Celebrating Magha Puja Day
Thailand, where I grew up, it's called MakhaBucha Day, the day more than 2,500 years ago when 4 wonderful things happened:
• 1,250 Buddhist monks met spontaneously, w/out prior scheduling.
• All 1,250 were enlightened monks (arhats).
• Each was ordained personally by the Buddha.
• And it all of this happened on a full moon, the first in March (the month of Magha).
Because of these four things, Magha Puja Day is sometimes known as Fourfold Assembly Day. Or, because of the community of monks, Sangha Day. It occurs the first full moon of the third lunar month – March 8th, this year.
The first important Magha Puja Day was only months after the Buddha's own enlightenment, one of the earliest large gatherings of Buddhists. The second came 45 years later, three months before the Buddha's death. On this later Magha Puja Day, the Buddha called his disciple Ananda to let him know that the Buddha had chosen to die in three months time. Magha Puja Day thus brackets the Buddha's teaching life, one reason that it is one of the most important Buddhist festivals.
In Thailand, it's a lovely holiday. At every Buddhist temple, Buddhists gather after dark. They bring flowers, incense, & candles. With candles lit, they circle the temple's main hall 3 times, once for each of the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha). The moon is bright, and the candles flicker in the night as they're carried clockwise around the uposatha hall.
But if, like many American Buddhists, you lack a nearby Buddhist temple, there are still ways to observe Magha Puja. Follow Buddhist tradition and clean your house well before the day arrives (true of most Buddhist holidays). It shows respect of the upcoming holy day. And then, observe the Five Precepts:
1. To abstain from taking that which is not given.
2. To abstain from sexual misconduct.
3. To abstain from telling falsehoods.
4. To abstain from distilled and fermented intoxicants, which are the occasion for carelessness (which also includes drugs).
5. To abstain from taking the lives of living beings.
And if you're wanting to make special merit, add the following three, to make the Eight Precepts:
6. To abstain from eating at improper times (after noon).
7. To abstain from dancing, singing, music, shows, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and using cosmetics.
8. To abstain from high & large seats & beds.
Buddhists are reminded to meditate on Magha Puja Day, as well. But as even the Thai government points out, the focus of Magha Puja Day is "the veneration of Buddha and his teachings on the full moon day of the third lunar month."
So perhaps, after cleaning the house, you can light a candle and take it outside, to meditate on the 5 Precepts. You might add the 5 Positive Virtues, while you're at it:
1. Loving-kindness and compassion.
2. Patience in the right means of livelihood.
3. Contentment in married life.
And a completely acceptable – if simple – focus is always to meditate on the Three Jewels and their importance: The Buddha ( his attainment of enlightenment), The Sangha (the community of Buddhists, both those familiar and the many world-wide, beyond our own individual lives), and finally, the Dharma (the Buddha's own teachings). A meditation that encompasses every part of Buddhism. And what the Buddha himself taught that first Magha Puja Day.