Dharma Day Celebrates the Beginning of Buddhism
Tuesday 19 July 2016, by
On Dharma Day Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s first sermon.
One of the most important festivities for Buddhists around the world is Asalha Puja. Asalha Puja, otherwise known as Dharma Day, commemorates the day when Buddha made his first sermon or religious teachings after his enlightenment. Since the core teachings of Buddha were made on that day and it resulted to the eventual spread of the religion, Asalha Puja also marks the establishment of Buddhism. The festivity falls on the full moon of the eight month of the lunar calendar (Asalha). This year, Dharma Day will be observed on July 19.
Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was a wealthy prince during his lifetime. But after seeing and experiencing the realities of the world outside his palace, he decided to abandon his position and wealth and chose to live an ascetic life. After years of overcoming trials and temptations, Gautama eventually achieved enlightenment on his own.
Buddha’s friend and Brahma King Sahambodi convinced him to give a sermon because most beings still have impure knowledge or “dirt” in their eyes. But Buddha was concerned that his deep understanding brought about by his enlightenment may be hard for people to understand. In the end, such hesitation was replaced by compassion and that desire to share the path to happiness and enlightenment to others.
From Gaya, Buddha traveled 150 miles to a forest at Beneras (Baranasi) to give a sermon to the five ascetics who were also his companions during his Bodhisatva years. At first, the five ascetics agreed not to welcome Buddha because they perceived him as greedy and arrogant. But after the Buddha arrived, everything changed and they submitted to his teachings. One of the ascetics, Anna Kondanna Bhukku achieved enlightenment right after Buddha’s sermon making him the very first Stream-Winner. The four others also achieved enlightenment afterwards.
The first sermon delivered by Buddha was described as “setting into motion the wheel of dharma.” This became the core of Buddha and Buddhist teachings throughout history. In his first sermon, Buddha discussed the four noble truths: that suffering exists; that suffering is caused by craving; that there is an end to suffering; and that way to end suffering and path to nirvana is the noble eightfold path.
As mentioned above, Dharma Day marks the beginning of the Buddhist religion. It also marks the completion of the Triple Gem or jewels of Buddhism namely: Buddha himself, Dharma or Buddha’s teachings, and the Sangha or Monks. It is during this day that Buddha found his first disciple and monk Kondanna. Right after his sermon, Buddha performed a basic ordination ritual giving rise to what we now call the order of monks. Buddha’s son Rahula was said to have been born during the Asalha Puja. And for monks, the festivity marks the beginning of their retreat as mandated by Buddha.
On Dharma Day, Buddhists visit temples to pray, meditate, and listen to sermons. It’s the time of the year when Buddhists reflect and try to focus on practicing Dharma. People make offerings to Temples. And for monks, it’s the start of the three months of mandatory retreat.