Asalha Puja Day, also referred to as Dharma Day, is one of the most important holy days for Buddhists. This day of celebration and new beginnings typically falls in July, on the full moon of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Asalha Puja Day commemorates the establishment of Buddhism. It represents the day that Buddha gave his first sermon as well as other foundational aspects; therefore, this celebration is beloved among Buddhist people.
What is Asalha Puja Day?
Buddhism’s founder and leader, Buddha, was believed to be a wealthy prince before leaving his life of luxury to live a life of self-discipline and discovery. During the following six years, it is believed that Buddha accomplished enlightenment on his own. According to Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, enlightenment is defined as, “a state of perfect knowledge or wisdom, combined with infinite compassion.” Following his enlightenment, Buddha sought out five disciples to entrust his findings to. The sermon he preached to them is recognized as the beginning of Buddhism.
Asalha Puja Day celebrates the first of Buddha’s teaching and the foundation of Buddhism. During his first sermon, it is believed that Buddha shared four noble truths as well as the first Wheel of Dharma (dharma means truth or “path to enlightenment”), which are still honored in modern-day Buddhism. Buddhists believe these core teachings lead to a life of nirvana and enlightenment. Andrew Olendzki, a professor at Lesley University, defines Nirvana as “the highest state of profound well-being a human is capable of attaining. The mind awakens from delusion, is liberated from bondage, is cleansed of all its defilements, becomes entirely at peace, experiences the complete cessation of suffering, and is no longer reborn.” Asalha Puja Day offers Buddhists a chance to show their appreciation to the Buddha for sharing his knowledge with them and other teachers.
Buddhist monks play a large role in celebrating Asalha Puja Day. They recite the eight precepts, teach sermons, lead meditation, perform chants, and facilitate candle-lit precessions around their temples. Monks perform a chant of what is said to be Buddha’s first teaching. Asalha Puja Day also marks the start of a three-month mandatory retreat for monks. Buddhist people visit temples on this day to pray, meditate, listen to sermons, and give offerings. This is a day of new beginnings, renewal, and recommitment to the faith for Buddhists. They reflect and try to focus on practicing dharma.
Similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are great segues into gospel conversations. Resemblances between Asalha Puja Day and truths of the gospel can be leveraged into Christ-centered conversations around the time of this holiday.
Before pursuing a life of self-discipline and discovery, it is believed that Buddha was a wealthy prince. He renounced his life of luxury to live in the world as a common man. Jesus did the same for us. Share about how Jesus left perfection where He had been with God the Father to come to Earth for our salvation. The key difference is that Buddha left luxury on a search for self-discovery whereas Jesus left for our sake, to give us a gift.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” -John 1:1-2, 14
Jesus left Heaven where He had lived with God in perfection to come to Earth. He knew that on Earth He would be persecuted, beaten, and eventually killed for the sins of the world, but He was willing to sacrifice Himself for us. As sinners, we are separated from a Holy God. We needed a sinless Savior to take on our punishment. Jesus did that for us through His crucifixion and resurrection three days later. His defeat of sin and death ended our separation from God. If we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven of our sins and get to spend eternity with God in perfection in Heaven.
Since Buddhism is focused on self-sufficiency in achieving enlightenment and doing good works, it is important to highlight the gift of salvation apart from works that we are able to receive because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” -Philippians 2:5-8
Another transition into gospel conversations is to explain renewal through grace in Christ. Asalha Puja Day is a time of new beginnings for Buddhists. One of the focuses of this day is the rededication to the Buddhist faith and dharma. Take a moment to share how following Jesus makes all of us new. We do not have to do anything to receive this gift. Believe in Jesus, and you will be in right standing with God.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” -2 Corinthians 5:17-19