If we break precepts or commit bad deeds, karmic retribution will return to us either in this lifetime or during a future lifetime.
2. Doing only good deeds. When the karma from good deeds bears fruit, our life will be joyful, prosperous and successful.
3. Purifying our mind by practicing meditation. This is the only way that we are able to attain true happiness and Nirvana.
Finally, he recommended the conducts which his disciples should obey.
1. The propagation of Buddhism should be made without insulting or making slanderous allegations against each other.
2. The propagation of Buddhism should be made without assaulting or harming each other.
3. Buddhists should observe the precepts. In particular, Buddhist monks must observe all 227 precepts.
4. One should be content in consuming food.
5. One should live in a tranquil place which is suitable for meditation practice.
6. One should always practice mindfulness even when standing, walking, sitting, or sleeping.
How the day is observed
The spiritual aims of the day are: not to commit any kind of sins, do only good, purify one’s mind. The day is observed with meditation, chanting and listening to sermons. Buddhist visit temples and make offerings of incense, candle and flowers. They circle the main hall 3 times with holding candles and burning incense to represent the 3 jewels of Buddhism. The Buddha, The Sangha and the Dharma.
Buddhist clean their house much before the day arrives. The observe the five Buddhist values. Meditate using the five precepts and five Buddhist values. It is also a time for exchange of gifts and lighting of oil lamps.
Magh puja is celebrated in all Southeast Asian countries, every country have its own way of celebration. Thailand celebrates it extensively where the day is designated as a national holiday.
Suggested Read: Gautam Buddha’s Life And Teaching