Buddhism, that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who later became renowned as Lord Buddha, originated in India in the 6th Century BC, about 2500 years ago.
In the modern times Buddhism is considered to be one of the fastest expanding religions in the world.
Buddhism stemmed from Buddha which literally means the Enlightened One or the Awakened One. As the legends mention, although Siddhartha Gautama was a Prince, he was largely moved by the sufferings that human beings undergo in the course of their life. He then aspired and work for attaining Enlightenment or the Internal Awakening or Nirvana.
When he achieved Nirvana, he set to guide fellow human beings to the path of Nirvana. He devoted his whole life for the purpose. He established the Buddhist religion. As per the Buddhist beliefs, there is no existence of a personal God or idol. Buddhism as a religion aims at spiritual development.
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The main idea is to attain wisdom and to nurture the virtues of life. Staying in the path of truth is of vital importance as is connecting with the subconscious by means of meditation. Buddhists believe in four fundamental truths in life, and these re known as the Four Noble Truths. They are –
- The Existence of Suffering
- Suffering that is caused by Desire
- Suffering comes to an end when one can tame Desire
- There is a way that leads to Freedom from Suffering.
Now let us have a glance at the major annual Buddhist Festivals and Observances for the year 2015.
Apart from the major Buddhist holidays and festivals that are listed below, Buddhists also believe that in every lunar month they should devote a certain number of days to attain purification of the mind which may otherwise go astray due to the earthly provocations. This process of cleansing of the soul is known as Uposatha. The number of days utilized for the purpose depends on the sect of Buddhism a person follows and varies between two and six.
- Monday, January 05, 2019, Mahayana New Year – Mahayana sect of the Buddhists celebrate a traditional New Year during this time. The main part of the celebration is to pray to do away with the errors or sins that the devotees may have committed in the past albeit unknowingly. It is also the time to make resolutions in the mind to stay in the path of what is right in the future. In a nutshell it can be said that Buddhist New Year is the time to rectify oneself.
- Sunday, February 8, 2019, (Pari) Nirvana Day – This is the day when it is believed that Buddha attained Nirvana. At that time he was eighty years old. Attaining Nirvana is one of the main aims of Buddhists for it is believed that if one can attain Nirvana then one can overcome the cycle of death and subsequent rebirth. The Buddhists believe that Nirvana is attained only when sufferings are gone. Buddhists believe in impermanence. They believe that what cannot be avoided should be accepted without an iota of hesitation or gloom. Buddhist principles establish that change is the only constant factor in life. As such this day is a one when Buddhists celebrate. It is common to recite passages from Buddha’s life during the last few days that are written in Nirvana Sutra. People also often think about death – their own, or that of dear ones. The custom also includes visiting monasteries, temples and to pray and join in a community meal. People also reflect upon how they can improve their life to attain Nirvana so that they can break the cycle of rebirth after death.
- Sunday, February 15, 2019, (Pari) Nirvana Day – Some sects of Buddhists observe this day to be the one when Buddha attained Nirvana instead of the one mentioned above which is observed by the other sects. The basic principles and observances are similar though.
- Thursday, March 06, 2019, Magha Puja Day – Buddhists celebrate this day when 1250enlightened sages came to Buddha on their own to pay him their tribute. It is believed that Lord Buddha preached a sermon before them where he reflected on what is good and what is evil. This is the day to pay tribute to the monastic group or Sangha or in a larger perspective a community. As such this day is also known as Fourfold Assembly or Sangha Day. This is observed on the full moon day of the third month of the lunar calendar.
- Monday, April 13, 2019, Songkran – This is a festive period and is celebrated by the Buddhists with full pomp and gaiety. The celebrations in fact often continue for a couple of days. This is the time when people give their homes a thorough spring cleaning. Homes are cleansed and aired, linens are washed, and clothes too are cleansed. Customs related to Songkran often include spraying fragrant water on one another and also on the monks, and setting captivated fishes free in a nearby water body.
- Sunday, May 11, 2019, The Ploughing Festival – This day centers on a life event of Lord Buddha. It is believed that at the age of seven Buddha had gone to the fields with his father to watch ploughing. It is then that he was blessed with the first enlightenment of his life. This day is commemorated in the Ploughing Festical where people make two white oxen pull a gold painted plough. Girls follow them dressing up in white and throwing rice seeds from a basket in their hands.
- Monday, June 01, 2019, Vesak Buddha Day – This is the day when Buddhists celebrate to commemorate the three very significant life events of Gautama Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion, namely, his birth, his enlightenment and his death. This day is considered to be of utmost importance by the Buddhists. This day is celebrated on the first full moon day of the lunar month of Vaishakh that also goes by the name of Vesak (in Pali). The name of the event has been coined in keeping with the name of the month in which this is celebrated.
- Saturday, April 05, 2019, Theravada New Year – This is the day when the Theravada sect of Buddhists observes their new year. This day falls on a full moon day.
- Thursday, July 02, 2019, Asala-Dharma Day – This day commemorates the preaching of Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta which literally translated means “When the Wheel of Dharma is Set to Motion”. It is believed to be the day when Lord Buddha imparted his first teaching. This event happened at the Sarnath Deer Park where Buddha imparted wisdom to five monks. Among them Kondanna, the senior most monk, is believed to attain Sotapanna or the first level of enlightenment on this day too. This day is observed on the full moon day of the eight lunar month.
- Friday, August 28, 2019, Ulambana – Also known as the Day of Ancestors or the Ancestors’ Day this is the day when people pay tribute to their Ancestors as is evident from the name itself. This celebration is a fortnight long celebration that takes place during the first fifteen days of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Buddhists believe that during these fifteen days the Gates of Hell open, and the souls can descend upon the earth. As such, people make offerings dedicated to the departed souls praying so that their sufferings come to an end. It is often a common custom to visit cemeteries of ancestors to pay homage.
- Saturday, September 12, 2019, Abhidhamma Day – On this day it is believed that Lord Buddha ascended to Heaven where he then taught his Mother a part of Buddhist scripture known as “Abhidhamma”.
- Tuesday, October 27, 2019, Thod Kathina or Thord Gathin or Kathina Ceremony – In the Buddhist tradition, Sangha or the community is a very important aspect. Monks and sages too are much revered by the Buddhists for their contribution to impart knowledge and wisdom. On this day people honor the monks and pay respect and homage to them. This day also marks the end of the Lent period for the Buddhists. The Lent period actually coincides with the months of monsoon. During this Lent period the monks are forbidden from travelling. The legend goes that Lord Buddha was travelling along with thirty other monks to their Rain Retreat. However, before they could reach their destination the monsoons hit. This concerned Lord Buddha for he feared that they may harm the crops or insects unknowingly. So they stopped their travel. It is also believed that Buddha gave from his clothes some material to the monks to make new robes. As such it is a common custom on this day to gift new robes or clothes to the monks. Special prayers are organized for the occasion. People also make donations to religious and charitable purposes. Gifts are also offered to the monks.
- Sunday, November 8, 2019, Loy Krathong – This is the day when people attempt to send off all the bad luck and welcome good fortune to their life. Literally translated, the word “Loy” implies “to float” while the world “Krathong” implies a basket that is made of banana stem and leaves. The festival derives its name from the custom where people decorate such baskets with flowers and then light a candle and three incense sticks and then floats the baskets in a local water body during the evening. People often make a wish while floating the Krathong. People believe that if the candle is still burning as long as the basket can be viewed then the wish made would be granted by Heaven.
- Tuesday, December 8, 2019, Bodhi Day – This is the day when Buddhists believe that Gautama Buddha was blessed with enlightenment. Bodhi is a Pali word which literally translated means Enlightenment. This day is observed by reading Buddhist scriptures, remembering Buddha’s teachings, attending special prayers and by being kind to each other and other fellow beings. The Peepal Tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment came to be known as The Bodhi Tree.