Thursday, May 31, 2007

A short introduction to the holy event of Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa (Tibetan) or Vesak (Pali) is one of the most significant Dharma events observed worldwide by the entire Buddhist community. Three of the most important events in Buddha’s life took place on the full moon day of that month.

As it is generally known Buddha performed three important deeds on that day, namely his birth, enlightenment and passing into Parinirvana. To be more precise, there exist slightly different view points concerning the dates. However, according to the scriptures it is not the day of Buddha’s conventional birth or delivery but his entering the womb of the mother – in other words the day of his conception. According to Buddhism the first coming into contact of the consciousness of a being with the cells of the parents in the womb of the mother is considered to be the actual birth, the very starting point of this life or rebirth. In the same way Buddha’s entering the womb of Queen Mahamaya of the Shakya Royal Family on the full moon day of the Vesak month is regarded as Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth. Buddha’s conventional birth in Lumbini Grove took place on the 15th day of the month of Magha (Sanskrit) or Chu Dawa (Tibetan).

At the age of 35 Buddha showed his attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Vajraasana or Bodhgaya and at the age of 80 he performed his last deed of entering into Parinirvana in Kushinagar, both events also taking place on that same day. Therefore this month is regarded as the holiest time of the year. It is also known as bum gyur dawa in Tibetan, meaning “the month which multiplies by 100’000.” Whatever wholesome or unwholesome action is performed during this month has a 100’000 times stronger effect than at other times.

In countries where the holy Dharma flourishes, this event is celebrated with great importance. In Tibet for instance most people used to engage for the entire month in particularly intensive wholesome actions such as making prostrations, circumambulations, and offerings to the Buddhas, giving alms to the poor, fasting and reciting prayers, abandoning negative actions, feeding animals and saving their lives, observing vegetarian diet etc.

In other Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka the temples, towns and villages are beautifully decorated with colorful dazzling garlands of light in the midst of which the stories of Buddha’s life are portrayed. On the full moon day of this month holy representations of Buddha such as the relics are carried in a long procession on magnificently ornamented elephants and chariots together with offerings, music and dance performances. The venerable monks engage in intensive practices of prayer and rituals and the lay devotees also engage in various Dharma activities such as veneration of the representations of the Buddha as well as the Sangha, taking vows etc.

In the Indian tradition this month is called Vaishakha, a Sanskrit word which in Pali changed into Vesaka, which is how it is commonly known. Internationally it was set to be celebrated in May.

In many countries including India the full moon day of this month is also an official holiday called Budhpoornima or Buddha’s full moon. In Tibet and Mongolia the fourth month of the lunar year is considered as Vaishakha month and celebrated then.

A short introduction to the holy event of Saga Dawa or Vesak

Once in a while, due to the discrepancy between lunar and solar year, the dates for the celebration of Saga Dawa or Vesak can differ as much as one month which is the case this year. So in the Tibetan and Mongolian tradition it is celebrated one month later in June.

Considering the extraordinary effect, if everybody could use this time for the purpose of enhancing the strength and power of the wholesome thoughts and actions instead of multiplying one’s unwholesome deeds, it would be extremely advantageous.

It is also the best occasion to make this precious human existence and having encountered the teaching of the Buddha worthwhile and meaningful.