Festivals & Ritual
Short descriptions of some popular Buddhist Festivals and some information about Ritual
Parinirvana Day (which takes place every year on February 15th) reminds us to recollect the death of the Buddha over two and a half millenia ago. When the Buddha died, Buddhists believe that he entered a state called Parinirvana which means Nirvana without end.
When someone achieves Nirvana, they will not be reborn again. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that Nirvana can be achieved by anyone, when all desire and suffering is gone.
Buddhists often celebrate Parinirvana Day by coming together to meditate and to contemplate the Buddha's life and the precious opportunity that their own lives present. They remember friends or relations who have died and reflect on the fact that death and impermanence are a part of life for everyone.
Also known as “Vesak” (vee-sac) or “Wesak” it is celebrated on the day of the first full moon in the month of May.
It is the celebration of the attainment of full enlightenment of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) under the Bodhi Tree. It is also the commemoration of the birth and death as well as enlightenment of the Buddha - all these important events are said to have happened on the same day throughout his life.
Buddha Day is an occasion of meditation, pujas, readings, mantras, and talks.
Researched from: londonbuddhistcentre.com & triratnaburystedmunds.org
Dharma Day falls on the day of the first full moon in July. It commemorates the Buddha's first sermon following his attainment of enlightenment. Dharma Day is typically celebrated by paying homage to the Buddha and his teaching. Buddhists from all traditions celebrate their good fortune in coming across the Dharma.
The first time the Buddha is thought to have outlined his key teachings (known as 'the Dharma') including the 'four noble truths' and the 'eightfold path' was known as the ‘Sermon in the Deer Park’.
Dharma is the universal truth common to all individuals at all times, proclaimed by the Buddha. Dharma, the Buddha, and the sangha (spiritual community) make up the Triratna, “Three Jewels,” to which Buddhists go for refuge.
On this day it is good to think about what our lives would be like without the Buddha’s teachings. How did we first encounter the Dharma? Was it through meditation, or through a desire to question and explore philosophical questions, or through an experience of doubt, or faith?
We come together to reflect on these questions and rejoice in the Buddha’s teachings, and those of his followers throughout the ages.
References: britannica.com & triratnaburystedmunds.org
Celebrated on the tenth lunar day of the lunar month starting in September.
Known as the second Buddha, Padmasambhava is a semi-historical figure credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet. He did this by transforming the 'demons' that each night tore down the monastery that he had built in the day. For this reason he is associated with transformation, particularly with the transformation of our subconscious 'demons' so that they work for us, rather than against us. Each year, he is celebrated by many Buddhist traditions around the world.
He wears a five petal lotus crown on his head, with three points symbolising the three kayas (a reference to the physical and mental body), five colours symbolising the five wisdoms (which include feeling, perception, consciousness and mental formations), a sun and moon symbolising skilful means and wisdom, a Vajra (an object which represents the symbol of the diamond thunderbolt) to symbolise indestructible Samadhi, and a virtuous feather to represent the realisation of the highest view.
On Padmasambhava Day, Buddhists rejoice in the transformative energy of this great teacher. The day will consist of meditation, readings and Pūjā.
Information taken from padmaloka.org.uk & triratnaburystedmunds.org
Sangha Day takes place on the first full moon day in the month of November, and is a celebration in honour of the Sangha, the Buddhist spiritual community. It is a chance for people to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions.
Sangha Day commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks (arahants) to hear the Buddha preach at Veluvana Vihara.
At this gathering, the Buddha gave his first sermon, or recitation of the Patimokkha (the rules and regulations of the monastic order).
Sangha is the term used for the Buddhist spiritual community. On Sangha Day Buddhists celebrate both the ideal of creating a spiritual community, and also the actual spiritual community which they are trying to create.
The Sangha is precious in Buddhism as without those in the community to look up to or share aspirations with, the spiritual life would be very challenging.
Celebrations vary, but can include Dharma talks, chanting, meditation, the lighting of candles and incense and the reaffirmation of people's commitment to Buddhist practice.
There are weeks at Sangha when there is ritual, which to some may feel meaningless or maybe even irrational.
However ritual is an integral part of Buddhism. The Sanskrit word for ritual is Pūjā. Ritual is expressive, we can express our aims and values to make them more conscious and strengthen their power to guide our life and actions.
And when we share ritual, by taking part in it at Sangha, it takes on another dimension by becoming a way to express and strengthen our sense of community with other like-minded individuals.
Ritual becomes a way of creating Sangha, the spiritual community.
Ritual (pūjā) is something to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be heavily solemn, it is meant to be joyful, so enjoy the images evoked by the words and enjoy taking part with all the mindfulness you can. Enjoy the sound of the mantras and rhythm of the chanting.
The mantras particularly may seem very strange to a newcomer or those unused to pūjā. They are chanted in the ancient language (Pali), and are chanted to evoke the essence of the various different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (a person whose essence is perfect knowledge).
And being involved in pūjā we are opening ourselves to the influence of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, inviting them to enter our awareness.
They are chanted in Pali because this is the closest we can get to the language spoken by the Buddha and therefore a link to the historical Buddha and his followers. It also links us with all other Buddhists worldwide who also chant the certain parts of the pūjā in this language and therefore reminds us of our connections with all other Buddhists even those stretching back through time to the historical Buddha and his followers.
If you would like to hear some of these mantras then we have included some links to some recordings made in a Buddhist Retreat Centre for women called Taraloka and below are some of the mantras in written form so you can see the Pali words. Clicking on these will take you to Taraloka’s YouTube channel where you can hear that particular mantra being chanted.
Om muni muni mahā muni śākyamuni svāhā
(Śākyamuni Buddha Mantra)
Om āh hūm vajra guru padma siddhi hūm