Wednesday, February 24, 2016


   While most in the United States gets ready for Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December, there are many different holidays associated with the Buddhist religion, which are especially observed in Southeast, Central and East Asian countries.  Each year, throughout the world, various celebrations and festivals are held, often using the lunar calendar for exact dates.  It is not uncommon to find differing dates and traditions in regards to different countries.

   Most of the holidays pertaining to the Buddhist culture often pay homage to the life of the Buddha, as well as various Bodhisattvas.  For those of you who don't know, a Bodhisattva is a future Buddha, who has put off their attainment of nirvana (no more suffering) on hold so that they may assist others in freeing themselves from a life full of distress.  It is the goal of those following Mahayana Buddhism to become a bodhisattva, in Sanskrit, the term stands for "one whose essence is wisdom".


   A typical day of celebration usually starts with paying a visit to the local temple.  This is when food offerings are made, as well as other items, which are given to the monks.  Then, followers will often listen and engage in a series of teachings, truths or religious conversation.  Afternoon celebrations include a variety of actions, such as giving food to the poor.  This is done in hopes of earning merit during this time of respect and observance.  Some followers will walk around the temple three times, which is significant in honoring the Three Jewels (or Gem).  The Three Jewels are the Buddha, who symbolizes attainable goals, the Dharma, which are the teachings that lead followers closer to their goals, and the Sangha, which represents monks and nuns.


   Chanting and meditation is also common during times of celebration.  Popular among monks and other followers, the Pali chant associated with the Triple Jewels, called the Vandana Ti-sarna, may be recited:
"Buddham Sharanam Gacchami" (I go for refuge in the Budda)
"Dhammam Sharanm Gacchami" (I go for refuge in the Dharma)
"Sangham Sharanam Gacchami" (I go for refuge in the Sangha)

Important Buddhist Holidays, Ceremonies and Festivals include:

Buddhist New Year-The Buddhist New Year is observed on various days, depending on specific Buddhist sects, as well as where in the world you are located.  For example, if you are in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka or Thailand, the new year is celebrated three days following the first full moon within the month of April.  These countries follow the Theravadin Buddhist belief system, which represents the oldest surviving Buddhist philosophy.  Tibetan Buddhists usually celebrate the new year in March, whereas, Mayayana Buddhists observe the new year on the day of the first full moon in January.


Festival of Floating Bowls (Loy Krathong): This particular festival is observed in Thailand, when waters fill the local rivers and canals.  By the end of the Kathina Festival season, this observance can be enjoyed on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month.  Flowers, incense sticks and candles are placed in bowls made from leaves and brought to the canals and rivers to be set afloat.  It is said that all of your bad luck will escape you when following this tradition.  The history behind this practice can be traced to the commemoration of the holy footprint of the Buddha, which was found on the Namada River Beach in India.


Ancestor Day (Ulambana): For Buddhists residing in Mahayana countries, there is a belief that the gates of hell open on the first day of the 8th lunar month, allowing ghosts to wander about the world for a total of 15 days.  At this time, it is common to see Buddhists offer food to the ghosts, in hopes of easing their suffering.  When the 15th day is reached, Ulambana or Ancestor Day is observed.  This is when people visit cemeteries so that they may leave offerings for their ancestors.  This festival is also observed in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, where the Thereavadin belief system is followed.  Japanese Buddhists hold a similar holiday, which is also referred to as Obon.  This holiday starts on July 13th and is observed for 3 days, which is meant to recognize the time that ancestors are reunited with the living.

Vesak (Buddha Day): Serving as one of the most important festivals in Buddhist culture, Vesak is observed on the day of the first full moon in may.  This is when all Buddhists pay their respects to the birth, enlightenment, as well as death of the Buddha.

Dhamma Day (know as Asalha Puja Day): On the day of the full moon in July, Buddhists celebrate the Buddha's first sermon, which is often referred to as the "turning of the wheel of the Dharma".

Observance Day (Uposatha or in Sri Lanka, Poya Day): This particular holiday deals with the observance of the four traditional days, which involves Buddhists thriving in Theravada countries.  These holy days are celebrated on the new moon, full moon, as well as quarter moon days.


   Kathina Ceremony (Robe Offering Ceremony): Considered a floating holiday, this ceremony can be accomplished on any given day within one month of the end of the 3-month rains retreat season (also known as Vassa).  This is when non-clergy members present new robes and other items to the monks and nuns.

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