The month of merit: Saga Dawa, celebrating Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Paranirvana — be generous, moral and practice often

The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th lunar month which runs from May 12th, with the biggest celebrations on the full moon, May 26, 2020.

The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day is called Saga Dawa Düchen (Düchen means “great occasion”) — the most important day in the Buddhist calendar, this year on May 26, 2021.

Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and paranirvana of our perfect and most supreme teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions, this occasion is known as Buddha Purnima, or Buddha Day — and may be celebrated slightly earlier than Saga Dawa depending on the tradition.

Saga Dawa — Month of Merits

Saga Dawa (sometimes Saka Dawa) is the “Month of Merit” where, traditionally, all of our meritorious karma is particularly fruitful. It is an especially good month to practice the three grounds of merit:

  • Dana: generosity
  • Sila: morality and good conduct
  • Bhavana: meditation or mental development/ practice

Saga is named for a star that is prominent in this lunar month, and Dawa just means “month.” It begins June 3 (new moon) and ends July 2 (new moon) in 2019.

 

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Saga Dawa Duchen

The most important day in the month (perhaps for the entire year, for many Buddhists) is Saga Dawa Duchen on the full moon. Duchen means “great occasion,” and this year falls on the full moon day, June 17. It is similar to Vesak in Theravadin Buddhism  — celebrating the birth, Enlightenment and Paranirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Making Merit — scrubbing the negative karma away

Every meritorious act in the Holy Month is especially fruitful. Positive acts can help us “scrub the negative karma.” Traditionally, positive karma is multiplied in the month, and especially on Saga Dawa Duchen. To many practitioners, this means extra practice (Bhavana or meditation), and it is also the month to be extra careful of Sila (morality). Many Buddhists become vegetarians in the Holy Month — at the very least on the day of Saga Dawa Duchen.

 

saga Dawa Buddha Buddhas birth englightenment and paranivana Weekly 1200

The entire month of Saga Dawa is meritorious and all good karmic acts are especially fruitful.

 

Here are the ways to “make merit” in the meritorious month of Saga Dawa:

  • Observe all the precepts: not to kill, steal, misuse sex, lie, and abuse intoxicants (for lay followers)
  • Do extra personal practices, mantras, sadhanas
  • Do extra Tsogs offerings, especially on the normal Tsog Days, plus Saga Dawa Duchen
  • Request pujas
  • Pilgrimages to sacred places
  • Visit the temple or gompa or centre more often.
  • Venerate stupas and shrines — especially formal circumambulation (where you full-body prostrate and chant mantras as you circle)
  • Dana and giving, and especially to monks and temples
  • Donations to the poor, and especially look to donate to people in need on who are homeless
  • Lighting butter lamps to banish the darkness
  • Go vegetarian for at least, Duchen, and ideally the whole month
  • Buy animals intended for slaughter and humanely release them — but it is critical to only release where it is humane: releasing a non-indigenous animal is NOT meritorious, or releasing an animal where they face peril is also a negative act, or releasing an animal that was specifically caught to be released is also negative.
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Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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2 Comments

  1. Heng on May 26, 2021 at 7:58 pm

    I have question on why merits can be “multiplied” during this particular month. Some even promoted it can be multiplied by ten of thousand to millions and billions. But I can’t find any reference in any sutras. Any insight will be helpful. Thanks.

    • Lee Kane on May 30, 2021 at 10:29 am

      The language of millions or billions are typically translation issues — usually, it implies “significantly”. It is taught in the Vinaya text “Treasure of Quotations and Logic” and his consistently mentioned elsewhere. Of course, there is merit to honoring The Three Jewels on Sacred Days. Our own mindstreams recognize the positive karmic imprint of positive actions on these days. The “merit multiplied’ may be considered skillful means (easiest way to convey the concept) or literal — in the ultimate sense it’s the same thing. The bottom line, is we imprint positive merits and karmas on our own mindstreams through meritorious actions — and among the most meritorious activities of all is honouring the Three jewels. On sacred days, if we honor the precepts, we create positive imprints. Of course, the ultimate goal is to always honor the eight precepts or, at least, the five lay precepts — that’s what I mean by skillful. It’s great to be “vegetarian” all the time, but if you can’t, then it’s still helpful to be vegetarian during the Sacred Days. It’s meritorious to practice Refuge daily, but if you can’t form the positive habit, at least do it during the sacred days. Here’s a page on the Practice of Merit Multiplying by Lama Zopa: https://fpmt.org/teachers/zopa/advice/practice-on-merit-multiplying-days-and-eclipses/

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