Significance of full moon days through the year – Venerable Bataduwe Santha Samana
Even before Gautama Buddha was born, full moon days have had special significance to people of the ancient times. There is evidence to suggest that people of the ancient times did engage in various religious activities at least once a week to make their spiritual lives better for both herein and here after. With no almanacs or calendars to refer, lunar month was the only time reference available to them to determine the day of the week that would be set aside for religious activities.
By the time of the Buddha, the various ascetics were already making weekly religious observances on a day set aside for such practices. From the time of the Buddha’s first discourse, monks did offer dhamma discourses at times and the disciples frequented the places where the monks were residing to meet the monks. Yet no special day was set-aside for these visits to meet the monks. The other ascetics however having set aside time for such meetings gave rise to better bonding between the lay people and the ascetics.
King Bimbisara who was a very devout disciple of the Buddha. Having observed the practice of the ascetics, and keeping in mind the betterment of the community of sangha, suggested to the Buddha that it would be appropriate to set aside days for such spiritual activities. Having considered the suggestion the Buddha did prescribe four such meetings in each lunar month. This was the genesis of spiritual observances on full moon days.
It just so happened that even though the laity and the monks did meet on full moon days as prescribed by the Buddha, no discourses were habitually forthcoming from the monks. The laity was not very happy about it. The Buddha having noticed this displeasure then prescribed that the monks should offer discourses on a regular basis on such days.
One day, the devout disciple Visakha mentioned to the Buddha that she observes the higher order precepts on the full moon days. Using this as a trigger, the Buddha exalted the virtues of this practice and prescribed it to all those who were following his teachings. This practice has continued to this day
amongst devout Buddhists.
Spiritually, observance of the higher order precepts became a very strong practice. So much so, that according to the Buddha even non-human deities has taken the time to see this strong practice amongst the humans.
The full moon day is determined according to the almanac. The phase of the moon is determined according to a system of mathematics that has prevailed from the ancient Vedic days. The day of no moon comes 15 days following the day of the full moon. The waning moon is observed after 8 days from the full moon day and the waxing moon occurs after 8 days from the day of the no moon. These 4 days are typically set aside for spiritual practices.
Today according to the Julian calendar, year is divided into 12 months. Each month typically has a corresponding full moon day. These are described as follows. They have significance due to various events that took place either on those days or close to those days.
January – Duruthu
The Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka coincided with the Duruthu full moon day. According to the chronicles, He visited ‘Hela Diva”, as Sri Lanka was then known, on the 9 th month following enlightenment. The purpose of the visit was to subdue and tame the ‘yaksha’ and the ‘naga’ tribes inhabiting the area today known as Mahiyangana, on the bank of the river ‘mahaveli’ It is said that the deity named ‘Sumana Saman’ residing in the mountain called ‘Samanola’, today known as the Adam’s peak, reached the stage of sotapanna having listened to the discourses offered by the Buddha.
February – Navam
Arahath Saripuththa and Moggalana were proclaimed as the Chief Disciples in the month of Navam. Venerable Saripuththa was given the title the General of the Dhamma and Venerable Moggallana was recognized as the one who has attained the highest miracle powers. It is also in the month of Navam that the Buddha decided for the first time to set down a set of advisories to ensure the harmony and the discipline of the community of Sangha. These are known as Vinaya Kamma.
For the first 20 years, there was no cause to prescribe advisories due to the abundance of monks who had reached enlightenment through effort and diligence. With the influx of many from varied backgrounds into the community of the sangha, for a multitude of reasons, it was deemed necessary to enact these advisories to safeguard the purity, integrity and the harmony within the community of sangha. The very first set of advisories touched various aspects including the virtue of patience, not harming self and others, discipline of the faculties, overcoming the five hindrances, intake of food, not clinging to the various places of abode and being pleasant to others. The Buddha never admonished without a valid reason; and the reasons given shows the degree to which the community of sangha was subject to vagaries and external influences, even during the time of the Buddha.
It was also on the full moon day of this month that at the age of 80, He stated that in three months from that point in time He would relinquish this life cycle never to be born again.
March – Madin
Having reached enlightenment, the Buddha together with many arahats, set forth on the full moon day of this month from his abode at the Veluwanarama, to visit the city of Kimbulwath, to visit His father, King Sudhodhana, and the relatives including the former Queen Yasodhara and His son Rahula.
April – Bak
On the 5 th year after the enlightenment, the Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the second time during this month. He visited Nagadeepa to settle a dispute between two Kings of the Naga tribe related to a crystal throne and to put them on the right path by means of a discourse in Dhamma.
May – Wesak
The three events, the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of the Buddha took place on the full moon day of the month of Wesak. In the city of Kimbulwath, in order to dispel the superbia and the doubts in the minds of His relatives, the Buddha performed miracles using His various mental powers.
On the 8 th year after the enlightenment, the Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the third time during this month. He visited Kelaniya at the invitation of King Maniakkhitha of a Naga tribe. On the same visit he also visited the abode of the Deity Sumana Saman, the mountain now called Adam’s Peak. The devout attendant of the Buddha, venerable Ananda passed away on a Wesak full moon day The arrival of King Vijaya with his entourage took place on a full moon day in the month of Wesak
June – Poson
236 years after the passing away of the Buddha, the son of Emperor Asoka of India, maha Arahat Mahinda introduced Buddha’s teachings to Sri Lanka.
July – Esala
A the invitation of the deities, the bodhisattva left the Tusita heavenly abode, in order to be conceived within the womb of Queen maha Maya, the queen of King Sudhdhodhana Having seen the reality of life in the form of the four signs, Prince Sidhdhartha renounced the lay life Prince Rahula was born on the same day Prince Sidhdhartha renounced the lay life The very first discourse to the five ascetics took place on this full moon day at the forest of Migadaya in Varanasi. The Dhamma was expounded through the Dhamma Chakka Sutta Following the first discourse, the very first rainy season retreat by the Buddha and the five disciples took place during this month.
At the root of the tree Gandamba, the Buddha performed miracles in order to dispel the doubts of various ascetics. During the 7 th rainy season retreat, the Buddha visited Thauthisa heavenly abode to expound the Abhidhamma to the mother who was now reborn as a deity and to a retinue of deities. The mother of the Prince Sidhdhartha, Queen maha Maya passed away seven days following His birth.
Three months after the passing away of the Buddha, King Ajasath made the preparations to host the first dhamma council to be presided by maha Arahath Kashyapa assisted by over 500 arahaths.
August – Nikini
The first council presided by maha Arahath Kashyapa was held at the Vehara Mountain, in the entrance to the Sapthaparni caves.
Venerable Ananda realized the state of Arahat hood 3 months after the passing away of the Buddha Those monks who did not start the rainy season in the month of July may start the late rainy season retreat in the month of August .
September – Binara
The Buddha established the community of Bikshuni sangha in this month. The permission to ordain women was granted at the insistence of maha Prajapathie Gothami, Prince Sidhdhartha’s aunt. This event took place at the Nigrodharama in the city of Kimbulwath.
October – Vap
The bodhisattva Maithriya who in the future shall become the next Buddha was ordained as a bhikku within the community of sangha of the Gotama Buddha in this month. Having spent three months during the seventh rainy season retreat in the Thauthisa heavenly abode, at the end of the retreat returned to the human abode at the city of Sankassa Those monks observing the normal rainy season retreat completes the retreat on this month.
November – Il
The bodhisattva Maithriya received the confirmation from the Buddha that he shall become the next Buddha on this full moon day 6 months after the enlightenment, the very first batch of 60 arahats initiated the travels far and wide as prescribed by the Buddha to expound the dhamma for the benefit of the many in the month of Il.
Buddha started off to the city of Uruwell, to subdue a group of ascetics Those monks observing the late rainy season retreat completes the retreat on this month According to the Vinaya kamma, the full moon day of the month of Il is the last date prescribed to hold the Katina ceremony The chief disciple maha Arahath Saripuththa passed away in the month of Il
December – Uduvap
On the basis of advice from maha Arahath Mahinda, at the invitation of the king Dewanampiyatissa, Bikshuni Sangamiththa arrived in Sri Lanka with the sapling from the Bodhi Tree on this month. Bikshuni Sangamiththa established the community of Bikshunis in Sri Lanka