Dharma day marks the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching. The word Dharma can be translated as truth and is the term used for the path to enlightenment, or the Buddhist teaching.
Soon after his Enlightenment the Buddha went to find his former disciples and share his experience with them. This event could be seen as the start of the Buddhist religion and is what Dharma day celebrates.
The first teaching to the Buddha’s original five disciples is known as “The First Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma (Dharmachakra).”
In early Buddhism, the time around what has now become Dharma Day (the eighth lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar) marked the beginning of the rainy season
Losar – Tibetan New Year
The most important holiday in Tibet is Losar, which celebrates the Tibetan New Year.
It’s celebrated in February, but the exact date varies each year according to the lunar calendar.
Losar is a three-day festival. It is a time for Tibetans to visit monasteries and make offerings.
Losar is marked with activities that symbolise purification and welcoming in the new.
Buildings are whitewashed and thoroughly cleaned, people wear new clothes and special food is prepared.
This festival is also known as Fourfold Assembly or Magha Puja Day.
Sangha Day is the second most important Buddhist festival. It is a celebration in honour of the Sangha or the Buddhist community. For some Buddhists Sangha refers only to monks and nuns. It is a chance for people to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions.
Sangha Day commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks (arahants) to hear the Buddha preach at Veluvana Vihara.
At this gathering, the Buddha gave his first sermon or recitation of the Patimokkha (the rules and regulations of the monastic order).
Sangha is the term used for the Buddhist spiritual community.
The Sangha is precious in Buddhism as without those in the community to look up to or share aspirations with, the spiritual life would be very challenging.
Sangha Day is a traditional time for exchange of gifts.
Celebrations vary but can include chanting, meditation, the lighting of oil lamps, and the reaffirmation of people’s commitment to Buddhist practice.
Wesak is the most important of the Buddhist festivals and is celebrated on the full moon in May. It celebrates the Buddha’s birthday, and, for some Buddhists, also marks his enlightenment and death.
Buddha literally means ‘one who is awake’ and has become enlightened. It is a term that denotes a person who has attained the supreme wisdom and compassion of Enlightenment.
To Buddhists, Enlightenment is a blessed state in which the individual attains Nirvana – the transcendence of desire and suffering.
Many of Buddha’s disciples have attained Enlightenment, and there have been many other Enlightened teachers.
The celebration of Wesak is a chance to remember the story of how the Buddha gained Enlightenment, and to reflect on what it might mean for individual Buddhists to move towards Enlightenment themselves.
The festival is celebrated with much colour and gaiety. Homes may be cleaned and decorated. In Thailand, for example, special Wesak lanterns are made of paper and wood, and often there a large ceremonial releases of caged birds.
In many countries during the festival, Buddhists will visit their local temple for services and teaching and will give offerings to the monks of food, candles and flowers.
Chanting and praying are an important part of Wesak. The ‘Bathing the Buddha’ ceremony is also often included. Water is poured over the shoulders of the Buddha and serves as a reminder to purify the mind from greed, hatred and ignorance.
Chinese Buddhists incorporate elements of their country’s culture into their religious celebrations like the traditional dancing dragons.
Gifts are taken to an altar to be offered to the Buddha statues. This shows respect and gratitude to the Buddha for his life and teachings.
If there is food it is usually vegetarian as Buddhists try not to harm animals.
This is a Mahayana Buddhist festival that marks the death of the Buddha. It is also known as Nirvana Day.
Buddhists celebrate the death of the Buddha because they believe that having attained Enlightenment he achieved freedom from physical existence and its sufferings.
The Buddha’s death came when he was eighty years old and had spent forty years teaching after his Enlightenment. He died in a state of meditation and attained nirvana, a release from the cycle of death and rebirth.
The Parinirvana Sutta describes the Buddha’s last days, and passages from it are often read on Parinirvana Day.
Buddhists celebrate Parinirvana Day by meditating or by going to Buddhist temples or monasteries. As with other Buddhist festivals, celebrations vary throughout the world.
In monasteries, Parinirvana Day is treated as a social occasion. Food is prepared and some people bring presents such as money, household goods or clothes.
Kathina Festival – Alms Giving Ceremony
The Kathina festival, which originated 2,500 years ago, celebrates the largest alms-giving ceremony of the Buddhist year.
It occurs at the end of the Vassa, or monsoon, period, in October and November. During the Vassa period, normally nomadic Buddhist monks will have remained in one place for three months, and the Kathina celebration marks the time for them to move on. The festival also celebrates the offerings of cloth that are given to the monks upon their leaving by the lay people.
The offering can take place up to one month following the end of the Vassa period, from 19th October to 16 November, and is celebrated by Buddhists of the Theravada tradition.
According to the scriptures, a group of thirty monks were journeying together with the intention of spending the Vassa period with the Lord Buddha, but the Vassa began before they reached their destination and so they had to stop.
The monks were upset that they were unable to be with Buddha, who later heard of their plight. As a reward Buddha gave some cloth, which he had acquired as a gift from one of the lay community, to the monks and told them to sew a robe and then bestow it upon one of their company. The Buddha said that there was nothing as uplifting as generosity and sharing, and so the monks set about sewing a new set of robes. They used a frame, called a Kathina, on which to spread the cloth as they were making it.
Lay supporters now continue this tradition at the end of the Vassa. The cloth giving is a gift of the followers of Buddhism, and therefore no monk is allowed to request or organise the festival.
The cloth, according to Buddha, must be offered to the whole Sangha community, who will then decide among themselves who receives the gift.