What Makes a Holy Day?
Holidays--Buddhist or otherwise--offer auspicious times for practice and reflection.
BY: Lama Surya Das
Buddhists around the world celebrate many different holidays, stemming from divergent cultural influences and the use of different calendars. The principal one, celebrated by Buddhists around the world regardless of tradition, is Vesak (pronounced way-sak), the commemoration of Buddha's birth, death, and enlightenment. Vesak occurs every year on the full moon in May.
But there is variation in the observance of the various milestones of the Buddha's life in different parts of the Buddhist world: In Japan, Buddha's enlightenment day, known asRohatsu,
is marked on December 8. His birth is celebrated in April, around Easter, and in early October, Zen students celebrate Bodhidharma Day, honoring the founder of Zen.
In Nepal, Buddha's birthday is a holiday called Buddha Jayanti and is celebrated on the full moon in April. Tibetans believe Buddha was born on the seventh day of the fourth lunar month, about one week before the Wesak Full Moon.
In Thailand and Sri Lanka, the full moon in October marks Pavarana Day, the end of the three-month rainy season retreat. Also in Thailand, Anapanasati Day, on the full moon of October each year, marks a day of meditation and mindfulness.
In Tibet, the most important holiday isLosar,
or Tibetan New Year. Like Chinese New Year, Losar occurs in February, but the exact date varies each year according to the lunar calendar. In 2002, Losar will take place on February 13, the beginning of the Water Horse year, or 2129 according to the Tibetan calendar.
Traditionally, Losar is marked with activities that symbolize purification and ushering in the new: Buildings are thoroughly cleaned, people perform ritual ablutions on the morning of the new year, barley seeds are sprouted, and special fried bread, calledkapsay,
Tibetans also visit their guru or lama, make offerings to the local monastery, and visit their nearest and dearest friends and relatives on the second and third day of Losar week.
There are also four great Tibetan Buddhist holidays, celebrating the four events known as the "great deeds" of the Buddha. The first is Chotrul Duchen (Duchen means "great occasion"), which marks the end of the first 15 days of the new year and falls on the first full moon (February 21 in 2001). During this time some 2,600 years ago, the Buddha is said to have displayed a different miracle each day to spur the devotion and increase the merits of his disciples.