Tibetan Buddhist Holidays

There are many special or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist community. Many of these days celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition or other significant dates in the Buddhist calendar. The most significant celebration happens every May on the night of the full moon, when Buddhist all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It has become to be known as Buddha Day.

Buddhist Festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically on a festival day, lay people will go the the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks and take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma talk. In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit and in the evening join perhaps in a ceremony of circumambulation a stupa three time as a sign of respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. The day will conclude with evening chanting of the Buddha's teachings and meditation.

Some holy days are specific to a particular Buddhist tradition or ethnic group (as above). There are two aspects to take into consideration regarding Buddhist festivals: Most Buddhists, with the exception of the Japanese, use the Lunar Calendar and the dates of Buddhist festivals vary from country to country and between Buddhist traditions. There are so many Buddhist festivals, here are some of the more important ones:

Losar

LOSAR “LO” MEANS YEAR AND “SAR” MEAN NEW

This Tibetan New Year and the largest Tibetan festival is celebrated by all. Losar starts on the 1st day of the 1st month of the Tibetan Calendar and lasts 3 to 15 days.

The first day is called Guru Losar where we greet all our Guru’s, teachers, and monastery at the temple.

Day 2 is called King Losar on this day we celebrate together in the Dalai Lama’s palace: payers, dancing, and singing.

The third day is called public Losar. This is where people will celebrate with friends and family (e.g., picnics)

Please see calendar for more information.

MONLAM CHENMO GREAT PRAYER FESTIVAL

The Monlam Chenmo, also known as The Great Prayer Festival, is the most important Tibetan Buddhist celebration of the year. It falls on the 4th – 11th day of the 1st Tibetan Lunar month. Monlam means “wish path” – the Buddhist path of helping others through prayers. The Monlam Chenmo commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment or full awakening from ignorance (Budha Miracle Day). All the prayers are being sent to sentient beings in six realms (human realm, animal realm, hungry ghosts realms, hell real, demi-god realm, and god realm).

According to Buddhist belief, the time of Shakyamuni Buddha is considered as the time of Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) flourishment or the time of spiritual prosperity. However, it has already passed its peak, therefore, is gradually declining. During the Monlam festival monks, nuns as wells as lay people are sending prayers in order to postpone and slow down the time of decay.

Monlam Chenmo was established in 1409 by lama Tsongkhapa, the great philosopher, and founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

At DNKL, we celebrate yearly by holding the “Thousand Buddha Offering Prayer.”

Please see calendar for more information.

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SAKA DAWA A MONTH HONORING THE BUDDHA’S LIFE

Saka Dawa is one of the most sacred Buddhist holidays when we celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of the Buddha Shakyamuni1.

The merit of any good deeds you perform during this month are multiplied many times over — by as much as one hundred million times 2 — so it is an excellent time to dedicate ourselves to all kinds of spiritually positive actions.

The Saka Dawa observations occur in the fourth Tibetan month. Most holy of all is the full moon day of Saka Dawa, the 15th day of the month, which is the date most commonly associated with Buddha’s birth and his enlightenment and parinirvana3.

At DNKL, we have two special events annually to celebrate Saka Dawa: Annual Animal Blessing and the Fasting Retreat (Nyung Ne)

Please see calendar for more information.

BIRTHDAY OF THE 14TH DALAI LAMA

When asked who he is, the Dalai Lama will tell you he is “just a human being...who chooses to be a Buddhist monk.” But for the Tibetan people, he is the 14th reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Boddhisatva of Compassion.

Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader (until he gave up temporal power in 2011) is sometimes referred to as a god-king or a living Buddha.

Whatever his title, Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is clearly his people’s heart and soul. One young Tibetan refugee tells of falling down an icy Himalayan slope during his 1995 escape from Tibet.

Hearing his terrified companion’s cries of “Dalai Lama...Dalai Lama” echoing behind him, he says that “My friend thought I was dying, so he was praying for me” by calling His Holiness’ name.

Before Mao Tse Tung’s Communist China occupied Tibet in 1959, the young Dalai Lama governed an independent nation the size of Western Europe.

Only 24 years old, the troubled monk fled, in disguise, into India days before the Chinese bombed his summer palace in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

Then Indian Prime Minister Nehru granted tracts of land for the homeless leader and the 80,000 Tibetans who had followed him into exile. Grateful for the shelter from Mao’s brutally repressive troops, the Tibetans continued, however, to suffer in India.

Thousands fell ill and died from malaria and dysentery, their bodies unable to cope with the extreme change in climate between Tibet’s cold, dry high altitudes and India’s low-lying heat and humidity.

Under His Holiness’ guidance, the Tibetan community gradually began to thrive in India, becoming one of the world’s few “successful” refugee communities, despite the steady flow of new Tibetan escapees from Chinese-occupied Tibet, which swells their numbers and strains the fragile infrastructure of the community in exile.

We celebrate His Holiness’ birth date with long-life prayers, picnics, and cultural performances on July 6th every year.

Please see Calendar for more information.

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Choekhor_

CHOKHOR DUCHEN FIRST TURNING OF THE WHEEL OF DHARMA

The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma (in Tibet referred to as Chokhor Duchen) is an important holiday in which we honor the day that the Buddha Shakyamuni first taught the four noble truths in Sarnath, India, and first turned the wheel of the dharma after attaining enlightenment.

Please see calendar for more information.

GANDEN NGACHU LAMA TSONGKHAPA DAY

Prayers, teachings, discussions, and meals will be shared among the participants in celebration of Monlam which marks a period when Lord Buddha performed many miracles, beginning with Losar (the Tibetan New Year) on the first day and culminating on the fifteenth day, Chotrul Duchen (the Day of Miracles). Monlam Chenmo, or the Great Prayer Festival, was established by Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, in 1409. The first two weeks of the new year, Monlam, commemorate the time when the Buddha displayed his power by performing a number of miracles. Lama Tsongkhapa chose the Monlam Chenmo to coincide with the anniversary of incredible events in Shakyamuni Buddha’s life traditionally celebrated during the first two weeks of the lunar new year.

This Monlam celebration is particularly meaningful as it is bringing together all of the Buddhist traditions in a harmonious gathering. 

Please see calendar for more information.

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