Mobile, AL (WKRG)

Saturday marked the Buddhist Festival of Asalah Puja. Dr. Serena Nimityongskul joined us to talk about it this morning. Here’s a look at our conversation.

Guest: Asalha Puja day marks the completion of the Triple Gem in Buddhism, which consists of the Buddha himself, his teachings or the dharma, and the sangha or monastic community that spreads his teachings. Asalha Puja day is the ‘Dharma Day.’ On this day the Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining Enlightenment to the 5 ascetics with whom he once trained. One of them ordained and became the first monk in Buddhism, Kondanna. Kondanna also attained Enlightenment after hearing this auspicious sermon known as the ‘Dhammajak’ that Buddhists routinely chant.

Chad: How is it generally observed?

Guest: Buddhists typically follow the Lord Buddha’s teachings on holy days. The heart of Buddhism is to do good, avoid evil and purify our minds. Buddhists will typically not sell alcohol on these days and instead go to the local temple to cultivate good deeds. We offer fine things such as food, necessities, and donations to practice generosity, we listen to sermons from the teaching monks, we chant the Dhammajak which is the 1st sermon that the Lord Buddha gave, and lastly, we purify our minds through meditation.

Chad: What separates it from different Buddhist observances?

Guest: Different Buddhist observances celebrate different aspects of the Buddha’s life. We have Vesak or Buddha Day, the day the Lord Buddha was born, became enlightened and passed away. The Dharma day, or Asalha puja day which was yesterday, when the Dharma was born, and the Sangha Day, or Maka Bucha when 1250 enlightened Buddhist monks ordained by the Buddha himself gathered together to hear an important sermon. Each of these days honors a different part of the Buddhist Triple Gem. Without any one of these days Buddhism would not exist.

Chad: What is the significance of the Buddha’s first sermon?

Guest: The first sermon marked the Buddha’s great compassion to disseminate the truths that he learned to the world. Without his great compassion to teach others he would be a silent Buddha. Some enlightened Buddhas do not come out and teach publicly. Siddhartha choose to teach others and without his teachings, Buddhism would not exist, and the world might be a vastly different place. His teachings ultimately show you the way to Enlightenment. Just like it would be very difficult to drive to California if you didn’t know the way, it would be much more difficult to attain Enlightenment without the road map given to us by the Lord Buddha. The first sermon also laid down the 2 pillars of Buddhism, the 4 noble truths, and the 8 fold path. The 4 noble truths are that: suffering exists, suffering is from attachment, there is a state where you can be free of suffering and the way out of suffering is the 8fold path. Without going into too much detail the 8 fold path is simply living your life in the right way, do good, think good and speak good.

Chad: What do you hope people learn or take away with this observance?

Guest: The Buddha showed us the way but very importantly nobody can walk for you. Nobody but you can save yourself. So I hope that people will connect with the light within themselves and cultivate more goodness. Because the Buddha was a man just like you or I he was not a god and he taught that this great potential to reach the wise mind or ‘Buddha nature’ within exists inside all of us. But nobody can do the work for us. So I hope we all recommit ourselves to decreasing anger and negativity in our lives by being more mindful, commit to being more compassionate and kind to the people around us, and lastly, I hope that people will look inside to find the great happiness within. The Buddha showed us that all things are impermanent and when we attach our happiness to the outside world, the material things or circumstances around us that are always changing, we will ultimately suffer. So I hope people will start to look inside and see that we already have everything we need to be happy. We have more than we need to be happy actually. And that true happiness is based on non-attachment, on letting go and developing a peaceful mind and then sharing that peace and happiness with those around us. I hope people will be reminded of the light inside of them and cultivate it to shine more brightly so the world can be a more peaceful place for us all.