By the time Christianity appeared, Buddhism was declining in India. By the 5th century it was being absorbed into Hinduism, and by the 12th century it no longer existed as a viable force in India. It spread throughout Asia, however, where it took firm hold in the ensuing centuries, coexisting with or merging with indigenous religions and philosophies, among them the Confucianism and Taoism of China, the Shintoism of Japan, and the Bon of Tibet.
Various schools and sects have emerged; the two major ones are Mahayana and Teravada Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism (sometimes called Northern Buddhism) holds that all have the potential for enlightenment and emphasizes faith in the Buddha, love of humanity, compassion, charity, and altruism. The Buddha is considered to be an eternal being, an embodiment of absolute truth, who occasionally takes human form. There have been many Buddhas throughout the centuries. Mahayana Buddhism is largely found in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia.
Teravada Buddhism (sometimes called Southern Buddhism) holds out salvation to the monks and nuns who join the community, and prescribes a discipline for individual undertaking. The followers of this sect/school believe there was only one Buddha and he was a human teacher. Teravada Buddhism is largely found in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The Teravada Buddhist calendar is a basic luni-solar calendar (much like the Chinese or Ancient Greek calendars). It should be noted that each Teravadan tradition has its own version of the Buddhist calendar, complete with names for the months, the holidays, and even cycles of years. It consists of 12 months which have alternately 29 and 30 days. This alternating length of the month is due to the length of the lunar cycle being 29.54 days in length, very close to 29.5 days. Each year the calendar therefore slips 11 days backwards with respect to the sun's cycle of equinoxes and solstices. To help keep the calendar more or less in check with the sun, the Buddhist calendar inserts a leap month of 30 days every third year. Read more about the Teravada Buddhist calendar below.
Buddhists also have many local traditions and holidays that vary from country to country depending on the ethnic group. In most areas of the world, the holy days are in sync with the phases of the moon. Therefore, they vary from year to year in relation to the Gregorian calendar.
In the Tibetan Buddhist calendar most months are given numbers; Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (previously known as Burma) are the exceptions - they use names.
Each month is divided into two 2-week periods. The first or light period begins the day after the New Moon of the previous month and ends with the Full Moon. The second or dark period begins the day after the Full Moon and ends with the New Moon day, which is the last day of the lunar month. The eighth day of each 2-week period is that of the First Quarter and Last Quarter moons, respectively. These four days (FQ, FM, LQ, NM) are known as Uposatha days. These days are observed in the Teravada tradition as days of enhanced practice of the Dhamma. Lay devotees often go to temples or monasteries for the day, undertake the Eight Precepts, and spend the day in meditation, listening to Dhamma talks, and reading about the Dhamma. The practice of observing the Uposatha days as special days of religious practice predates Buddhism. The practice originally comes from ancient India where the four special days of the lunar cycle were set aside for special religious devotions.
Buddhism derives its name from its founder Sakyamuni Buddha. Here he is called Sakyamuni, meaning from the clan of the Sakyas, however, he has been called by many names such as Guatama, Siddartha, and the Buddha, which simply means "The Enlightened One." He was the son of the King of the Sakya clan. In Mahayana Buddhism, the title Buddha may be applied to any historical or even present day enlightened person. Here Buddhism differs from Western religions, which state that there can only one Christ, or Mashiah, or Mahdi, but there have been and may be many Buddhas.
Western religions also have a relatively small number of scriptures, and they have remained unchanged for 1,400 years or more. Buddhism, by contrast, has a huge and ever expanding range of scriptural literature, as a visit to any Gompa on the Annapurna circuit will demonstrate. Like Christianity and Islam, Buddhism includes the life story of its founder within its literature. Buddhists believe in a cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation), which ends only with the enlightenment of a soul. Sakyamuni's previous lives as a Boddhisattva are part of his lifestory. A Boddhisattva is someone who has reached the point where his advance in wisdom means that enlightenment is inevitable.
In the Teravada tradition of Buddhism, Sakyamuni is the one and only Buddha. Sakyamuni began his progress toward enlightenment in a previous lifetime when he was a monk called Megha. Megha sought out Dipankara, a Buddha alive at that time. Dipankara, with the supreme knowledge of a Buddha, told Megha that he, Megha, would be the future founder of the Buddhist religion. Now you may be wondering, and indeed you should be wondering, how do we know about Sakyamuni Buddha's past lives? Simple. Buddhas have supreme knowledge. When they become enlightened they can remember all their past lives.
There are four Special Buddha days or Festivals during a year, which relate to the life of Buddha Sakyamuni. During these days, it is said that the effects of positive or negative actions are multiplied 100 million times, so practice is strongly advised.
In the Teravada Buddhist calendar there are three seasons, not four. This reflects the climate of India and Southeast Asia where there is a rainy period for four months out of the year (Vassana), followed by a cool season or winter (Hemanta), which in turn is followed by a hot, dry season, or summer (Gimha).
In the Buddhist year the season of Vassana is a time of special religious practices. During this season monks must remain in their monasteries and avoid traveling long distances. The monks normally devote themselves to their mediation and study during this time. Also, lay devotees often enter the monastic order during this season to pass Vassana as a monk or novice. The Vassana season is flanked by two holidays: Asalha Puja (Dhammacakkapavattana) begins the season, and Pavarana (Abhidhamma) ends it.
The period between the Full Moon of Assayuja to the Full Moon of Kathika is set aside as the special season for making Kathina offerings to the Sangha, particularly offering of new robes. Another major holiday occurs during the Hemanta season, namely Magha Puja on the Full Moon day of the month of Magha.
The Gimha season commences the day after the New Moon day of the month of Phagguna. During this season on the Full Moon day of Visakha, the highest holiday in the Buddhist calendar occurs. Visakha Puja commemorates the Birth, Enlightenment, and Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha. At the end of Gimha, we come around again to the holiday of Asalha Puja, after which Vassana begins again.
The years of the Buddhist Era (B.E.) begin from the traditional date of the Buddha's Mahaparinibbana Death (he passed away at the age of 80). According to traditional sources this event occurred in the year corresponding with 543 BCE. As mentioned above, the Mahaparinibbana occurred on the Full Moon day of Visakha, thus Visakha Puja also serves to usher in a new Buddhist Era year. Visakha Puja in the year 2004 CE was in the Buddhist Era year 2547.
If you would like to know the year in the Buddhist Era, just calculate the following:
Current year in Buddhist Era = 543 + current year in AD.
Not all Buddhists follow this calendar. The Tibetan monks follow a calendar that comes full cycle every 60 years. It is related to the Chinese calendar, with each year named after an animal and an element.
The Life of the Buddha
The name of the Buddha is just an honorary title which means he was Enlightened. His first name was Siddartha, which means "wish fulfilled," and his last name was Guatama. He was born in the year 623 BC in a tiny town called Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. His parents were King Suddhodana and Queen Maha-maya.
On the fifth day after his birth, learned Brahmans predicted that he would become either a universal monarch or an Enlightened One (the Buddha).
At the early age of 16, he married his beautiful cousin, princess Yasodhara. He knew no personal grief because his father provided more than he could ever need.
As he lived in a guarded palace, one day he decided to see the world outside. He first saw an old man, then a diseased man, a corpse and a dignified monk. He had never seen such sights before. The first three sights convinced him that beings are subject to birth, decay, disease, death, sorrow and grief, and he then realized he would be as well. The fourth sight, the monk, suggested to him a way to overcome the ills of life, and to attain calm and peace. So, he decided to leave his opulent life to search for truth and eternal peace.
On the day when his first and only son was born he left the palace to become a hermit. At that time he was 29 years old. After searching for the truth for six years, he found it, and at the age of 35, he became known as the Buddha.
The Buddha was the most energetic of all religious teachers. Throughout the 45 years of his ministry, he was constantly occupied with religious activities except when attending to his physical needs, only taking short rests after meals and sleeping about one-and-a-half hours at night. When anyone needed his spiritual guidance, he would undertake even lengthy journeys to help them, on foot or sometimes by using his psychic powers. Even in the last minutes before attaining Parinirvana (passing away), he preached to a person who had another faith and concept, and wanted to know the answers to some problems.
The Buddha's final words were, as
ever, pragmatic and encouraging: 'All things are impermanent - strive
on with diligence!'
Please NOTE that the above information is just a brief explanation of the Buddhist calendar. More information can be found at libraries.
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