Festivals are core to the Sangha (the Buddhist spiritual community) as the Buddha taught that meeting 'en masse' with regularity would help them to flourish. Festivals give Buddhists the opportunity to celebrate, show devotion and express thanks to the Buddha.
The main Buddhist festivals celebrate the Buddha, the Dharma (the Buddhist teaching) and the Sangha – otherwise known collectively as the Three Jewels.
Wesak (Festival of Light or the Celebration of the Buddha's Enlightenment)(Full moon of May/June)
Wesak is the most important Buddhist festival; it celebrates the Enlightenment of Buddha, along with that of the Enlightened masters who have followed the teachings of the Buddha over the centuries. It also gives individual Buddhists the opportunity to consider what Enlightenment means to them.
The event includes visits to local temples (in Theravadan countries) for services and to give offerings to monks, the decoration of homes with paper or wooden lanterns and Sangha meetings that include readings/teachings of the lives of the Buddha and the Enlightened masters.
Dharma Day (Celebration of the Buddha's teaching)
(Full moon of July)
Dharma marks the day the Buddha began his ethico-religious teaching soon after his Enlightenment, by sharing his experience with his disciples at Sarnath, Northern India. This event could be said to mark the beginning of Buddhism.
The festival is celebrated with readings from scriptures and stories from the lives of Buddha and the Enlightened masters, and also by reflection upon them.
Sangha Day (Celebration of the spiritual community)(Full moon of November)
On Sangha Day, Buddhists celebrate their spiritual community (the Sangha), as an idea and as an actual community. It is an important festival in Western Buddhism, and gifts may be exchanged.
Parinirvana Day(Full moon of February)
The Buddha gained Enlightenment around the age of 35, and spent a further 45 years teaching until his death at the age of 80. This festival marks the Parinirvana, or the Enlightenment (Nirvana) of the Buddha (without bodily remainder) – the day that physically the Buddha died.
In Buddhist tradition, death is not to be feared, because a significant teaching involves the notion of impermanence – that is that everything changes. The Buddha's Parinirvana is seen as something to rejoice in, but individuals may also reflect and meditate upon the death of those recently deceased and their own inevitable death, which may involve a sense of grief.
Passages giving an account of the Buddha's death are often read from various sutras on this day.
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