Dhamma Day celebrates Buddhist teachers

By HEATHER HARRISON, Columbia Missourian, July 16, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC (USA) -- Friday marks the day that Theravada Buddhists celebrate Dhamma Day, also known as Asalha Puja or Asanha Puja Day. The festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month. Dhamma Day commemorates the first teaching of the Buddha.

After the Buddha attained enlightenment, or gained realization of the truth about reality, Buddha traveled throughout India from the city of Bodh Gaya to the deer park in Sarnath. Today, both Sarnath and Bodh Gaya are major sacred Buddhist sites.

Upon reaching Sarnath, the Buddha gave lessons to his five original disciples. Those lessons delivered by the Buddha are often referred to as “the first turning of the wheel of dhamma.”

Dhamma comes from the ancient Pali term Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. Dhamma is the teaching of the Buddha and includes norms of behavior and ethical rules.

At this time, the Buddha told his disciples about the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are: life is suffering, the cause of suffering is craving, suffering can be eliminated by the extinguishing of craving, and there is a way to achieve this goal.

The Buddha prescribed the Eightfold Path as the way to achieve the goal of extinguishing craving. The steps are: right understanding, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Throughout the world, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path remain central doctrines in Buddhism.

Finally, the Buddha spoke about the Middle Way. The Middle Way is an avoidance of the extremes of indulgence and asceticism. The Buddha believed the Middle Way led to knowledge, calm and self-awakening.

Dhamma Day coincides with the beginning of monsoon season, when the Buddha and his nuns and monks would suspend their wandering lifestyle for three months. The heavy rains would prevent them from journeying forward. They would use this time for meditation and reflection. At the end the rainy season, they would resume traveling and passing on the Buddha’s teachings.

Today’s celebration

Dhamma Day is a chance to express gratitude to the Buddha and other enlightened teachers. Many celebrate Dhamma Day by reading Buddhist scriptures and listening to sermons. Monks receive small gifts such as food and candles on Dhamma Day. Monasteries in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar hold three monthlong “rains retreats” shortly after Dhamma Day. The rain retreats are used as a time for study, meditation and teaching new monks.