As per Bible, the Sabbath is a religious day of rest every week as ordained by the Ten Commandments. In Buddhism, this sabbath is the Uposatha. The day was instituted by the Buddha to honour the request of King Bimbisara. The Buddha explained that this day was meant to purify the polluted mind which would in turn lead to inner tranquility and happiness. He urged the monks to disseminate the teachings to the lay people and recite the Patimokkha every second day Uposatha Day themselves.
The term Uposatha owes its origin to the Sanskrit word 'upavastha' which means the pre Buddhist fast day that preceded Vedic sacrifices. The weekly uposatha is observed on the basis of four phases of the moon - the full moon, the new moon and two quarter moon in between. In quiet a few communities, only the new moon and the full moon are kept as the uposatha day.
Today, the weekly day is observed in mostly the Theravada countries. The dates are chalked out on the basis of a difficult traditional formula that is based on the lunar calendar. Because of this, the dates, quiet a number of times, do not match with actual astronomical dates. To worsen the situation even more, the various sects of the Theravada Buddhism have different calendar.
The Five Most Important Uposatha Day
These five full moon uposatha day are of special mention.
- Vesak or the Buddha
Day : The day commemorates the three most important days in
the life of the Buddha His birth, awakening and parinibbana.
- Asalha Puja
or the Dhamma Day : The Dhamma Day marks the first preachings
of the Buddha which He gave to a group of five monks. After His
discourse came to an end, one of the five monks, Ven. Kondañña,
urged the Buddha to accept Him as His disciple, thus paving way for the
rise of the Noble Sangha. The day also marks the beginning of the annual
Rains Retreat (vassa) the next day.
- Pavarana Day
: The Rains Retreat which begins on the day following the Dhamma
day continues for three months and concludes on the Pavarana day. The
next month sees the celebration of the Kathina ceremony in which laity
come together to make formal offerings of robe cloth and other
requisites to the Sangha.
- Magha Puja or
the Sangha Day : This day marks an important event in the
life of the Buddha when without taking His appointment, 1250 arahants
gathered at the Veruvana Monastery in the Rajgaha city. To this
assembly, the Buddha delivered the Ovada-Patimokkha Gatha, a summary of
the main points of the Dhamma.
- Anapanasati day : When the Rains Retreat came to an end,
the Buddha was extremely happy with the development of the assembled
monks. So much so, that He urged them to extend their retreat for yet
another month. At the end of the fourth month, He gave His instructions
on the mindfulness of breathing.
The day for a lay practioner is basically meant for observance of the Eight Precepts. They have to reaffirm their faith and commitment to the Dhamma. If a monastery is nearby, lay practioners visit them and present their offerings to the Sangha. Listening to the Dhamma talks, chanting special suttas and practising meditation in the late night also forms part of their practice.
For the monastic community, however, the practice differs a bit. They are required to undertake more intensive reflection and meditation. On the full and New Moon days, the recitation of the Bhikkhu Patimokkha (monastic rules of conduct) takes place. However, before the commencement of the recitation, the monks have to confess whether they have violated any monastic rules to another monk of the Sangha. The recitation itself, can take, anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. In a number of monasteries, physical labour is stopped for the day.