Asalha Puja, Buddhist ceremony, marks the commencement of rain retreat of the Buddhist monks. Asalha Puja is one of the important festivals of Theravada Buddhists as it celebrates the first teaching of Gautama Buddha.
Asalha Puja is celebrated on the eighth lunar month during a full moon day. Asalha, according to the ancient Indian calendar, is the month when monsoon begins. During this time of the year Buddha and his followers would put their travelling on hold. The monasteries of the present day still continue with the tradition. There is a three month long retreat. This retreat starts from the Dhamma day and continues till the Pavarana day. The ordination for the short-term monks also takes place on this day. This ordination is for those people who cannot renounce their present life yet are interested in the principles of Buddhism.
According to legends Buddha achieved enlightenment but was not interested to preach. However, on Brahma Sahampati's insistence Buddha agreed to preach and he delivered his first sermon in Varanasi. At the end of his sermons one of his friends Kondanna, urged Buddha to accept him as his disciple. Buddha complied and it was done by a simple ceremony. Buddha's band of followers kept on going and thus the order of the monks was formed. The day is observed by donating offerings to temples and listening to sermons. The preaching delivered by Buddha is quiet often referred to as "setting into motion the wheel of Dhamma".
This first sermon is not only the first structured discourse given by the Buddha after his enlightenment; it also contains the essence of all his subsequent teaching. The gist of the sermon is as follows:
1. The middle way, which is right method, human beings should put into practice in their life. The middle way is between two extremes which are hedonism (loose practice) and asceticism (tight or tough practice) and the Buddha tried out the two and knew that they were not right. Later on he found out the middle which is also called Noble Eightfold Path. Here it is:
Right understanding: understand as it really is.
Right view: have a good view and intention to do good actions.
Right speech: say words which cause love, harmony, and wisdom.
Right actions: good actions which neither harm oneself nor others.
Right livelihood: make a living which is not harmful to one self, or others.
Right effort: make an effort to abandon bad actions and perform good actions.
Right mindfulness: be mindful and careful of mental and physical actions.
Right concentration: focus attention on work being done in the here and now.
2. The Four Noble Truths which are as follows:
Suffering in both mental and physical, exists in this world and all beings experience it in their daily life.
Any suffering or problem has a cause which causes problem; find out the cause is to find out the solution.
The proper solution is wisdom gained by education and practice.
The path or method which is put into practice will lead to the end of suffering, or problem.
All the various schools and traditions of Buddhism revolve around the central doctrine of the four noble truths.
Another importance of the Asalha is that it was during this month that the Buddha's son Rahula was born. It was after this that Buddha gave up all His royal worldly pleasures to attain spiritual enlightenment and the truth of life.