Saga Dawa Greetings!
Today, May 23rd, we enter the 4th lunar month of the Tibetan Calendar. This is the month of Saga Dawa. Saga (Alpha Librae) is one of the 28 constellations that mark the passage of the moon across the nighttime sky, and it is the constellation associated with the 4th lunar month. Dawa can be translated into English as moon or month. Saga Dawa is the period of time during which we celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is the most important month of the year for practice and merit accumulated during this period is multiplied 100 million times.
In 563 B.C.E., Prince Siddhartha was born to a noble family of the Shakya clan, in the garden grove at Lumbini, in the foothills of the Himalayas in southern Nepal. Before Siddhartha’s conception, his mother, Queen Mayadevi, had a dream in which an exquisite, white elephant entered her body, and from the moment of his birth he showed and manifested extraordinary signs. Some traditions commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha’s birth, specifically, on the 7th lunar day of the Saga Dawa (May 29, 2020), while others celebrate it on the 15th.
The pinnacle of this sacred month is the 15th lunar day, or full moon (June 5th, 2020). This day is called Saga Dawa Düchen (Düchen means “great date or occasion”). It is known in Pali as vesākha and in Sanskrit as vaiśākha. This is this day that marks the commemoration of the Buddha’s birth, his enlightenment and his parinirvanana.
At the age of 35, Prince Siddhartha sat down at the foot of a bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India, and set the heartfelt intention that he would not rise until he had reached full awakening. After 49 days of resolute practice, he accomplished what he set out to do and proclaimed:
Profound peace, natural simplicity, uncompounded luminosity, I have found the nectar-like Dharma!
After 45 years of embodying the teachings and sharing his wisdom, Shakyamuni Buddha entered parinirvana in a forest grove in Kusinagar in his 81st year while surrounded by 500 disciples. With his last breath, he said to his students:
It is in the nature of all things that take form to dissolve again.
Strive with your whole being to attain liberation.
With Shakyamuni’s example of heroic determination, this month is a good opportunity for us to reconnect with our initial intention to dedicate ourselves to this path of liberation, and to renew our commitment to our practice and our bodhisattva aspiration.