Buddhism: Mahāyāna

Key Dates and Events

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Parinirvāṇa Day

(Varies each year depending on the lunar calendar. Typically in February)

Parinirvāṇa Day (or ‘Nirvāṇa Day’) is a Mahāyāna Buddhist holiday that commemorates when the Buddha achieved complete nirvāṇa upon his physical body’s death. Typical practices on this day include visiting the local temple or monastery, hearing or reading passages from the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, and meditation.

Avalokiteśvara’s Birthday

(Varies each year depending on the lunar calendar. Typically in March)

Avalokiteśvara’s birthday is a Mahāyāna Buddhist holiday that celebrates the bodhisattva of compassion. On this day, people go to their local temple and venerate Avalokiteśvara, usually by giving offerings.

Vaiśākha

(Varies each year depending on the lunar calendar. Typically in May)

The day of Vaiśākha (known as Vesākha in Pāli) is a Buddhist event that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. The date varies by region and tradition but is usually celebrated on the first full moon in May. Followers of Buddhism may visit temples to listen to sermons by monastics and participate in recitation. It is common for temples or celebrations to have a statue of baby Buddha in a water basin decorated with flowers, so visitors can pour water (or in some traditions a special tea) over the statue, symbolising new beginnings.

Ulambana

(Varies each year depending on the lunar calendar. Typically in August)

Ulambana, also known as Ancestor Day or Ghost Festival, is a Buddhist event. It is believed that on this day, the gates of the hell realm are opened and ghosts may visit the human realm for fifteen days. Followers of Buddhism usually visit cemeteries of their ancestors’ remains and make offerings. Some will also make offerings to the Buddha and monastics to help accumulate good merit.

Divālī

(Varies each year depending on the lunisolar calendar. Typically in October or November)

Divālī, also known as Diwali, Dīpāvali, Deepavali or the Festival of Lights, is a festival celebrated by many Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain communities. People often decorate their home and workplaces with small electric lights, lanterns, clay oil lamps or bowls of water with candles and flowers floating on the surface. Some Buddhists consider Diwali as a time to commemorate Emperor Aśoka’s conversion to Buddhism.

Bodhi Day

(Varies each year depending on the lunar calendar. Typically in December or January)

Bodhi Day is a popular cultural Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day the historical Buddha (Śākyamuni) experienced enlightenment. The event is also known as Rohatsu (Japan) or Laba (China). Most Mahāyāna traditions celebrate Bodhi Day. Services and practices that commemorate the occasion include meditation, studying Buddhist teachings, chanting and merit-making.

Uposatha

(Multiple times a year)

Uposatha is a Buddhist day of observance whereby laypeople and monastics intensify spiritual practices of meditation, gift-giving, veneration and moral precepts. The number of Uposatha days each month differs depending on the calendar used, the school of Buddhism and local customs. The days are distributed throughout the month. Those that follow the Chinese calendar observe six to ten Uposatha days. In Japan, six days are observed, which are known as roku sainichi (‘six days of purification’).

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