Sangha Day is a Buddhist holiday celebrated in March or late February. It is also called Fourfold Assembly Day or Magha Puja Day. The word “Magha” means the third lunar month (in this case March), and the word Puja means “worship” in Pali and Sanskrit, the two languages most closely associated with Buddhism.
The word “sangha” refers to the Buddhist monastic community, and Sangha Day commemorates the day that the Buddha presented his first teachings on the conduct required by monastic life to a gathering of arahants (a term to refer to those who had achieved a particular level of enlightenment) in a place known as Veluvana Vihara in India. Sangha Day is important because it celebrates the first gathering of the Buddhist ordained community.
Sangha Day Practices
On Sangha Day, traditionally ordained monks and nuns will reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist service and practice. They frequently engage in chanting, discussions of Buddhist teachings, attend lectures given by senior ordained Buddhist community members, sometimes referred to as “dharma talks”, and practice meditation. Buddhists in Thailand engage in candlelight processions, known as wian tian, and travel to their local temples to meditate and sometimes to perform purification rituals.
Western vs. Eastern Interpretations
The western interpretation of the sangha is one of the things that differentiates western Buddhism from eastern Buddhism. In some western circles, the sangha includes Buddhists as a whole, including lay people; however this notion is not embraced by most Buddhists. However, if you are a Buddhist who is not involved in the monastic life (or even if you’re not a Buddhist at all), there’s no reason you can’t take the opportunity on Sangha Day to meditate and purify your mind.
The Sangha Around the World
It’s also a good idea on Sangha Day to educate yourself about the human rights abuses endured by some members of the Buddhist community. Most people know about the plight of the Tibetans under the Chinese government, but it’s also true that the Buddhist monks in Burma have been at odds with the military government there for years, though it’s only sporadically that mass protests have been occurring. One of the largest of these protests occurred in September 2007 as a result of the military crackdown in that country. After the cyclone that hit Burma in 2008, the human rights abuses again came to light, and many of the monks held demonstrations for relief from outside when the Burmese government refused to admit their country needed outside aid.
Learning about the incidents in these countries is helpful because it enables us to see how important the sangha is to helping the people of these countries reclaim and preserve their dignity and bringing the associated injustices against the people to international attention. When you consider what is going on in these countries and what the sangha means to the people in them, Sangha Day takes on a whole new meaning.
O’Brien, Barbara. “Makha Bucha Day.” About.com. Feburary 26, 2010.
O’Brien, Barbara. “Buddhist Holidays 2010.” About.com. February 26, 2010.
Human Rights Watch. “The Resistance of the Monks: Cyclone Nargis and its Aftermath.” Human Rights Watch. February 26, 2010.