Saka Dawa (also known as Saga Dawa) represents the holiest and most sacred days in Tibetan Buddhism. Falling on the fourth month of the Tibetan Calendar, the religious festivities of Saka Dawa peak on the 15th Lunar Day when there is a full moon. This day is associated with three major events in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha – his birth, his enlightenment on a full moon night, and his parinirvana. In Tibetan, Dawa means “month” while Saka means the “name of the closet star to the earth” during the lunar month which is prominently visible. In Tibetan astrological calculations, Saka is one of the 28 known major stars.
On the main Saka Dawa day, a special puja is carried out by monks in the monasteries early in the morning. Additionally, sutras are recited and Cham dances are also performed at the monastery. After this, Tibetans take an oath of the Eight Mahayana precepts to be observed during the day.
Saka Dawa – A Meritorious Month
Saka Dawa is regarded as a great time to earn merits and attain spirituality, purification and enlightenment by Tibetans. This meritorious month carries a special aspect whereby any good deeds performed during the month are rewarded with one hundred million times greater good karma. These meritorious activities revolve around early teachings of sila (morality), dana (generosity) and bhavana (meditation).
The meritorious worthy acts include:
- Pilgrimages to sacred Tibetan places such as mountains, lakes and caves, notable monasteries, and temples.
- Performing koras in a clockwise direction around a shrine or other holy places. Pilgrims pray, prostrate themselves, and chant mantras such as the “Om Mani Padme Hum, Buddha Shakyamuni” mantra or White or Green Tara mantras.
- Giving donations to monasteries, monks and nuns.
- Giving charity to the poor.
- Eradicating the dark forces by lighting butter lamps.
- Refraining from eating meat.
- Setting animals free into their habitat.
Observing Mahayana Precepts
During Saka Dawa, Tibetans observe eight major precepts on holy days such as the full moon and new moon days of the month. Since the full moon is the holiest of days, the devotees engage in observing these actions with much fervor.
- Avoid killing and taking life
- Shunning from acts of stealing
- Avoiding sexual contact
- Staying away from lying and deceiving others
- Not taking alcohol, tobacco and recreation drugs
- Eating one meal a day before noon which should not include onions, garlic, radishes, meat or eggs.
- Not sleeping on a high-raised bed or sitting on chair with pride
- Not participating in singing and dancing, nor wearing jewelry and other adornments, such as makeup or perfume.
Among the several schools of Tibetan Buddhism, a range of rituals and ceremonies are performed during Saka Dawa.