Magha Puja Day
Buddha had sacrificed a lot for the prize of enlightenment…
He left his friends, family, wealth, and power, spending years eating dirt and other things he could scavenge. By any standard, his ascetic lifestyle was rough. He and his small band of seekers endured hardships that would make just about anyone recoil. But after discovering the middle path and the importance of balance, he found enlightenment underneath a small Bodhi Tree.
For weeks after his enlightenment, Buddha simply stayed underneath the tree, enjoying the deep peace and joy he felt from letting go of the weight of suffering, attachment, and delusion. It’s even said he spent a week gazing at the Bodhi Tree in deep meditation, thanking it for sheltering him during his new-found realization.
But after a while, he returned to his ascetic friends who had abandoned him when he followed the middle path.
After hearing his very first sermon, the ascetics immediately joined him and embraced his new-found discoveries. Within months, he and his small band traveled around India, spreading the message of Dharma and the principles of finding enlightenment through the Middle Path. He met with many heads of state and even negotiated a peace treaty between two small states about to go to war with one another.
His fame was very quickly increasing.
A very real problem
In just about 9 months of the Buddha running around spreading his message, he had developed a large following. So large, in fact, the entire area of northern India was buzzing about him. But his community was not formally established, and perhaps more importantly, neither was the Buddhist monastic order. He needed serious followers (and lots of them) to spread the Middle Path of enlightenment. After all, what’s a spiritual teaching without those to carry it forward?
To understand this predicament properly, you have to realize most people were illiterate and born and died within a 5-10 mile radius. Under those circumstances, trying to spread a worldwide message was a Herculean task, to say the least.
But of course, this is Buddha we’re talking about…nothing in his life was normal. Miracles and strange events just sort of happened, making the impossible into solidified reality.
Buddha had found a place to rest for a while after months of intense work. He was feeling at home under the shelter of a lush forest and rejuvenated himself with deep meditation. He and a few of his followers planned their next move, wondering what would make the most sense.
But Buddha seemed unconcerned. To him, all that mattered was the path. This must have seemed a bit odd to his followers, as they believed strongly the world could change through his teachings — and obviously, that requires followers. If they weren’t going to change the world, was he truly the prophesized world teacher so many thought he was?
Then the impossible happened.
Seemingly out of nowhere, devoted disciples began showing up…and not just a few. Over the course of a day, 1,200 appeared to see and give respect to the Buddha — all without any communication or planning. Remember, there was no such thing as text messages, emails, or meetup.com! They had somehow all attuned themselves to Buddha.
This quiet miracle stunned his followers and later, the country.
Unphased, Buddha personally saw each one, blessing them and ordaining them in what was to become the Buddhist monastic order. It was under the shade of the trees he gave his first sermon amongst so many of the new monastics. There he recited rules and regulations of the monastic order, creating what’s known as the Patimokkha.
Perhaps poetically, 45 years later on the second and last Magha Puja of Buddha’s life, he called on his closest disciple Ananda to let him know he had chosen to die in three months time.
A simple way you can practice Magha Puja
If you’re like me, you’ve never been to a Buddhist temple, much less celebrated a Buddhist holiday. So the idea of celebrating something like Magha Puja can seem…well..strange. But one of the most beautiful things about Buddhism is its simplicity, and this isn’t any different.
To truly honor this auspicious day, simply follow clean your house thoroughly (this is to prepare the mind), and practice the Five Precepts:
- To abstain from taking that which is not given.
- To abstain from sexual misconduct.
- To abstain from telling falsehoods.
- To abstain from distilled and fermented intoxicants, which are the occasion for carelessness (which also includes drugs).
- To abstain from taking the lives of living beings.
Not too, bad, right? Of course, these are also on top of a normal Buddhist practice of meditation.
Here’s a quick video on a large Magha Puja celebration in Thailand. It’s amazing to see this kind of intensity!
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