This important day on the Thailand calendar commemorates two separate events that occurred on the same date 45 years apart, during the Buddha’s lifetime 2,500 years ago. On February 22nd this year, Buddhists across Thailand celebrate Makha Bucha Day, one of the most important Buddhist holidays in the kingdom. Many private and public organisations have plans to mark this holy holiday. The first event was the coming together of 1,250 monks from all locations and directions, to meet and be ordained by the Buddha. This event occurred seven months after the Buddha began his teaching.
The second event, which occurred 45 years later, was the Buddha delivering his teachings shortly before his death. Both of these events occurred on the day of the full moon of the third lunar month, a month known in the Buddhist Pali language as ‘Makha’. The ‘Bucha’, also a Pali word, means to venerate or to honour. Makha Bucha Day is for the veneration of Buddha and his teachings on the full moon day of the third lunar month. Makha Bucha Day represents a great deal in terms of the development of Buddhism in Thailand. It is a highly ceremonial event and in Thailand it’s an event that was only recently revived as part of Thai Buddhist tradition. The Supreme Patriarch of the Marble Temple in Bangkok, Kittsobhana Mahathera, did this in 1957.
Numerous temples and religious centres nationwide will organise a group ordination to celebrate Makha Bucha Day. Male Buddhists may take part in a group ordination at various temples or religious centres.
Apart from making merit and listening to sermons at temples during Makha Bucha Day, Buddhists are also encouraged to mediate and pray in commemoration of the Lord Buddha’s Buddhist teachings. In the morning many Thai people wake up early to give alms to monks. In the evening, temples are full of people listening to sermons. They often perform a ritual known as the candle ceremony where they walk clockwise three times around the temple holding flowers, incense and a lighted candle.
As part of the observance, Thai Buddhists are encouraged to do their best to observe the “Five Precepts (Rub Sil’),” even for just the next couple of days. The “Five Precepts,” which is the basic Buddhism code of ethics and is a practice of renunciation, tells Buddhists to abstain from harming any living thing; from stealing; from taking intoxicants; from backbiting, gossiping and telling lies; and from engaging in immoral sex.
Devout Buddhists may also observe additional precepts during the period. They will abstain from eating after midday; from using a soft chair or a high bed and from wearing ornaments or perfume, and from public entertainment, dancing, or singing. Those who observe these precepts strictly, practice meditation and mental discipline, stay in the temple, wear white robes, and eat only vegetarian food for a number of days. For visitors to Thailand, “Makha Bucha Day” presents a great opportunity to observe first-hand the Thais’ religious practices and the local lifestyle.