For Buddhist-majority countries in southeast Asia like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, the full moon day of the third month in the lunar calendar is a sacred event, one that venerates the teachings of Buddha, a commemoration popularly known as Makha Bucha in Thailand. Among Burmese (Myanmar) Buddhists, however, the celebrations will start a week before that date, an occasion locally known as the Full Moon of Tabaung. In Cambodia, this day is referred to as the Meak Bochea Festival, while in Laos this day is called Buon Makha Bousa.
Makha Bucha 2014 will fall on Friday, February 14.
Origins of Makha Bucha
Makha Bucha started when 1,250 disciples came to visit Buddha without being summoned on a full moon day on the third lunar month. This congregation of disciples prompted Buddha to share his enlightenment, which he himself achieved nine months before, in an event called the “Ovādapātimokha.” Thus, on this day, the “Heart of Buddhism,” which consisted of three main principles, was laid out.
Makha refers to the name of the third month in the lunar calendar while “bucha” means “to venerate.”
The Four Observances of Makha Bucha
On this day, Buddhists are expected to perform these four devotional rituals “to cease from all evil,” “to do what is good,” and “to cleanse one’s mind.”
Perhaps the more recognized aspect of the celebrations is the “wien thien” or the religious ritual of going around a temple three times in a clockwise direction bearing lighted candles, incense and flowers which are placed before Buddhist statues at the end of the evening procession. Local temples are often thronged with devotees joining the monks for a candlelit procession. The same ritual is performed in Laos, which they call “vian tian.”
Every Buddhist occasion is an opportunity for the lay to make merits which could take on several forms. “Tham bun” could be performed by going to temples to listen to Dhamma teachings, donating to a local temple, or chanting the scripts in an ancient language.
“Tuk bard” is a form of making merit but one that specifically addressed to monks and novices. In a special ceremony during the Makha Bucha Day, the lay can make food offerings to individual monks who receive them in a special alms bowl.
Also known as “rap sin”, this ritual involves meditative observance of keeping the Five Precepts, exercising abstinence and renunciation of material desires and refraining from immoral thoughts and acts that pollute the mind.