Asalha Puja Day

The history, importance and customs of Asalha Puja Day

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[ Jul 22nd, 2013 ] - [ read : 17082 ]
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Asalha Puja Day
History, Importance and Customs

The Lord Buddha gave the first sermon on Asalha Puja Day
Asalha Puja, the full moon night of the 8th lunar month, this year falling on Jul 30, marks the day the Buddha delivered his first sermon on the Four Noble Truths - that suffering exists, craving is its cause, the path out exists, and what that entails (Noble Eightfold Path). Buddhist Lent, beginning a day after, on Jul 31, is a 3 month period where seekers of the spiritual path engage in more intensive spiritual training, whether that be to meditate, to increase one's hours of practice, or to abstain from intoxicants, etc...I invite you to embark on this rewarding 3-month long journey towards self-development and the cultivation of inner peace by engaging in daily meditative practice.

Asalha Puja Day is another important day in Buddhism.  It falls on the 15th waxing moon day of the 8th lunar month.  Four events took place during the times of our Lord Buddha as follows.
1.    It was the day of our Lord Buddha’s first sermon to the five ascetics in the forest of Isipatanamarugadivan near Benares.
2.    It was the day of our Lord Buddha’s first disciple.  His name was Kondañña, he became enlightened as the first Stream-Winner.

The First Buddhist Monk was Añña Kondañña Bhukkhu

3.    It was the day of the first Buddhist monk.  The monk was Kondañña.  After he had become a Stream-Winner, he requested an ordination.  Our Lord Buddha ordained him as the first monk in Buddhism.
4.    It is the birth date of the Triple Gem, which includes the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha or monks.  The first witness to the Buddha’s Enlightenment had occurred.  This completed the Lord Buddha’s Buddhahood.  It meant that the Buddha did not attain Enlightenment and kept the Knowledge to Himself like a Silent Buddha.

Asalha Puja Day was happened after the Lord Buddha had enlightened for 7 weeks

Asalha Puja Day had its beginning as described below.  After the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment, He spent of a period of 7 weeks immersed in the Bliss of Emancipation.  After this blissful period, He was concerned that His enlightened knowledge was so deep that it would be difficult for beings thick with defilements to follow.  The Brahma King, Sahambodi, knew of the Buddha’s concern and requested Him to give a sermon because there were still beings with less dirt in their eyes. 

The Brahma King, Sahambodi, requested the Lord Buddha to give a sermon

With His great compassion, the Lord Buddha employed the Buddha-Vision to check all the beings that were still trapped in the Three Worlds.  He saw that there were beings of low defilements, and some still thick with them.  There were some whose merit was vast and others were still small.  Some were easy to teach, others were not.  Like the lotus plants that grew in water.  Some grew in deep water, some were near the surface, and some were almost out of the water.  Some were not ready to bloom, some were ready just like beings that could be taught.  The Lord Buddha finally agreed to the Brahma King’s request. 

After the Brahma King departed, the Lord Buddha began to consider to whom He should give the first sermon.  Who could penetrate the Dhamma readily?  He considered the ascetics Alara and Udaka who were brilliant and their defilements had been kept very low for a long while.  They would be able to penetrate the Dhamma quickly once they heard His sermon. 

The Lord Buddha considered to whom He should give the first sermon.  However, Alara and Udaka already passed away.

One celestial being knew of the Lord Buddha’s intention, he descended from his celestial castle to inform the Lord Buddha that both ascetics had already dead.  The Lord Buddha checked and found out that both ascetics had indeed dead.  He thought, it was indeed their great misfortune because if they could only hear the Dhamma, they would penetrate it immediately.  Afterward, He considered the 5 ascetics who were once very good to Him.  They had attended to Him while he was still a Bodhisattva.  Therefore, He went to see them at the forest. 

The Lord Buddha considered the 5 ascetics who were once very good to Him

When the ascetics spotted the Lord Buddha from afar, they agreed with one another, “Fellows, this monk Gautama is greedy.  He has stopped practicing self–mortification and is coming here because of greed.  Here he comes, we will not pay him respect, we will not get up to greet him, we will not take his alms–bowl and his robe for him, we will only prepare a cushioned seat just in case he wants to sit down.”

Once the Lord Buddha arrived, the Buddha-Power caused them to forget their agreement.  They all got up to greet the Exalted One.  One took His alms–bowl and robe, another prepared a cushioned seat.  One prepared a foot bath, another placed a footstool by the seat, and one presented to the Buddha a foot-drying tile.  The Lord Buddha sat on the cushioned seat then washed His feet.  After having welcomed the Exalted One, the ascetics addressed Him inappropriately by using His name and an inferior title. 

After having addressed the Exalted One thus, the Lord Buddha forbade the ascetics by saying, “Behold, ascetics, you must not address me by my name or by an inferior title.  Behold, I, the Tathagata is an Arahant and have already attained Enlightenment on my own.  Pay attention, I have penetrated the Dhamma.  I shall teach. I shall preach the Dhamma.  Once you have practiced according to my teaching soon you will penetrate an incomparable benefit, which is the ultimate of the Holy Life.” 

After the Lord Buddha said these words, the ascetics had an immediate reaction.  “Young Gautama, you once practiced self–mortification and could not even then attain Enlightenment.  Now that you’ve become greedy and lax, how is it possible that you have attained Enlightenment and become a Buddha?” 

After the ascetics expressed their view, the Lord Buddha said, “Behold, ascetics, the Tathagata is not greedy nor am I lax.  I am here not because of greed.  Behold, the Tathagata is an Arahant and has attained Enlightenment on my own.  Pay attention, I have penetrate the Dhamma.  I shall teach, I shall preach.  Once you’ve practiced according to my teaching soon you will penetrate an incomparable benefit which is the ultimate of the Holy Life.”  The Exalted One repeated these words 3 times.  The Lord Buddha continued, “Behold, these words that were just uttered have never been spoken before.  This is the very first time.” 

The Lord Buddha gave the first sermon, Dhammacakkappavattanasutta, to the 5 ascetics

Once the ascetics heard the Lord Buddha’s confirmation, they were then willing to listen and pay attention to His sermon.  The Lord Buddha’s first sermon to the 5 ascetics was about two things that monks should not practice.
1)    Being involved in all forms of sensual pleasure.  This lowly nature belongs to commoners, to ordinary people.  It does not belong to holy individuals.  It has no benefit.
2)    The practice of self–mortification is not the practice of holy individuals.  It has no benefit.

Añña Kondañña Bhukkhu became enlightened as the first Stream-Winner

The Lord Buddha then praised the Middle Path which led Him to attain Enlightenment.  It includes the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths.  At the end of the Sermon, the ascetic Kondañña understood what he heard and became enlightened as a Stream–Winner.  He was able to attain the Dhammakaya.  Therefore, this event marked the completion of the Triple Gem. 

Asalha Puja Day is the birth date of the Triple Gem, which includes the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha

As a result of the first sermon, celestial beings in every realm from earth sprites to the Brahma beings all sang the Lord Buddha’s praises.  The sound resonated through tens of thousands of universes and an incomparable brightness pervaded everywhere as a result of the celestial powers. 

We have now learnt something about Asalha Puja Day.  All of us Buddhists should deepen our faith in the Triple Gem and be determined to practice meditation until we can attain the Dhammakaya quickly. 

What we should do on Asalha Puja Day

As the importance of Asalha Puja Day, our forebears realized that when they wanted to study each subject well and understood it deeply, they had to know the core of that subject.  For example, if they wanted to study advanced mathematics, they had to remember the multiplication table.  Likewise, when they wanted to study Dhamma well, they had to study Dhammacakkappavattanasutta.

Buddhists should go to the temple to offer alms, keep precepts, and meditate on Asalha Puja Day

Our forebears understood this thing well, so when Asalha Puja Day arrived, they preferred to go to the temple and listened to Dhammacakkappavattanasutta to revise all Buddhist Dhamma on which they could understand and appreciate more.

Another aspect is whatever we do, for whether personal or public benefit, we must have the clear principle for the followers and that principle should correspond with Dhamma principle of Buddhism.  In addition, we should do it in practical until this good principle becomes our good habit which will make ourselves, our companies, and our nation thrive and be peaceful.

For Asalha Puja in this year, Buddhists should worship the Lord Buddha by offering alms and practicing Dhamma, especially Dhamma in the content of Dhammacakkappavattanasutta which is the Noble Eightfold Path.

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