A Buddhism week is held each year during July in Thailand to enable government and private sectors to organize religious activities to mark two significant days in Buddhism: Asalha Puja and the beginning of Buddhist Lent.
Asalha Puja commemorates the day when the Buddha’s first sermon was delivered to his first five disciples. It falls on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, coinciding with July 11 this year.
Known as Khao Phansa, the day after Asalha Puja is the beginning of Buddhist Lent, or the annual three-month Buddhist Rains Retreat. It falls on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month, coinciding with July 12 this year.
Asalha Puja celebrates the coming into existence of the Triple Gem, comprising the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. After the Buddha attained his enlightenment and realized that five ascetics, his former friends in meditation, would attain Nirvana promptly on hearing his teaching, he proceeded to preach to them on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month.
At the conclusion of the Buddha’s first sermon, one of the five ascetics reached enlightenment and became the first Buddhist monk on Asalha Puja Day, thus bringing about the Buddhist Triple Gem – the Teacher, the Teaching, and the Taught.
During the three-month Buddhist Lent, which is in the rainy season in Thailand, Buddhist monks and novices stay in the temple to study and practice Dhamma and do not stay overnight at any other places. The custom for monks to spend the three months of the rainy season in a fixed place has been observed since the time of the Buddha. In those days, unnecessary travel by monks during this period could damage young seedlings planted by villagers.
Realizing that Buddhist Lent is an opportune time to promote good deeds, the public and private sectors have joined hands with religious and health-related organizations in Thailand in a campaign against intoxicating drinks. The first day of Buddhist Lent has been proclaimed “No Alcohol Day” in Thailand.
During this period, a large number of Buddhist Thais abstain from drinking alcohol as part of their religious practices. Refraining from drinking alcohol is considered a worthy act, not only for keeping people in good health, but also in the observance of Buddhist principles.
The Buddhism week is held nationwide, with Buddhamonthon in Nakhon Pathom province as the focal point of this event. Major activities include merit-making, Dhamma practices, the making of Buddhist Lent candles, and wian-thian, or a ceremony in which devout Buddhists hold lighted candles while making three rounds of walking circling the main chapel of a temple.
Both Asalha Puja and Buddhist Lent Days are important occasions for Buddhists to perform merit making and practice Dhamma for peace and happiness.