Magha Puja is a Buddhist festival that is observed in Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR., Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. It commemorates an important event during the lifetime of the Lord Buddha called the Fourfold Assembly. On the full moon night of the third lunar month (February), a large assembly of monks gathered in the presence of Lord Buddha at Veluvana (bamboo) grove near Rajagaha, present-day India. According to tradition, the event was characterised by four
1. The meeting happened spontaneously without prior scheduling or coordination. A total of 1,250 monks were present at the meeting.
2. All 1,250 monks were arhats, who had achieved the stage of nirvana.
3. All 1,250 monks were ordained by the Lord Buddha.
4. The meeting happened on the full moon night of the third lunar month.
On this occasion, the Lord Buddha delivered a sermon called the Ovādapatimokkha, which summarises the core of Buddhism, including the Three Principles, Four Ideals, and Six Practices.
The Three Principles: 1. To refrain from all evil doings; 2. To fully cultivate wholesome actions; 3. To purify one’s mind.
The Four Ideals: 1. Forbearance from doing evil; 2. Not harming others; 3. Peace/Reserving oneself; 4. Nirvana (the extinguishing of all sufferings), which is the highest goal.
The Six Practices: 1. To speak no ill; 2. To do no harm; 3. To keep with the precepts; 4. To be modest in eating; 5. To live in places of recluse; 6. To train one’s mind to be at peace.
It is believed that the celebration of Magha Puja began when King Mongkut the Great (Rama IV) ordered for the occasion to be observed as a royal celebration, through acts of merit-making. Consequently, Magha Puja became a public practice, and it is celebrated today as a national holiday in Thailand. On this day, Thai people will focus on observing the precepts, going to temples to make merit, reciting Buddhist scriptures, and joining in a special ritual called Wian Tian or circumambulation around religious sites three times while holding lighted candles, incense, and flowers.