After attaining enlightenment at Buddha-Gaya on the full moon of Visakha, the Lord Buddha was at peace with himself. It was not until two months later, at the Deer Park near Benares, that he delivered his first sermon to his first five disciples. This sermon brought into being the Buddhist religion.
It was on the full moon of Asalha, the eighth lunar month, that the Buddha delivered the first sermon to Kondanna, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assaji. These five Brahmins had been in search of the highest wisdom. They accidentally met the Buddha and asked him to show them the way to enlightenment.
The Buddha delivered what is known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, or the Wheel of Dharma. The main theme involves the Four Noble Truths: suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the way to end suffering. These truths are universal truths.
In the First Truth, the Buddha explained that in any existence one is bound to suffer and be subject to change, which is the normal condition of life. You cannot be with your lover forever. One day a separation will happen as you grow older, become weaker and die.
The Second Truth covers the cause of suffering. Quite logically, the Buddha explained suffering in terms of cause and effect. Only through the destruction of the causes of existence will one be able to remove suffering.
The Third and the Fourth Truths show the way out from suffering. This will bring one to the state of perfect calm and bliss, a complete freedom from all forms of suffering. One can reach this level by following the Middle Way, which consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. This is the ultimate way to complete happiness.
After listening to this unforgettable sermon, Kondanna was the first to attain enlightenment. Subsequently, the four other Brahmins also reached a new level of consciousness by listening to the wisdom of the Buddha.
The Order of Sangha was thus formed, hence completing the Triple Gem, which consists of the Buddha, his teaching, and the monks who further propagate the Buddha’s teaching.
Since then, Asalha Puja Day has become one of the most important days of celebration in the Buddhist religion. For on that day the Buddha delivered his first sermon, the Buddhist religion was formally established, and the Sangha came into being to complete the Triple Gem.
On this sacred day, Buddhists throughout Thailand go to their local temples to make merit and practise Dharma. They also donate basic necessities to the monks and listen to sermons to refresh their minds. At the end of the evening, they attend the wien thien ceremony, in which - while holding lotuses, joss-sticks and candles - they walk around the main temple building while praying along with the monks’ sermons. It is such a sacred day that it really helps purify one’s spirit after experiencing the full ceremony, leaving you with a peaceful heart.
The following day after Asalha Puja, Lent Commencement Day begins. Lent - or the rainy season retreat - is a monastic practice observed during the time of the Lord Buddha. In those days, there were not that many monks so they frequently moved from place to place to deliver the Buddha’s sermons.
But during the rainy season it was difficult for the monks to travel. It was also the time of year when farmers cultivated their land to grow crops. Fearing that the monks may trample farmers’ crops, the Buddha decreed they remained in one place.
For three months, monks could not leave their location once the rainy-season retreat had commenced. Only in matters of urgency were they allowed to venture out beyond their residence and, even then, they had to return before dawn.
This practice is still prevalent today. Most Thai men prefer to enter the monkhood at the start of lent to study Buddhism. It is a time of peace, with little disturbance from the outside world.
Original by Napanisa Kaewmorakot, Nation Multimedia, Jul 24, 2002