Buddhists across the world mark particular festivals in the Buddhist calendar, and the Triratna Community, including its Shropshire offshoot, is no exception. Festivals are important because they bring to mind important events in the life of the Buddha, as well as other figures of significance to the history and practice of Buddhism. Festivals are also a means of practising Sangha, or spiritual community, in the context of shared values: the Triratna Community places a lot of emphasis on collective practice as a counterweight to a tendency in the modern world to the individualism which manifests in the spiritual life as elsewhere. Festivals also enable us to give expression to reverence toward those things that we value most highly: the Buddha, or enlightened spiritual guide and teacher, the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha which represent a path that we can follow, and the Sangha itself, the community of Buddhist practitioners throughout the ages.

Some of the Buddhist festivals are fixed and some of them vary with the lunar calendar. Please read on for the dates for 2017 and a little by way of explanation of the significance of each event.

Parinirvana Day - Sunday February 12
Parinirvana

The Parinirvana, or "Great Decease" marks the end of the Buddha's earthly existence. Whilst he had many years previously gained full and perfect Enlightenment, he lived until the ripe old age of 80, walking the length and breadth of India, meeting people and teaching the Dharma. Eventually, though, old age overtook him, as it must all of us, and he sickened and died. This is very movingly described in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta from the Digha Nikaya or longer discourses of the Buddha. 

So why do we mark this event? The answer is twofold: on the one hand because the Buddha's life was of such profound significance to all Buddhists that it seems only natural to mark its passing in a ritual manner. On the other, the fact that the Buddha, the Enlightened teacher and a perfected human being, was also subject to sickness, old age and death brings home to us the truth of impermanence and the inevitability of the passing away of all things - including us - which formed the cornerstone of the Buddha's teaching.

Parinirvana Day is therefore an opportunity to reflect on the life and death of our Teacher and on our own experience of impermanence. Participants are encouraged to bring photographs of loved ones and friends who have died in the previous year and to say something about them. In this way, everyone present is reminded of the inevitability of death and the importance of striving for Enlightenment - which pretty much sums up the last words of the Buddha to his disciples!

Buddha Day (Wesak) - Sunday May 14

On the day of the full moon in the month of May, known as Wesak, a young man named Siddhartha Gautama sat down under a fig tree in northern India after years of spiritual quest and had a series of experiences from which he emerged completely transformed - permanently free of the poisons of greed, hatred and spiritual ignorance, having realised the state of Nirvana or Enlightenment. You can read the story as related by the Buddha here

This is what Buddhists celebrate on Buddha Day - that shattering yet liberating experience that is the birthright of all human beings, that final transcendence of all the suffering brought about by the unhelpful habitual tendencies and delusions rooted in our minds. Had Siddhartha not had that experience, there would be no Dharma, no Buddhism, no spiritual path for us to follow. So it's no wonder that this event is celebrated by Buddhists the world over. In some traditions the Buddha's birth, Enlightenment and final passing away are all celebrated on this day, but this is not the case in the Triratna Community.

This day can take many forms. There will be meditation, as the Buddha was meditating when he attained Enlightenment, readings from the Enlightenment story, sometimes even enactments of the story, usually a puja or some other kind of ritual.

Dharma Day - Sunday July 9

Once the Buddha had attained Enlightenment, he sought out five companions from the years in which he had practised asceticism in order to tell them about what he had discovered. The scriptures movingly relate how they spent many weeks together, studying and talking until one of the ascetics, by the name of Kondanna, finally had the same realisation as the Buddha himself - whereupon the Buddha joyfully exclaimed "Kondanna knows!". Dharma Day is the festival which marks the Buddha's first discourse, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta or "First Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma", which you can read here. The teachings on this occasion were of the Middle Way between extreme asceticism and the other extreme of indulgence in sense pleasures and the Four Noble Truths of suffering, its cause, the possibility of liberation from suffering and the path to be taken to get there.

The significance of this is obvious - if the Buddha had not proclaimed the truth as he had directly experienced it, there would be no Buddhist path for us to follow. So this is why Buddhists mark Dharma Day on the day of the full moon in July.

Padmasambhava Day - Sunday September 24

Padmasambhava is the great Guru of Tibetan Buddhism:  a semi-legendary figure who was instrumental in introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century CE. Legend has it that efforts to build Tibet's first monastery at Samgye were being thwarted by malicious local deities, so Padmasambhava was called from India to come and help, which he duly did by subduing the deities and converting them to the Dharma. Usually simply known as Guru Rimpoche, he is regarded by many Tibetan Buddhists as the second Buddha and is traditionally associated with the transformation of negative energies into positive ones supportive of Dharma practice.

In our modern world, with its many calls on our energy and manifold distractions, if we are to practise the Buddha's teachings we are sorely in need of help to tame and transform our divided and weakened energies - we are like water pipes full of holes, so that only a dribble comes out of the end rather than a forceful jet of water - and Padmasambhava is invoked for this reason.

Ambedkar Day - Sunday October 15

On this day we remember one of the great figures of modern Buddhism: Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. Born into an untouchable caste in British India, Ambedkar succeeded in spite of all the odds in gaining an education and qualifying as a lawyer. In a rapid rise to prominence, he was appointed to the first post-independence cabinet in India, in which he occupied the post of Law Minister and drafted the Indian constitution. He never stopped campaigning on behalf of the ex-Untouchables (caste having been officially abolished) and, having realised that they would never be free under Hinduism, eventually decided in 1956 to convert to Buddhism, taking tens of thousands of his followers with him. To this day he is revered by Indian Buddhists, including those in Triratna, most of whom were born Dalits or ex-Untouchables, and for whom his bold and visionary step meant the difference between caste-based oppression and freedom.

Sangha Day - Sunday November 5

It's hard to practise the Dharma by yourself - in fact, unless you are absolutely exceptional, there is very little prospect that you will get far if you try. The word "Sangha" refers both to the spiritual community of Buddhist practitioners and to those who have achieved a least a level of spiritual insight, meaning that eventual Enlightenment is assured. This day is an opportunity to celebrate spiritual community - in the form of our friends and fellow travellers on the path and the great exemplars of spiritual practice throughout the whole of Buddhist history.