What is Asalha Puja?

What is Asalha Puja?

Asalha Puja is a Buddhist festival that commemorates Buddha’s first sermon and the birth of the religion. In Buddhism, the sermon is called Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (or the Turning of the Dhamma Wheel). 

Following his enlightenment, Buddha used the sermon with his disciples to share his newfound knowledge, namely, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The table below shows the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:

Noble truthBuddhist wordMeaning
The truth of sufferingDukkhaAccepting that all life is temporary, imperfect and includes suffering.
The truth of the beginning of sufferingSamudayaKnowing that there are certain human actions in life that cause suffering
The truth of the end of sufferingNirodhaUnderstanding that suffering can end if we resist these actions. In English, this is what we call Nirvana.
The truth of the path to the end of sufferingMaggaKnowing that there is a way to end all suffering.

Understanding these truths are essential to Buddhists as they contain the essence of Buddha’s subsequent teachings. 

Asalha Puja is also the time Buddha revealed the Eightfold Path. The “Path” consists of eight instructions that Buddhists must follow every day. The teachings are that Buddhists have the right or correct:

  • View or understanding.
  • Intentions.
  • Speech.
  • Actions or behaviour. 
  • Livelihood.
  • Effort.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Concentration.

In Buddhism, it’s believed that following these “paths” lead to a state of Nirvana.

Also known as Dhamma Day, Asalha Puja is observed in countries with large Buddhist populations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

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When is Asalha Puja?

In 2021, Asalha Puja is on July 24th. 

Asalha Puja (or Asalha Uposatha) occurs during the Hindu month of Aadi. In the Gregorian (regular) calendar, Aadi is in July although it can sometimes occur in June. 

Asalha Puja coincides with the first full moon of the month and takes place a day before the Khao Phansa festival. Signalling the start of Vassa (or Buddhist Lent) Khao Phansa is also known as the festival of candles. 

What happens during Asalha Puja?

Buddhist monks spend the day giving sermons and leading meditations. You can also see them lead candle processions around temples while reciting the eight precepts of Buddhism.

Asalha Puja is an opportunity for Buddhists to express their gratitude to Buddha for his teachings. The most popular way of giving thanks is donating clothes and household items to local temples. 

In keeping with Buddhist values, many practitioners will also attend sermons on Asalha Puja, mirroring the Turning of the Dhamma Wheel. In Buddhist countries like Thailand, Asalha Puja is a public holiday with many businesses closed for the day. 

Like the Islamic festival of Ramadan, Asalha Puja is observed rather than celebrated. 

If you’re visiting a Buddhist country, it’s important to stay in the background and observe local customs. While taking pictures is tolerated, remember to remain quiet and to dress appropriately (your shoulders and knees should be covered). 

What does the Dhamma Wheel represent?

Every Dhamma Wheel consists of a hub, a rim, and a number of spokes. The meaning of each part of the wheel has been debated by Buddhists and religious experts alike. 

Some common interpretations include that the wheel represents the perfection of Buddha’s teachings while the rim represents the mindfulness of Buddhism. It’s also believed that the hub represents moral discipline, while the three swirls represent joy.

The spokes signify different concepts, depending on their number. When a wheel has:

  • Four spokes, they represent the Four Noble Truths.
  • Eight spokes, the spokes mean the Eightfold Path. 
  • 10 spokes, they represent the ten directions, i.e. everywhere in Buddhism.
  • 12 spokes, they stand for the 12 Links of Dependent Origination.
  • 24 spokes, they mean the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination plus the inverse of the ‘Links’. 24 spokes also represent the liberation from samsara (the curse of repeated birth, mundane existence and death). 
  • 31 spokes, they signify the 31 realms of existence

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