The date of Asalha Puja and its relation to Vassa

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Asalha Puja, also known as Asadha Puja, Asanha Bucha or Dhamma Day, is a Buddhist festival celebrating the Buddha’s first sermon – the “Sermon in the Deer Park”.

This sermon taught the four noble truths around which all the different schools and traditions of Buddhism revolve.

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But when is Asalha Puja in 2022 and what is the symbolism behind it? Here’s what you need to know.

When is Asalha Puja 2022?

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Buddhist devotees light candles at the Shwedagon Pagoda in downtown Yangon July 17, 2008

This year Asalha Puja falls on Wednesday 13th July. This festival is celebrated on the first full moon of the month of Āsādha.

In the Gregorian calendar, this event usually falls in July, with the date of the last year being July 24th. However, the holiday falls on a different day each year as it is celebrated on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month.

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What is the symbolism behind Asalha Puja?

Buddhist monks light thousands of candles during Asalha Puja Day celebrations at Wat Phra Dhammakaya Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok on July 24, 2021

Asalha Puja is usually celebrated in Indonesia, Mendut Temple and Borobudur Temple, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos and Myanmar.

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Also known as Dhamma Day, Asalha Puja is one of the most important festivals of Theravada Buddhism as it celebrates the Buddha’s first sermon – the “Sermon in the Deer Park” in Sarnath – a location in India.

In this sermon, he presented his five former associates with the lesson that he had received at his enlightenment.

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This sermon, also referred to as “turning the wheel of Dhamma in motion,” teaches the four noble truths of Buddhism, namely:

  • There is suffering (dukkha)
  • The Origin of Suffering (Samudāya)
  • How to End Suffering (Nirodha)
  • The path to the cessation of suffering (magga) is through the Noble Eightfold Path, a summary of the path Buddhists follow to become free from samsara (the cycle of rebirth).

This sermon also contains the essence of all his subsequent teachings. At the end of the lecture, one of the five participants shared how he understood what was said and asked to be admitted as a student, which was granted. This helped establish the first monastic order.

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How is Asalha Puja observed?

As it is a religious celebration, Asalha Puja is celebrated by making offerings to temples and listening to sermons.

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Some of the traditions practiced by modern monks include reciting the Eight Commandments, leading meditations, chanting in Sanskrit, and leading a candlelit procession three times around their temple.

What is Vassa?

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A Buddhist monk walks past the Dhammakaya Cetiya as he prepares for Asalha Puja Day celebrations at Wat Phra Dhammakaya Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok July 24, 2021

In Thailand, Asalha is followed by Puja Vassa, also known as Buddhist Lent or Theravada Rain Retreat.

However, it should be noted that some people dismiss the term Buddhist Lent as there is no basis for comparison with Christian Lent as they do not come from the same religious beliefs.

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Vassa is a three month annual retreat held from July to October during the rainy season. This year it starts on July 14th and ends on October 10th, 2022.

During this time, Buddhist monks stay in one place and devote their time to intense meditation, some even choosing to abstain from meat, alcohol, or smoking.

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In Thailand, the sale of alcohol is prohibited on the first and last days of Vassa.

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